Protein in focus

by Keith Nunes and Monica Watrous
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Consumer packaged goods companies are capitalizing on the demand for protein, and consumers appear to be responding. Of those consumers surveyed by the market research firm The NPD Group, 78% said protein contributes to a healthy diet, and more than half said they want to get more protein into their diets.

“Consumers want more protein in their diets,” said Harry Balzer, chief industry analyst for NPD and author of “Eating Patterns in America.” “While our interest in protein is growing, we’re looking for alternatives to meat. Many of us are looking to lower the cost of our protein sources, and animal meat is generally more expensive than plant-based protein. The cost of meat helps explain the growth in Greek yogurt and other alternate protein sources.”

The power of the trend was on display with the release of the market research firm Information Resources Inc.’s (I.R.I.) most recent New Product Pacesetters report in early March. The report highlights C.P.G. products that have achieved significant sales levels during their first year on the market.

Of the top 10 products on the list, five feature protein as a better-for-you ingredient, including Light & Fit Greek yogurt from the Dannon Co.; Yoplait Greek 100 from General Mills: Müller Yogurt, which is produced through a joint venture between the Müller Group and PepsiCo; Special K Flatbread Breakfast Sandwiches from Kellogg Co.; and Atkins frozen meals from Atkins Nutritionals.

The New Product Pacesetters highlight several important trends, most notably the power of yogurt as a source of protein. The category continues to grow, with a wide variety of product introductions, including Alpina Foods, Miami, extending its line of Greek yogurt products, and Müller Yogurt adding to its line with the introduction of such dessert flavors as dark chocolate and cherry as well as dark chocolate and pecan granola.

While there is widespread agreement among consumers protein is necessary in a healthy diet, according to NPD, there is confusion over the optimal amount of protein that should be consumed on a typical day. The research firm found that more than three-quarters of primary grocery shoppers say protein contributes to a healthy diet, but almost as many say they are unsure of the recommended daily amount.

“It is important for food and beverage marketers to highlight wherever possible that their products are a good source of lean protein,” said Darren Seifer, food and beverage industry analyst for NPD. “In fact, the protein study we conducted showed certain messages about protein resonated more than others. The study also found nearly half of primary grocery shoppers have purchased protein-enriched foods, and many are willing to pay, or have already paid a premium for these products.”

Meat muscling into snacks

The Kraft Foods Group recently launched the Oscar Mayer P3 Portable Protein Pack, which is available in four varieties with 13 grams of protein and features Oscar Mayer Selects meat, Kraft Natural cheese and Planters nuts.

“It struck us that, while protein snacking is a $19 billion category, meat — which for most people is synonymous with protein — has been largely absent from the conversation, and completely absent from the protein snacking space, which is where the growth is in the category,” said Thomas Bick, senior director of integrated marketing communications and advertising for Oscar Mayer.

Mr. Bick added that the P3 Portable Protein Packs are designed for the active person looking for a protein-packed snack to help keep them going strong.

“We believe these products have truly broad appeal, but we do anticipate a high interest from men,” he said.

Hillshire Brands had a similar notion when developing its Hillshire Snacking line, scheduled to roll out in the fourth quarter of the company’s fiscal year.

“Snacking is a priority for our company,” said Sean Connolly, president and chief executive officer of Hillshire Brands, Feb. 19 during the Consumer Analyst Group of New York conference. “We think protein snacking is a significant growth area, and we think it’s margin-accretive.”

The Hillshire Snacking line is available in two varieties. One features Italian salami or hot calabrese salami with cheese and crackers. The other variety is grilled meats with gourmet dipping sauces in such flavors as sweet chili, honey mustard or teriyaki.

“Why are we doing this?” Mr. Connolly said. “Because consumers are telling us they are looking for protein-oriented snacks — in this case, refrigerated, which there’s not a lot out there. But unlike some of the things you do see in the marketplace, this is truly of superior quality. So this is excellent, high-protein, low-calorie, low-fat snacking in a beautiful packaging execution.”

The new offerings from Kraft and Hillshire follow a similar effort made last spring by Hormel Foods Corp. with the launch of REV snack wraps. The youth-targeted products feature meat and cheese wrapped in a flatbread, and the wraps contain 15 grams or more of protein per serving.

“We obviously believed in the concept that meat and cheese combinations could be a positive element for consumers when it comes to snacking opportunities, and so it is certainly not (surprising) to us that others have looked at the marketplace the same way and have come up with different offerings,” said Jeff Ettinger, chairman, president and c.e.o. of Hormel Foods Corp., during a Feb. 20 earnings call. “I mean, I think the offerings that I’ve seen are really all quite different from each other, so there certainly is a possibility that they could well be complementary and hit consumers at slightly different occasions or maybe a slightly different age audience.”
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