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What’s next in protein for athletes?

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Protein is still the big buzzword in the sports nutrition category. With the pandemic redefining consumer priorities and needs, how will brands tap into growing opportunities in protein and plant-based alternatives?

Over the past couple of years, both protein and plant-based products have grown, and are expected to continue significantly over the next few years. In fact, according to a report by Grand View Research, protein supplements will grow 8.4% per year in the coming decade; and the Plant-Based Foods Organization projects similar growth for plant-based products—many of which are protein alternatives. Even during COVID-19, these categories continued to grow fueled by consumers wanting to strengthen their immune systems.

Over the years, both young and adult athletes have gravitated towards enhanced protein and nutrient products for recovery, muscles strengthening and building for endurance. However, during COVID-19, the definition of athletes broadened with more consumers globally seeking healthy lifestyles, exercising and spending more time outdoors.

Throughout the last year at buzzback, we’ve interviewed more than 26,000 consumers across the UK and the US in a number of studies around changing habits, including snacking, exercise and consumption of plant-based products. This research centered around monitoring consumer behaviour through unprecedented change, as the top global consumer product companies sought (and continue to seek) what will ‘stick’ post pandemic.

In addition, buzzback conducted a range of brand-specific research around these categories for top global companies looking to innovate and meet consumer needs. Some key highlights:

  • Snacking category growth has increased over 30% since the onset of COVID-19; consumers are having 3.3 snacks on average every day across most global regions
  • In particular, around 30% seek protein-based alternatives for energy and health, especially if they are skipping meals; consumption of protein and plant-based products is also associated with less guilt
  • For plant-based specifically, 80% of consumers in the US and UK are aware of these products, most (70%) have already tried meat and milk substitutes, and 56% are also aware of plant-based cheese.

“I have reduced my meat intake and replaced it with plant-based proteins to support a healthier lifestyle. I have been reading studies about how meat, especially red, can play a big factor in things like obesity, heart disease, high cholesterol and blood pressure. I want to avoid those problems before they happen” said one consumer.

  • For protein and probiotics, many consumers (particularly Gen Z and Millennials) are generally familiar with these ingredients. Over 70% say they are open to purchasing probiotics, essential oils, omega-3, and hemp; while 60% are interested in purchasing collagen and protein powders.
  • In parallel, fitness is more mainstream, with 45% of consumers taking to outdoor exercise, and seeking healthier food alternatives. The need for endurance, strength and less guilt around snacking alternatives is no longer driven solely by endurance athletes
  • And of course, we’re all experiencing the exponential growth of eCommerce across all categories driving shifts in channel/purchase behaviour.

The convergence of these market factors will drastically change production and distribution of protein- and plant-based products going forward.

To find out more and join the conversation on what’s next in protein and plant-based proteins for athletes, join this interactive roundtable as part of Vitafoods Insights Virtual Expo. Register for this free virtual event, and find the protein roundtable within the Sports & Active Nurtition Stage. 

Carol Fitzgerald is founder and CEO at buzzback

TAGS: Ingredients
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