Protein Is Popular. Here’s How You Capitalize.

Whether it be for health, cost, convenience, environmental considerations, dietary restrictions, or just plain vanity, consumer demand for meat-alternative sources of protein has risen dramatically in recent years. Sales of protein supplements have nearly doubled since 2009 and food manufacturers have since infused protein into everything from cereal and pasta to energy drinks and bottled smoothies.

In a new report titled “The Personalization of Protein,” Acosta Sales and Marketing, a national broker for CPG brands, identifies the factors behind a surge in demand for alternative sources of protein. Acosta also shares the results of an internal study which details the motivating factors for consumer decisions, based on age and demographic information.

So what exactly are the reasons that shoppers are buying less meat and looking to protein alternatives? Cost appears to be the primary factor, with health and wellness coming in second. Still, 60 percent of all shoppers say they check labels before buying their food and 30 percent of them cite protein as the most important nutrient for a healthy lifestyle.

According to Acosta’s study, most consumers (64 percent) cite nuts as the most popular replacement for meat-based protein, followed by beans and lentils (63 percent), dairy and eggs (56 percent), rice, pasta, and quinoa (50 percent) and protein bars and shakes (21 percent). Meat alternatives in the form of tofu, tempeh, texturized vegetable protein, and seitan are also gaining popularity with 31 percent of shoppers purchasing it in the past year.

Convenience is also a significant factor in demand for protein-infused products. Acosta points to an increase in snacking occasions and meal replacements as being a key reason behind increased consumer consumption of trendy foods like Greek yogurt. The company pointed to a recent Mintel study which found that 38 percent of shoppers say protein content is their primary motivation for buying yogurt.

The study also notes that interest in meat alternative sources of protein dovetails with income levels. Consumers with an annual household income of more than $75,000 have the highest interest, with more than 55 percent buying an alternative protein source in the last year.

Although there are many factors behind this protein revolution, the news here seems to be how the different generational groups are reacting to it. The motivation for seeking protein alternatives as well as the choice of what to replace traditional forms of meat clearly with varies by age groups. Here’s the breakdown.

Millennials (Ages 18-34)
Millennials are considered to be the most health-conscious, and not surprisingly, are spearheading the alternative protein movement. They not only are more aware of the types of protein alternatives available, but also are more willing to try them. Of all the groups, millennials have the highest interest in meat alternatives with 50 percent of them purchasing some form of it in the past year. Sixty percent of millennials believe a person can achieve their necessary daily amount of protein without meat. Along with their on-the-go lifestyles, millennials also lead in the use of meal replacement protein bars and shakes with over one-third of the group consuming the shakes or bars one to three times daily.

Generation X (Ages 35-49)
Only about half of Generation X believes that people can achieve their necessary daily protein intake without meat. They follow millennials in consumption of meal replacement bars and shakes, with about half consuming at least a bar or shake one to two times per week. They are more cautious about trying newer alternatives like alternative meats with 66 percent of them not having purchased any in the past year. About 60 percent of Generation X cite cost as the reason they are buying less meat and 40 percent cite health reasons.

Baby Boomers (Ages 50-64)
Of shoppers who are buying less meat, Baby Boomers are the most cost conscious with 76 percent stating that as their primary factor. Boomers think similarly to Generation X in their belief of whether a person can achieve their necessary daily amount of protein without meat. Unlike, Generation X, Baby Boomers seem even less likely to try protein alternatives like shakes and bars with over 60 percent of them rarely if ever using it. And in the realm of alternative meats, 80 percent of Boomers report not having tried any meat alternative in the past year.

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