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Takeaways from the Protein Trends & Tech Conference

By Scott Dicker

According to consumer insights firm NMI, there has been a 51% increase over the past 11 years in the percent of the population seeking out foods high in protein, with evidence that they are using protein as a tool for weight management and to promote a healthy lifestyle. The voracious demand for protein-rich products has had a marked impact on the food industry, with manufacturers and retailers laser-focused on understanding and rising to meet protein needs through product formulation, curated assortment, and marketing positioning.

In order to learn more about the next wave of protein-inspired innovation hitting the shelves in the near future, SPINS attended the Global Food Forum’s Protein Trends & Technologies conference May 22-23. Here are the five most important takeaways from the show floor and sessions.


Five Key Takeaways from the Show Floor & Sessions

Leaps in Lab-to-Table Meats

Innovation and accessibility of “clean meat” was a big topic at the Forum. “Clean meat,” or meat grown in a lab via cellular agriculture, can look, taste, and smell like animal meat, thereby fulfilling the main consumption drivers for meat: protein and taste. The term “clean meat” alludes to the lack of meat contaminants prevalent in today’s supply, as well as the environmentally friendly methods of production used to create this product (think clean energy). Clean meat can also feature a mixture of plant ingredients and cellular agriculture to help plant-based alternatives more closely mimic animal meat. For example, adding in cellular “beef fat” to a plant-based burger can help it better resemble a beef burger.

According to Brad Barbera, MBA, Director of Innovation at The Good Food Institute, the first clean-meat burger made from cellular agriculture cost $330,000 to create. Currently, Barbera stated that the price is down to under $10,000 per pound. And a report from Fast Company last month puts Israel-based startup Future Meat Technologies’ costs at around $363 a pound. While we’re still a way off from mass commercialization, this significant gap closure shows how fast technology is developing. With companies like Hampton Creek and Memphis Meats investing in these technologies, clean meat may become commercially affordable sooner than some people think. Storytelling will be critical to helping it gain mainstream acceptance among consumers.

A New Approach to Acquisition

One standout panel brought together representatives from Miyokos Kitchen, Beyond Meat, and Vital Proteins to share their take on recent food acquisition trends. According to the panel, many new startups are forming with acquisition already in mind as their exit strategy. Panelists pointed out that this has led to acquisitions that are more like partnerships than takeovers, with big companies getting in early with innovative brands and partnering. With the capital injection, small brands increase their risk tolerance and are able to innovate and try new approaches that would otherwise have been unavailable to them.

Opportunities and Challenges for Plant Proteins

Many speakers at the Forum addressed plant-based protein’s continued surge in popularity, spurred in part by sustainability and welfare concerns surrounding the meat industry. SPINS experts have been watching pea protein, in particular, which grew by 63% over the last year, amounting to a $102 million market.

Some challenges facing plant-based proteins are insecure supply chain for new ingredients as well as the potential for allergies. Steve Taylor, Ph.D., of the University of Nebraska’s Food Allergy Research and Resource Program stated that all allergens are proteins, so it is inevitable that some people will be allergic to new protein sources. It is hard to predict how widespread an allergy will become. It’s also hard to forecast sales of plant proteins due to a limited amount of supply-and-demand data.

Winning with Whey

With the bulk of conference presentations rooting for the increase in plant proteins, Chris Lockwood, Ph.D., applied his expertise in protein research to talk about how whey can win in the changing marketplace. He touched on research indicating that whey may be better than plant sources for muscle building and body composition, in addition to highlighting ways to assuage consumer concerns around animal welfare and sustainability.

For example, whey labeling could call out how the product is naturally renewable, vegetarian, and gluten-free, he said. If careful sourcing allows for it, whey brands can also feature animal-welfare claims on the front of the label. Chris ended with this point: whey protein can win because it is the most natural form of protein. It’s usually the first protein humans consume, through breast milk; simply put, even vegan moms don’t produce vegan milk.

SPINS’ Best of Show

Protein product trends at the show ranged from upscaled convenience store options to packaged goods solving diet-tribe and special-diet need states. Evolving well beyond the hot-dog and Slurpee options, one conference presentation highlighted Wawa’s Protein Power Pack, which contains peanut butter, an egg, a mini wheat bagel, apple slices, grapes, and almonds – totaling 23 grams of protein per serving. It was also nice to see several women-owned protein brands producing products for a women-dominated target audience.

Creation Nation is one such woman-owned company from founder and CEO Karen Nation, who is looking to carve out her own protein category with the brand’s DIY labeled-vegan Protein Bar Mix. This mix allows you to create your own protein bars without baking, setting this product apart from the ready-to-eat bars that dominate the marketplace. I heard this is a big hit among female bodybuilders looking to satisfy their sweet tooth.

EM+PACT is a mission-based company made by women, for women. These protein bars are advertised as “perfect purse size.” They taste great and pack a lot of nutrition into a small bar. It is interesting to see this brand labeling the bar as both a protein and energy bar, really capturing two hot trends people are looking for with nutrition.

Real Good’s Chicken Crust Pizza is made with a crust from natural, antibiotic-free chicken breast and Parmesan cheese, and it comes in three flavors: The Supreme, Three Cheese, and Uncured Pepperoni. Satisfying diet needs among the Paleo and keto crowds, all three pizzas contain 25 grams of protein, 4 carbs, and only 2 grams of sugar per serving.

Want to know more about today’s protein trends and what SPINS’ experts have to say? Contact your SPINS rep or email [email protected] to activate data on proteins across categories and tap into other hot retail topics affecting your business.

SPINSscan Natural and Specialty Gourmet (proprietary), SPINSscan Conventional Multi Outlet (powered by IRI), 13 Quads Ending 2018-May-20.