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Beyond Bars and Powders: The New Protein Craze

Opportunities include chicken-based protein supplements and ready-to-drink protein coffee

4 Minute Read

What you should know

  • The global protein market, valued as high as $50B, is expected to grow at a 6% CAGR in the next several years.
  • The supplement and plant-based protein portions of the market are expected to have the longest-lasting growth.  

How you can capitalize

  • Make ready-to-drink protein coffee beverages or chicken-based protein beverages for the active lifestyle set. About 63% of fitness enthusiasts say they’d drink chicken-based protein, but few options exist. 
  • Create a niche protein subscription box that is geared toward different lifestyles, rather than hardcore athletes.

The protein takeover began with the Atkins Diet and plenty of jokes about New Jersey bros hopped up on Muscle Milk. (Anyone remember the “My New Haircut” YouTube video?)

But the ingredient associated with overly-jacked bodybuilders is now in demand everywhere. People want more protein with their meals, as replacements for meals, in sports drinks, in shakes, in smoothies. They want protein to be plant-based but are also excited about the possibility of chicken-based supplements. The Guardian has described protein as “the rich world’s new diet obsession.”   

The global protein market, according to the B2B marketing company MarketsandMarkets, is worth about $50B. It is expected to rise to more than $70B by 2025 at a 6% CAGR (other surveys have the overall value at less than $50B but growing at a similar pace).

Research has shown a few segments within the overall market promise the longest possibilities for growth: protein supplements and plant-based protein. According to recent reports by Grandview Research and Industry Research, the value of the global protein supplement market is between about $11B and $14B and is expected to increase by about 50%, to more than $20B, by 2025. The plant-based protein market is expected to increase from about $4.6B to $6.4B in the coming years.

Certain niches are expected to experience the fastest growth. Major opportunities involve ready-to-drink protein beverages, especially those with chicken-based ingredients, protein coffee, and plant protein products made from ingredients other than soy.   

Why protein’s rise will continue

Consider these statistics and trends: 

  • As of 2014, half of Americans said they wanted more protein in their diets. That number had risen by 30 percentage points since 2009. In Britain, about half of consumers are also looking to add more protein. They say this even though people tend to get more than the daily recommended intake of protein. 

  • People often seek protein alternatives rather than eat foods that are naturally rich in protein. Between 45% and 64% of Americans don’t even realize the extent to which chicken, beef, and pork contain protein.
  • Many protein supplements and superfoods are low quality, but, according to a Grandview Research study, demand is rapidly increasing for traceable, high-quality ingredients. 
  • Young people are leading the usage of protein supplements for lifestyle reasons, and an increasing number of senior citizens are using protein supplements to deal with loss of muscle mass and strength.  

How people take protein now 

Although many Americans may not understand the exact benefits of protein-rich foods like chicken and eggs, they are buying these products. According to Nielsen, meat, eggs, and dairy are still considered consumers’ top sources for protein. Other natural sources like peanut butter and nuts remain popular. 

But the last several years have brought many different options to stores and online. 

Traditional powder: Powdered mixes have been around for a long time but still represent a 65% share of the protein supplement market, according to Grandview Research.  

Protein yogurts: US sales of yogurt have been declining but non-dairy, high-protein options have been increasing as high as 40% YoY. Key brands include Two Good and Siggi’s.

Protein bars: Newer entrants include EPIC and RXBAR. They have succeeded by packing a punch of natural and gluten-free ingredients.   

  • Potential opportunity: Plant-based protein bars and related snacks that don’t have soy-based ingredients. Buyers at Whole Foods expect consumers to branch out in non-soy directions starting next year. 
  • Protein ingredients on the rise include mung bean, pumpkin, hempseed, watermelon seed, and avocado.

Protein coffee: It is exactly like it sounds: coffee mixed with protein. One of the most successful brands is Chike, which sells D2C and at a few retailers. 

  • Potential opportunity: Ready to drink protein coffee. Powdered coffee mixes with protein are abundant, but there are fewer ready-made protein coffee drinks. Many of the companies that offer ready-to-drink protein coffee do not specialize in the protein variety. 
  • The potential is high for ready-to-drink protein coffee, considering only 6% of Americans drink instant or powdered coffee. Plus, ready-to-drink coffee beverages (particularly cold brew) are the fastest growing segment in the overall market.
  • Potential opportunity 2: Luxury powdered protein coffee. Although instant coffee represents a small share of the US coffee market, higher-quality, higher-priced brands are finding new success.        

Protein boxes: PaaS (protein as a service) is already a thing. Musclebox, Yogi Surprise, and Brotein are popular subscription boxes mostly geared toward the active set.   

  • Potential opportunity: Veer away from the fitness set into a lifestyle-related protein subscription. There’s also less competition for plant-based-only protein boxes, where Core Gains is one of the few major players. 

Chicken drinks

Rather than be seen as a tool for getting stronger, protein is now seen as a healthy supplement for casual exercisers — particularly in drink form. 

When Cypress Research surveyed consumers about sports drink preferences, according to Food and Business News, 52% of respondents considered protein the most important out of 17 possible ingredients.    

Powdered protein remains the standard for supplements: According to Grandview Research, the fastest-growing segment involves Ready to Drink protein beverages. They only account for about 18% of the supplement market right now. 

Muscle Milk is one of the most successful RTD protein beverages. It was recently purchased by Pepsi for almost half a billion dollars. But several startups have entered the scene, including ICONIC and Remedy Organics.     

Here’s one opportunity among drink options: ready-made chicken-based protein drinks (seriously!) Here’s why:

  • Cypress Research found that chicken-based proteins are more likely to appeal to consumers than dairy or plant-based proteins. The research company also found that 63% of fitness enthusiasts would drink chicken protein beverages. 
  • Few chicken-based protein drink brands exist: Chikpro is one of the best-known companies. Its protein powder is used in drink mixes by Barndad Nutrition and Driven Nutrition. It is not available in ready-to-drink form.  
  • Chicken bone broth has already risen in popularity because of the Paleo movement.


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