Survey: Americans love protein, even if they don't understand it
- A recent Nielsen survey found many Americans can't identify which foods contain high amounts of protein. The July survey of more than 20,000 consumers — initially done in December 2015 and repeated this summer — showed between 45% and 64% didn't think beef, chicken or pork were high-protein sources. But 55% of households claim high protein is a significant factor in purchasing food for their families, Nielsen found.
- The survey also found that 78% of the survey respondents thought peanut butter had more protein than it actually does, just 20% were aware shrimp has a high protein level and most didn't know cottage cheese is a high-protein food.
- Although there are plenty of plant-based protein sources available, Nielsen said consumers continue to buy more traditional forms of protein, such as meat, eggs and dairy, as their primary sources.
Consumers may not always know how much protein they need or which products have high levels of it, but many are aware that it's an essential building block for the human body. As a result, consumers keep buying protein-rich products, leading to the inclusion of the ingredient in foods and beverages where it hasn't been in the past.
Protein has been added to chips, shakes, ice cream and candy to the point that Research and Markets has projected the global protein ingredients market could hit $48.77 billion by 2025. Besides its inclusion in food items, protein is even being added to water products. The U.S. protein drink market is projected to hit $6.7 billion by 2019, which is up from approximately $4 billion in 2015, a research report by Global Insights noted.
Dietary trends like paleo are also driving demand for protein, as well as consumer interest in healthier lifestyles and fitness regimens that require more protein in order to recover and rebuild muscle and strength.
Although consumers do seek out protein, the Nielsen survey noted they don't understand protein sources and which foods contain how much of it. The survey also found that members of the greatest generation and millennials were most familiar with the protein content in foods. Millennials correctly identified the protein content in peanut butter, jerky, protein bars, chicken breasts and salmon fillets, Nielsen said. This makes sense for millennials who prefer eating healthy foods with premium value-adds. The greatest generation consumers accurately pinpointed protein levels in cottage cheese, ribeye steak, pork loin and shrimp.
Still, U.S. consumers exhibit a "fairly low" knowledge of protein, Nielsen said. The problem may be linked to lack of education and outreach on the issue, although some people may not care if they understand protein as long as they're getting the health benefits. Even so, makers of protein-rich products might want to inform consumers about levels and sources of protein in order to bolster their transparency halo and maximize sales and growth. Calling out the protein level per serving on labels — particularly on meat, eggs and dairy products — is one way to emphasize visibility, along with including that information more often in marketing and advertising and on in-store signage.