For manufacturers working in the whey protein space, it can be a challenge to create products that deliver the protein content consumers expect, as well as a great taste, smooth texture and creamy mouthfeel, reports Chris Whiting, Category Manager, Synergy Flavours
Synergy Flavours has recently conducted some consumer research with whey protein users to find out what they want from their whey protein products and how to meet those requirements. Whey protein concentrate (WPC) and whey protein isolate (WPI) are two of the leading whey protein types available on the market.
Since 2015, the global production of high-grade whey proteins such as WPC80 and WPI (the whey proteins most commonly associated with sports nutrition products) has grown at a CAGR of approximately 5% and is forecast to grow by a further 3% annually until 2024.
More specifically, the value of the whey protein market worldwide was $9.19 billion in 2020 and is forecast to reach $18.56 billion in 2028.1 The sports nutrition market as a whole has seen continuous evolution in recent years.
Consumer demands have changed and submarkets such as plant-based nutrition have increased in popularity. The growth of the protein product market has created more discerning customers who are more focused on products that can tick all the boxes in terms of flavour, texture and mouthfeel, without compromising product performance.
Synergy’s research on whey protein users in the US and UK has identified some of the key challenges experienced in these products and highlighted their main preferences. Gaining consumer insights such as these will help manufacturers to develop products that meet the mark and set themselves apart from the competition.
WPC typically contains 70–80% protein and approximately 3.5 g of lactose and 1.5 g of fat per 100 g serving.2,3 Meanwhile, WPI has 90% or more protein and contains less than 1 g of lactose and less fat than WPC. Synergy’s research found that, of the two protein sources, WPC is the “go-to” for many consumers; it’s the most readily available protein source on the market and is considered to have better texture and flavour as well as being lower in price.
Despite this, numbers of WPI users remain high, with many people claiming that they opt for the isolate product owing to the fact that it is more agreeable with their digestion, suggesting that the higher lactose content of WPC is not well suited to all consumers.
Many users also choose to opt for WPI products because of the additional nutritional benefits it can offer, such as a higher mineral/vitamin content and fewer calories per serving. However, it is not without its challenges; the unflavoured base can present undesirable “cardboard” off-notes and also presents a thinner texture. To address these concerns, manufacturers need to look at how they can build back the creaminess and flavour delivery that sports nutrition consumers desire from their protein products.
Masking off-notes and improving textures is one area that manufacturers need to consider; however, consumer demand for flavour variety should also be taken into account. Flavours can be a key differentiator and can heavily influence both brand choice and loyalty. Core flavours such as vanilla, chocolate and strawberry remain popular, but there is demand for more exciting flavour combinations.
There are a number of places where manufacturers can look for inspiration to increase the variety in their product range. Nostalgic flavours are growing in popularity with consumers and we’re seeing a range of products come to market that take them back to their youth, such as confectionery, classic dessert or even cereal milk flavours.
Seasonal flavours are becoming increasingly popular in whey protein products, with fruity notes such as peach and apricot yoghurt, or tropical smoothie, offering a refreshing sweetness during the summer months, and flavours such as speculoos and pumpkin spice offering a comforting warmth to consumers during the winter months.
Dessert-inspired flavours also seem to perform well with consumers looking for a healthier indulgence hit, with flavours such as blueberry cheesecake, jam roly-poly and rocky road.
By working with flavour specialists, manufacturers utilise flavour solutions to tackle some of the common issues associated with whey protein sources. As a complement to its consumer research, Synergy asked trained flavour panellists to taste a variety of control whey protein products against products enriched with its 4PROTEIN flavour solution and give a score based on desirable attributes such as creamy texture, masked off-notes and boosted flavours.
When measuring creamy texture and flavour, Synergy’s panellists found that the products that had been optimised with the flavour solution scored significantly higher in terms of creamy notes, both in WPI and WPC applications.
Another challenge to overcome is undesirable off-notes, particularly those that are prevalently found in WPI. After applying the solution to the WPI base, the panellists scored a significant reduction in cardboard and astringent notes, and improvements related to sweetness, creamy flavour and long-lasting taste.
Similar effects were also noted in flavoured WPC products when panellists were asked to profile a vanilla-flavoured product against an enriched vanilla flavoured product. Panellists noted an increase in creamy taste and texture, a reduction in astringency and even found overall vanilla notes were boosted.
As the sports nutrition market continues to expand, and consumers become more aware and more vocal about what they want to see in their protein products, there is more than just an expectation for manufacturers to address these demands. There is also an opportunity to innovate and create new products that tick these boxes and deliver on all the attributes that consumers are asking for.
This applies across the whole sports nutrition market. Plant-based proteins, for example, can also present off-notes, such as green bean notes in pea protein, and non-dairy consumers are looking towards products that can offer desirable textures and flavours that are comparable with their whey-based counterparts.
Therefore, to succeed in the sports nutrition market, it’s important for manufacturers to create products that offer great flavours and texture, as well as delivering on protein content that users need to maximise their performance.
This means that the challenges that can be presented by whey protein bases should be considered as opportunities rather than difficulties. Synergy’s research shows that manufacturers can create great tasting whey protein products and that solutions are available for manufacturers looking to beat the competition with top-performing protein products.