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Quick Protein Trends Summary Points

  • Demand for protein from foods and supplements is high and growing
  • This is placing a dangerous amount of pressure on the environment and is unsustainable in the long term
  • Without appropriate actions, this demand will risk food security, fuel security and also affect world economics and health.
  • As a result, industry trends have looked at a range of protein solutions including shifting to plant based proteins, insect proteins and even lab grown proteins.
  • The supplement industry will change over the next decade with less focus on traditional dairy proteins and an increase in alternative protein sources as well as combining different proteins.

Demand for Protein

The demand for protein is growing around the world fuelled by growing economies and a growing passion and focus on health. In fact, increased consumption of higher protein food sources such as meat, poultry and dairy is often associated with how developed a country is. However, there is a downside to all this increased consumption of meat and dairy proteins. The biggest impact would have to be environmental. According to a 2010 UN report, Agriculture, particularly meat and dairy products accounts for:

  • 70% of global freshwater consumption
  • 38% of total land use
  • 19% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions

If meat and dairy consumption was to continue growing at the current unsustainable rate, the growing world population could be suffering the consequences of hunger, lack of fuel and worsening changes to climate.

The Shift Away from Meat & Dairy

The average Australian consumes over 120kg of meat per year, more than double the recommendations set out by the Dietary Guidelines. So there’s more than enough room to budge when it comes to reducing consumption. In fact, mathematical models has shown that reducing and replacing the meat and dairy consumption by 25-50% for plant based items can result in:

  • 40% reduction in nitrogen emissions
  • 25-40% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions
  • 23% per capita reduction in cropland use for food
  • 40% reduction in the consumption of saturated fat
  • Improved health outcomes and lower health risks and chronic disease development

Certain pockets of populations in Europe and the US have already begun to limit their intake of red meat, processed meat and dairy over the past few years. This has also coincided with a growing demand for plant based alternatives. These trends have been fuelled by a variety of factors including health, ethical, economical and environmental concerns.

Changing Protein Markets

Greater demand leads to greater supply. Simple economics. As more and more people begin to shift to alternative protein sources, trends are popping up all around the world and these are the top 5:

1. Plant Based Proteins

Plant based proteins have been around for awhile now and have been a staple for vegetarians and vegans as a valuable alternative to meat based proteins. While nuts and legumes have generally dominated the market, such as peanuts, almonds and soy products, we’re starting to see plant protein products feature different types of plants. In the next 5-10 years, expect to see more grain, seaweed and algae based protein products along with growth in the use of other types of nuts and pea protein.

2. Dairy Trade Stagnation

While meat trade has grown significantly over the past few decades, the dairy trade isn’t experiencing the same amount of growth. Demand is still high thanks to certain countries as well as an increase in the demand for whey and casein supplements, however growth is stagnating. This is mostly due to an increased desire for dairy alternatives, but also a rise in consumers wanting to avoid lactose. This has resulted in a mini explosion of dairy milk alternatives. While soy and almond milk continues to be popular, some others include:

  • Coconut Milk
  • Quinoa Milk
  • Hazelnut Milk
  • Spelt Milk
  • Tiger Nut Milk
  • Amaranth Milk
  • Teff Milk

However, the above ingredients aren’t just used for milk purposes, they’re also growing in their popularity as alternative ingredients to boost the protein density of a product.

3. Insect Protein

Insects make up over a fifth of animal biomass. That is, if you weigh all the animals in the world, including humans, insects would make up 20% of that mass. The mass of ants alone rivals human biomass. It makes a lot of sense then that insects represent a logical solution as a more sustainable source of protein for the world. While the thought of eating insects repulses quite a few people, there’s no denying that insects are a great source of low fat protein that offers a cheap way to fix the protein gap between richer and poorer groups and nations. While there is still more innovation to do, considering that protein conversion rates of crickets are at the moment similar to chickens, expect to see more insect protein products littering the market over the next 10-20 years.

4. Combining Proteins

All company’s want to lower their costs and one way to lower the cost of producing a high protein item is to simply combine protein sources. Many company’s are already doing this; using both animal and plant based proteins together as well as different plant proteins to create a product that is lower in cost, but still high in protein and tastes just as good, if not better. Studies have already shown that combinations of protein sources helps to boost muscle protein synthesis over single protein sources. The problem? Consumers are still stuck on fairly antiquated notions that plant based proteins and other protein sources are just not good enough to offer similar types of results. But they are, and the sooner people cotton on to that idea, the better it will be for their wallets and their gains.

5. Lab Grown Meat

Growing your meat in a lab is no longer in the realms of science fiction. It’s already been done and turned into a hamburger, albeit at the cost of $325,000. While it’s incredibly expensive at the moment, improved technology will eventually make it more commercially viable. There will be the inevitable issues of ethics, aversion, religion, taste and safety attached to lab grown meats, but it could be a real solution to the protein needs of a growing population.

Protein Trends for the Supplement Industry

The changing nature of protein markets and the emerging trends will not only impact the fast moving consumer good (FMCG) industry, but it’s going to impact all food and supplement industries. While whey and casein proteins are going to stay popular for many years to come, the industry will begin to adapt. Expect to see:

  • Increased numbers of plant based protein powders and other supplements
  • Addition of plant based proteins to existing animal and dairy protein supplements
  • Emergence of new and unique protein supplements made from algae, krill and insects

The Future of Protein

The protein industry is growing and changing rapidly. From meat and dairy production to investments in plant based and other alternative proteins, the landscape of how consumers meet their protein demands will be very much different in 50 years time than what it is today. This will be due to a variety of factors ranging from economical, ethical and environmental. It’s not only going to hit the food industry either; it’s going to massively change the sports and health supplements industry. Just as changing up your exercise routine is a good way to break out of plateaus and help you achieve more gains, changing and adapting your dietary and supplement habits may just be the solution to solving some problems down the line.

1. International Panel for Sustainable Resource Management. ‘Assessing the Environmental Impacts of Consumption & Production. Priority Products and Materials’. United Nations Environment Programme 2010
2. Burinsma, J, 2003. World Agriculture: Towards 2015/2030 : an FAO Perspective’ . 1st ed. USA: Earthscan Publications Ltd.
3. Westhoek H et al. ‘Food choices, health and environment: Effects of cutting Europe's meat and dairy intake’ Global Environmental Change. May 2014 26: pp 196-205
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