Protein supplements are the fastest-growing category in consumer health with global sales up 59% to $5.4bn from 2006-2011, according to Euromonitor International.
But Arla says that despite evidence to the contrary some consumers, women in particular, still perceive them to be high in calories and consequently fattening, or associate them with body builders and fear they will develop a muscular and unfeminine body shape.
It’s time to engage the ladies…
Troels Laursen, head of health and performance nutrition at Arla Foods Ingredients, said huge numbers of consumers were buying into whey protein for the first time.
“But there remains large untapped potential because many women still believe, wrongly, that consuming higher levels of protein could have a negative impact on their physiology,” he added.
Laursen said it was vital manufacturers work with their ingredients suppliers to develop concepts that will shatter these myths by educating female consumers.
Can the ‘myths’ be shattered? Perhaps. But Mintel global drinks analyst Jonny Forsyth told BeverageDaily.com that Europeans in general, not just women “are not very interested in protein drinks, because they don’t understand protein’s dieting benefits in the same way as US consumers”.
‘Protein not on people’s health ‘to do’ radar in Europe’: Mintel
Citing Mintel’s Q1 2014 data, he said that only 14% of French adults (with a negligible gender split) are eating more dietary protein, 21% are in Germany, 16% in Italy and Spain and 18% in Poland.
“Protein has never been an issue for Europeans,” Forsyth said. “We have plenty of it in our diets, so it is not on people's health 'to do' radar. People here also associate it a little bit with meat which makes it hard for it to crossover into drinks.
“But I do think that following greater consumer education, dairy drinks that sell their protein benefits [as a basis for added protein] have a big future. This is because they are naturally protein-filled as they are milk-based,” he said, noting that brands could even use soy milk in place of WPC/WPI.
However, Forsyth does not believe protein waters, another US success story, will catch on in the EU, even if they do overcome solubility problems relating to whey protein.
“Water would mean added protein rather than naturally sourced, and I think that is a stretch too far for most consumers,” he said.
‘We need products that really resonate with women’: Arla
So how will Arla Food Ingredients work to scupper the erroneous stereotypes as it sees them?
Lindsey Ormond, business development manager, health and performance nutrition at Arla Foods Ingredients, told this website: "Both water- and milk-based protein drinks can bring key health benefits to a woman’s diet. The critical part for targeting females is to provide high quality ingredients in lightly flavoured products, with a soft appearance and clear communication on the benefits."
"The development of and trend for protein waters continues to gain momentum in Europe, as it provides a light, convenient way to get high quality protein in the diet, as well as being a healthier alternative to soft drinks," she added.
"Educating the consumer about the benefits of high quality protein and providing products that taste good and are available in convenient outlets (such as front of store lunch chillers, convenience shops, cinemas, gyms) will be key for building the area," she said.
Protein water: Mass market healthy alternative to soft drinks
Asked what prospects it saw outside of sports nutrition, in breakfast drinks, meal replacement drinks, or drinks with whey for senior nutrition, Ormond said Arla had a range of concepts, including it's protein water concept launched last year with Lacprodan DI-9213, "targeted more mass market as a healthy alternative to soft drinks".
"Our whey proteins can be incorporated into a number of product concepts, from breakfast beverages to soups, bars to gels, as we recognise there is a huge consumer market that could take advantage of the superior health benefits whey protein can provide," she added.
At IFT Food Expo in New Orleans next week (June 22-24), Arla Foods Ingredients will launch Lacprodan HYDRO 365 whey protein hydrolysate targeted at exercise recovery for athletes and Lacprodan DI-7017, a whey protein concentrate for the wider lifestyle nutrition market.
Although some people - notably women - fear protein is fattening, Laursen said that, gram for gram, it contains fewer than half the calories in fat and the same amount as in carbohydrate.
The science behind satiety claims
Citing Baer et al. (2011) writing in the Journal of Nutrition, he talked up the satiety benefits of protein – over five months subjects consuming whey protein daily significantly reduced their total body weight, waist size and fat mass.
A more recent study supports WPC’s satiety benefits, although the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) rejected claims linking protein in general to satiety and reduced energy intake and maintenance of normal body weight, in a grouped 2010 opinion.
But EFSA did accept claimed effects relating protein intake to maintenance of normal bone and, more central to our purposes here, the growth/maintenance of muscle mass.
New protein products tailored to lifestyles and needs
Talking on these lines, Laursen said that, far from bulking women out with unwanted muscle, Laursen said protein improved overall body composition as part of a regular diet – encouraging the body to produce lean muscle while discouraging fat storage.
"The traditional consumer of the protein market has, of course, been muscle builders," Ormond told BeverageDaily.com.
"But there is growing recognition outside of this that products containing high quality protein can have a place in the diets of many consumers, not just those wanting to build muscle; from adults wanting to maintain a healthy weight, to older adults looking to stay physically active and healthy throughout their advancing years, to endurance athletes wanting faster recovery," she said.
"The best way to tackle is educating consumers about the benefits of high quality proteins in their diets and provide products that are tailored to suit their needs and appeal to their lifestyles," Ormond added.