man eating bar after workout

The Rise of High Protein

High protein foods have expanded beyond the shakes and bars loved by competitive athletes into mainstream snacks and meals for all consumers. Catalina Crunch high protein cereal, Kodiak Cakes Flapjack Cups and Ready Protein Water are part of the newest wave of protein products on the market. But what’s continues to drive this trend, and will it last?  

Why Consumers Want Protein

Increasing protein intake is an important consideration for global consumers, especially those who are looking to lead more healthy lifestyles. Of those consumers who say they will eat and drink more healthily, 45% indicate increasing protein intake is a step they will take, according to FMCG Gurus.1 Unlike micronutrients like calcium and iron, for example, a deficiency in protein is extremely rare in developed countries. So why are consumers looking for protein?

From the Keto Diet to the Flexitarian Diet, protein has been in the spotlight. Protein is regarded by consumers as providing several important health benefits, including:

  • Satiety – feeling fuller longer
  • Weight loss and weight maintenance – both through satiety and as the basis of a low-carb diet
  • Supporting muscle mass – to build muscle, as well as prevent muscle loss due to aging

Plant-Based Protein

Plant-based protein, in particular, has a health halo. Consumers perceive it as inherently healthy and associate it with a clean label. Products on the market that address consumers’ interest globally in plant-based proteins include Bounce High Protein Plant-based and Vegan Balls in Europe, By-Health Plant Protein Powder in China, and OWYN Vegan Protein Shakes in North America. 

bowls of seeds and nuts

Foods Naturally Rich in Protein

Consumer interest in protein provides a marketing boost to a number of foods naturally rich in protein, including:

  • Legumes and legume products – e.g., edamame, lentils, black beans, chickpeas, hummus, and tofu
  • Meats – especially jerky and chicken breast
  • Seeds – e.g., pumpkin, sunflower, flax, and chia seeds
  • Seafood – especially tuna 
  • Certain grains – such as wheat and quinoa
  • Nuts – especially peanuts and almonds
  • Eggs – egg whites, in particular, as they contain more protein than the yolks
  • Dairy products – especially Greek yogurt and cottage cheese

The protein trend is a great opportunity for manufacturers to add front-of-package protein content claims, as well as combine foods to create high protein meals or snacks. One example is Sargento’s Balanced Breaks, which combines snackable cheese, and nuts in a portable tray. 

Bars are also beginning to showing up in the refrigerated space. In the US, one of the first movers, Perfect Bar is packing 12 to 17 grams of protein into each of their bars with many brands like Clio Greek Yogurt Bars. We expect this trend to expand globally. According to Mintel, 32% of German consumers say ice cream snack bars are appealing.2 

Protein Fortified Foods

Protein fortification isn’t just for bars anymore. Products illustrating the successful expansion of protein fortification include ice cream, protein water, and protein cakes, cookies and brownies. Protein fortified products can be found in a number of categories now, such as:

  • Nutrition bars
  • Protein shake mixes
  • Fruit smoothies
  • Veggie burgers
  • Breakfast cereals
  • Frozen dinners
  • Baked goods
  • Ice cream
  • Sports drinks and waters
woman drinking water on beach

Even foods naturally rich in protein are fortified to give them an additional nutrient boost. For example, fresh dairy products like cheese, yogurt and cottage cheese can get a boost in protein from the addition of protein solutions. The most commonly used proteins for food fortification include:

  • Milk and whey
  • Soy
  • Pea
  • Egg
  • Wheat
  • Rice

These are typically used as concentrates or isolates, which can be included with a custom nutrient premix to add vitamins and minerals to optimize a product’s nutrition label. When choosing a protein, it’s important to consider the flavor, texture, and functional impacts on the product, in addition to usage level, cost, and any allergen concerns. 

Looking Ahead

Although protein foods and claims seem to be everywhere right now, it can be tricky to know if this trend has staying power. But for today’s health-conscious consumers, adding more of what’s healthy and less of what’s not is always a good bet!

You want your protein-fortified products to taste great and we have the solutions to make that happen. Our dairy and plant-based proteins are functionally optimized to provide a better flavor and texture experience for a variety of applications. We have the ingredients and knowledge to handle your formulation challenges from processing and shelf life to flavor and texture. Collaborate with us to create protein products that entice your customers and keep them coming back! 


1. FMCG Gurus. (2021). How Has COVID-19 Changed Consumer Behaviour – Global 2021.
2. Mintel. (2020). Snack Bars – Germany – 2020.

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