With protein in high demand, manufacturers are increasingly turning to high quality whey ingredients to give their bars and beverages premium positioning, writes Joe Katterfield, Sales Development Manager, Sports Nutrition and Health Foods, Arla Foods Ingredients
But there are challenges to overcome to ensure that products match consumers’ high expectations. Whey protein was once the preserve of the sports nutrition market, but it’s now firmly in the mainstream.
Protein’s positive impact on athletic performance has long been established … but it has also become a popular tool for weight loss and there is evidence that it could offer an array of further health benefits.1–4 These factors are helping to fuel a boom in whey protein demand at a time when consumers are also increasingly seeking convenience.
Protein bars are a prime example. In recent years, they have catered not only to consumers following the high-protein trend but also those leading busy lifestyles and seeking quick and easy meal replacements. The explosion in popularity speaks for itself; there has been a 21% CAGR increase in global product launches of protein bars since 2014.5
This creates opportunities as well as challenges for manufacturers. The marketplace is now crowded, which means it can be more difficult to attract new customers and secure brand loyalty — and expectations are high. Many modern consumers want “elevated convenience,” which means they not only expect convenient food and drink but also don’t want to compromise on flavour or nutritional value.
To stand out from the crowd, manufacturers may include premium elements as they seek to position their product as something new or different, but securing premium positioning for protein bars is not straightforward. Whey protein isolate, for example, can be difficult to incorporate effectively. Consumers recognise it as a premium protein source; but, all too often, it can lead to bars hardening and becoming chewy during their shelf-life.
The consequences of poor texture should not be underestimated. If a consumer purchases a product that is nearing the end of its shelf-life and has become tough to chew, they are obviously less likely to buy it again in the future. To meet consumer expectations, manufacturers will often have to spend long periods sourcing, balancing and blending ingredients, but there are solutions out there.
At Arla Foods Ingredients, we recently launched Lacprodan ISO.WheyBar, a blend of whey protein isolate and casein that can help manufacturers to reduce production times. It is provided as a ready-to-mix solution for a premium product that retains its soft texture throughout its shelf-life.
The high protein content and functionality are standardised and quality assured, so manufacturers can take their protein bar to the next level without the hassle often associated with handling numerous protein ingredients.
Manufacturers can also boost the quality of bars using Lacprodan SoftBar, a plug-and-play, single-ingredient solution. Two vital factors when consumers are making purchase decisions are total protein percentage and the type of protein used. However, many high-protein bars on the market often use soya and collagen — sources that many consumers avoid.
Lacprodan SoftBar tackles this issue by enabling manufacturers to deliver a pleasant whipped texture in a bar with up to 37% protein content using only dairy proteins.
Consumers also want fewer artificial ingredients in food and drink products. As such, some US brands are starting to market protein bars as “maltitol free.” Maltitol is a sugar alcohol that can cause digestive disturbances, but it’s commonly used because of its sweet taste and bulking properties. It can therefore be difficult for manufacturers to remove it without compromising on texture.
Lacprodan TexturePro is a functional, hydrolysed whey protein concentrate that allows manufacturers to replace maltitol while still offering a superior texture. Based on high-quality whey protein from grass-fed cows, it improves chewiness by 45% and reduces hardness by 60% for a period of 15–18 months.6
Ready-to-drink protein beverages are another growth category and can fulfil a similar role to protein bars. It is now increasingly common for consumers to enjoy protein drinks as a snack; they are quick and easy to consume and, as it increases satiety, whey protein can be a great solution for busy consumers.
As with bars, though, it can be challenging for manufacturers of high-protein beverages to create products that meet consumer expectations. For example, whey protein hydrolysate is an elite protein source that can be used in such beverages. It can be absorbed more readily than a whey protein concentrate or isolate, which means the body gets access to amino acids more quickly.7
Several studies have shown that athletes experience improved recovery after intense exercise when they consume whey protein hydrolysate.8,9 However, the bitter peptides it contains have a significant impact on taste and therefore have limited commercial appeal.10
Lacprodan HYDRO.PowerPro, our new 100% whey protein hydrolysate, was created to provide a solution. It retains all the quality of regular whey protein hydrolysate, but tests have shown it to be 50% less bitter (based on blinded sensory evaluations) than comparable products with a similar degree of hydrolysis (21–27%).
It is also fat-free, non-GMO, Halal and Kosher, whereas on-pack benefits include high protein content, no added sugar and low viscosity.
Taste has also been a challenge in another growing beverage category. The high-protein trend, demand for convenient ready-to-drink nutritional beverages and the success of the sports nutrition category have all driven consumer interest in clear protein waters. However, some brands have been reluctant to launch new products owing to challenges with taste and a dry mouthfeel.
Lacprodan ISO.Water is a 100% whey protein isolate ingredient that overcomes these issues. Specially designed for clear beverages, it delivers great mouthfeel without the taste of protein, creating new opportunities for innovative products with a unique taste. Our aim is to help manufacturers to overcome the challenges associated with delivering the premium whey protein products that consumers demand.