Plant Protein Showing Growth?

by Matt Weik

We are all used to seeing whey protein products across the board. Things like protein bars, shakes, powders, and food items. With the cost associated with whey seemingly always rising, consumers are looking at different ways to increase their daily protein intake and it appears plant protein is showing some growth.

Is this the year of plant-based protein products?

I’ve watched several brands launch plant-based protein powders over the last few months and now it appears that even bar manufacturers are jumping on board. PowerBar who makes energy bars has decided to throw their hat in the ring and see how sales perform for them with some new bars. Their brand manager said, “We noticed that when it comes to protein, consumers are becoming more selective, and we’ve seen plant-based protein sources gain popularity as a result.” I must admit, I’m extremely impressed that a brand can see a trend and make changes quickly to keep up with the demand. Many brands don’t evolve with changes in the industry and it’s refreshing to see that a brand like PowerBar is jumping in with both feet to supply their consumers with an option they clearly have been asking for.

While PowerBar in the past has launched many different bars that contained whey protein, the new bars they launched are more of a granola variety and use protein from sources such as peanuts, cashews, and almonds. Obviously, if you have nut allergies, these types of products and bars would not be for you. In addition to the protein coming from the nuts mentioned, they are also using rice and pea protein crisps in the bars for added protein which also gives it more of a crunchy texture. They did mention that pea protein in general gives an almost bitter taste, and that through the addition of the nuts and seeds, it improved the flavor profile drastically thanks to the added fats. And let’s face it, the bar category has changed a lot over the years. If you ate a protein bar back in the 90’s you would have sworn someone was trying to poison you or that they gave you a piece of cardboard to chew on. Nowadays, we have some amazing tasting bars that almost taste like something you would eat if you wanted to cheat on your clean diet.


Will the plant protein movement continue to grow or will the clouds roll in and steal the sunlight?

It’s tough to say. If you look at the current products out there on the market that include plant-based protein, the content is generally lower than what we are accustomed to seeing from a whey protein-based product. If you look at PowerBar again as an example, their whey protein bars are generally hitting around the 20g mark whereas the plant-based protein bars are only coming in around 10g. While PowerBar is mentioning the plant-based was never meant to replace the whey, it seems like the new plant protein bars are going to be attracting a different demographic in terms of consumers. And that’s ok, honestly. I like the fact that we are introducing new products to the market for people with different needs, wants, and tastes. We just need to set our expectations of the product a little lower, knowing that whey protein owns majority of the share out there in terms of what protein source is going into bars and other products on the market.

PowerBar mentioned, “We are seeking to diversify our product portfolio and offer products for various usage occasions. Our 20g bars are great for post-workout recovery or providing a meal replacement. When you’re looking for a snack, the 10g of protein in our Plant Protein bar is the perfect amount that will provide needed energy and satiety without feeling too heavy. PowerBar is no longer exclusively for the marathoner or triathlete. We’re broadening our consumer base to include all active players in the sports world. With Plant Protein in particular, we’re looking to appeal to a more natural consumer who is looking for wholesome protein snacks.”

In late 2016, PowerBar also launched a new initiative to grow in the mainstream sports nutrition space when they launched a new Clean Whey Protein Bar. They removed all the artificial colors, flavors, and sweeteners and came out with a bar containing 20g of whey protein with around 4g of net carbs and 2g of sugar. It truly seems like Post Holdings who owns PowerBar is looking at the big picture and investing a lot of money in the space. They are looking to steal consumers in the active lifestyle space and use their food, drug, and mass retailers to blast their products out everywhere.

What’s my take on all of this from my years in this market?

Those of you who know my background, I came from the supplement industry where I was the Director of the Team Sports division for MET-Rx. MET-Rx is owned by NBTY (Nature’s Bounty Co.) who also produces products under the brands Balance Bar and Pure Protein. All three of the brands mentioned sell bars ranging from an everyday nutrition bar to a protein bar, and all the way up to a heavy meal replacement bar. What I’ve seen over the years in the industry is that as trends come and go, brands and companies invest millions of dollars in new technology, new manufacturing processes, and new raw materials. Some of the brands will succeed if they can market their product in a fashion that pulls product off the shelf, but many brands will launch and discontinue extremely quickly because they either weren’t first to market or they did a terrible job marketing their new product or line. Many will enter the plant-based space, but very few will actually make a splash and last long-term.

In the case of this article, we are talking specifically about plant-based protein. Do I believe plant-based bars are going to be the future of the industry? In my opinion, no—at least not yet. Whey is the king right now across the board when it comes to protein, and regardless of price increases, I don’t feel that any other protein source is going to knock it down a few pegs any time soon or replace it.

Nutra Ingredients USA.

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