Understanding protein into the future

15 February 2019



Grace Binchy, Insights & Trends Specialist, Bord Bia – Irish Food Board


The protein market is one that continues to be both extremely dynamic and of significant interest to food manufacturers, producers and consumers alike. The proliferation of protein products on the market in the last number of years is testament to this. According to Mintel GNPD, there was a 498% increase in products launched with high protein claims between 2010 and 2016.


In order to understand this market and to identify potential commercial opportunities Bord Bia have created a Protein Playbook. This futures study, developed in partnership with Kantar Consulting, identified five year scenarios underpinned by consumer insight, is routed in a mix of futures techniques including consumer and market data, expert interviews and qualitative insight.


The evolution of the protein market

Through time our relationship with protein has been an evolving one. According to scientists, eating meat was considered crucial to the development of the human brain over 2 million years ago. Fast forward to today and more recent needs for protein include rebuilding muscle, satiety and addressing sarcopenia. As one of the most important materials in the body it’s uses are always evolving. According to our Consumer Lifestyle Trends Programme 77% of people are consuming functional foods on a daily basis and as we increasingly interrogate our bodies as a series of systems or component parts, it is likely that this will enable different functional platforms for protein into the future.


Protein on the plate

It is interesting to look at the changing dynamic of protein on the plate and how the role of protein on the plate has changed in more recent years. Not long ago protein was central to the meal. Discussion around the main meal often evolved around one word “chicken” tonight or “steak” tonight. Today this has changed significantly and indeed the language we use in discussing our meals has started to evolve.


A number of factors are fuelling this. We are seeing a rise in meal snacking especially amongst younger age groups and with that “the plate” is evolving more to something that is consumed “little” and “often”. According to our own snacking study conducted in partnership with Spark in 2018 43% of over 65s eat at meals versus 24% of U65s. The global snacking market is expected to be valued at $630 billion by 2020 (Technavio).


The rise of alternative proteins means a changing dynamic with the plate too, especially amongst younger cohorts. Recent figures from our own dietary lifestyle study published in 2018 highlight that the number of vegans stand at 3.5% globally and at 4.1% in Ireland. While the numbers are still low, interest in these diets is significant and it’s interesting to note that there was a 50% increase in the number of people subscribing to the vegan diet in Ireland the last year.


As younger people in particular are engaging with these diets, it is hard to know will they sustain their interest in these diets over time, but it is likely that they will take some elements of plant based eating into the future, especially with ongoing environmental challenges, a growing emphasis on health and as we are seeing the continued innovation and introduction of plant based offerings in both retailers and in food service environments.


Challenges facing the protein market

As the world’s population is expected to reach 9 billion by 2050 there will be growing demand for proteins but the market will come under increasing scrutiny. Environmental pressures, rising health issues such as diabetes and obesity and a market with growing regulatory and technological changes all effect how protein manufacturers and producers will perform into the future.


Equally well with a market at saturation point or “peak protein” in terms of the amount of protein products in the market, the need for differentiation and innovation in the market will become even more critical.


Brands will need to ensure that functional offerings align with consumers perceptions of what healthy means. According to Global Data, 2018, 69% consider healthy to mean natural, 61% see it as balanced nutrition, and while one in four consider healthy to mean high protein, there is a high proportion of people looking for protein fortified products that also contain a balance of other key nutrients such as fibre. Also, as younger consumers in particular are becoming more “ingredient attentive” manufactures needs to consider the method as well as the finished product. These criteria will all become more important in terms of creating differentiation in protein offerings into the future.


The Bord Bia Protein Playbook

Bord Bia created this playbook to allow businesses establish a framework as to how they think about protein into the future in terms of how to innovate and differentiate.


There are 5 key pathways within this playbook which look at The New Performance, Smarter Supply, Protein Premiumisation, Pick Me Up Proteins, Fit for Me.


Within each pathway there are 3 different potential expressions of protein and examples of businesses who are delivering against each of these territories.


The framework enables businesses to think about how to deliver and add value to protein into the future against these pathways and should work to help drive innovation in this category.


The link to the playbook is here:


For more information about this study please contact