How to Grow Protein Snacking in Japan

How to Grow Protein Snacking in Japan

Japanese consumers consider protein snacks such as bars and shakes to be healthy, but penetration is low. Here's a look at how to overcome the main growth barriers and boost interest in protein snacking in Japan.

Highlights:

  • To help protein bars gain more popularity in Japan, brands need to offer more indulgent flavors and better communicate all the product’s benefits.
  • Brands need to work on awareness, taste, and appearance for their protein shakes to succeed. 
  • Combining functional benefits with the textures, tastes, and formats that consumers enjoy will help drive growth in the protein snack market. 

Key Barriers to High Protein Snacking in Japan

Glanbia Nutritionals recently conducted a usage and attitude study in Japan to understand consumers’ perceptions and behaviors around healthy snacking. In this study, we asked 800 Japanese consumers about which foods and beverages make a healthy snack, the preferred attributes for these snacks, and more.

One stand-out finding is that despite the healthy perception Japanese consumers have of protein-fortified products like protein bars and shakes, only 14% consume them regularly (i.e., at least once a week). Since we know consumers’ interest in healthy eating is on the rise in Japan, we wanted to understand what’s keeping some consumers from buying healthy protein-fortified snacks.

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Among protein-fortified products, protein bars are the most likely to be perceived as healthy, with 76% of Japanese consumers saying protein/energy bars are healthy. However, among consumers who don’t regularly eat them, the main reasons (when consolidated) are they’re not sure of the benefits (45%), they think the product isn’t suitable for them (42%), and taste and product appearance (39%).

Top Reasons for Not Consuming Protein Bars

Reason Proportion of Japanese Consumers
Not sure about the benefits 45%
Not suitable for me 42%
Taste and product appearance 39%
Price concerns 16%
Not practical or convenient 8%
Appearance of packaging 3%
Source: Glanbia Nutritionals, Japanese Healthy Snacking U&A Study, 2021 (Base = 603 consumers who did not eat protein/energy bars in the past 3 months) 

To overcome these barriers, brands will need to address the “not for me” perception by clearly communicating the product’s benefits and possible usages, which include not just workout support but satiety, energy, meal replacement, and to use as a better-for-you treat.

bars and nuts

There is also room to improve on the product’s appearance and taste—with a focus on the indulgent flavors that Japanese consumers prefer in protein bars. For Japanese consumers, chocolate is the most appealing flavor for protein bars at 60%, followed by cocoa (50%), cookies and cream (44%), and caramel nuts and chocolate (42%). Communicating the product’s great taste is also important since 14% of consumers say they haven’t tried protein bars but don’t think they would taste good.

Protein Shakes    

68% of Japanese consumers think protein shakes from powder are healthy, while 59% think RTD protein shakes are. For both types of protein shakes, more consumers are aware of their benefits compared to those of protein bars. However, a higher proportion of consumers think protein shakes are not suitable for them.

Top Reasons for Not Consuming Protein Shakes from Powder

Reason Proportion of Japanese Consumers
Not suitable for me 60%
Taste and product appearance 26%
Not sure about the benefits 25%
Price concerns 10%
Not practical or convenient 5%
Appearance of packaging 3%
Source: Glanbia Nutritionals, Japanese Healthy Snacking U&A Study, 2021 (Base = 631 consumers who did not drink protein shakes from powder in the past 3 months)

Top Reasons for Not Consuming RTD Protein Shakes

Reason Proportion of Japanese Consumers
Not suitable for me 53%
Taste and product appearance 31%
Not sure about the benefits 30%
Price concerns 19%
Not practical or convenient 6%
Appearance of packaging 3%
Source: Glanbia Nutritionals, Japanese Healthy Snacking U&A Study, 2021 (Base = 632 consumers who did not drink RTD protein shakes in the past 3 months)

This can be attributed to the high proportion of consumers (46%) who say they don’t know anything about protein shakes or haven’t heard of them, making a lack of awareness the single biggest barrier. Taste and product appearance also need to be addressed. Like protein bars, protein shakes suffer from poor taste perception among those who haven’t tried them.

Pair Protein Bars with Functional and Format Benefits

The greater consumer awareness of protein bars, combined with their strong health association make bars an ideal product to help expand protein snacking in Japan. Our research indicates delivering protein bars with the right functional and texture format is a promising strategy.

When choosing a protein bar, the most important attribute, according to Japanese consumers, is “good source of vitamins and minerals” (11%)—tied with “great tasting.” Vitamin and mineral fortification for protein bars is ranked the highest by the healthy lifestyle and active lifestyle consumers (compared to inactive lifestyle and sports performance consumers).

man on yoga mat

Besides functional benefits, product texture is key for a successful protein bar. 8% of Japanese consumers say the enjoyable texture is the most important in a protein bar. The most preferred texture formats for protein bars are crunchy (59%) and crispy (41%), suggesting new bar development for the Japanese market should avoid soft and gooey bar textures. An enjoyable protein bar texture is particularly important to inactive lifestyle consumers.

Raising the Bar with the Right Ingredients

Protein bars with the functional benefits, texture formats, and delicious flavors that consumers want can help overcome these barriers to growth in the Japanese market. Effective messaging will also be essential to increasing awareness of the benefits and relevance of protein-fortified snacks, especially among mainstream consumers. 

For your next healthy protein bar or shake, we have functional dairy and bar solutions that will ensure your product is as delicious as it is healthy. Contact us to learn more.

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