Health and wellbeing is very much on the agenda for Brits. According to Transport for London, the total number of cycling journeys rose last year by 5% to 610,000 a day or 22m journeys a year.
Meanwhile, Cardlytics data shows that spending on gym membership has gone up by 44% in the past year. Coinciding with this increased exercise frequency is the erosion of the traditional ideal of three meals a day.
Fuelling busy Britain’s cyclists, gym-goers and time-starved workers with products that tick the right nutritional boxes is a mission that wholesalers need to sign themselves up for, not least because big profits are there for the taking.
The evolution of Protein food
As Ben McKechnie, MD of wholesaler Epicurium, says: “Protein food is incredible at the moment. There’s a big switch towards healthier snacking in general. People are working harder and not eating at traditional times, so they’re snacking more.”
Nutritional products are no longer the preserve of health stores, and have evolved beyond the vats of protein powder guzzled by bodybuilders. Marina Love, marketing director at Natural Balance Foods, which offers Trek bars, says: “‘Clean eating’ has gained real momentum over the past 18 months, as refined sugar and other unhealthy ingredients and additives continue to come under scrutiny. This means more consumers want natural, healthier products like Trek bars, which contain no added sugar, gluten, wheat or dairy, are vegan-friendly, and typically contain 9-10g of protein per bar.”
According to Nielsen data on the cereal bars and healthy biscuits market for the 52 weeks to 16 July, Trek is the fastest growing brand in the top 20. Love adds: “We are certainly seeing a consumer shift towards higher protein products and this will only continue to grow as more brands enter the category. We know from research that 76% of shoppers snack to fill themselves up with something wholesome; 61% of snacking occasions are for an energy boost, while 63% are just for everyday energy.”
The protein trend
There are an estimated 3m vegetarians in the UK, and nutritional products that are protein-enriched fulfil an important dietary role for them, as well as vegans, who don’t eat products containing dairy.
Such customers are a target market for The Primal Pantry, which has just launched two new protein bars. Cindy Caton, the firm’s commercial manager for wholesale, says: “Our bars contain 10-12g of protein, and so are a perfect way for vegans and vegetarians to supplement their daily protein needs.”
Mars Chocolate Drinks and Treats has responded to the protein trend, launching a range of products to cater for changing consumer demand.
Michelle Frost, general manager for Mars Chocolate Drinks and Treats, says: “Protein consumption is on the increase and has made the transition from niche to mainstream. We are keen to offer consumers more choices on how to enjoy their favourite chocolate brands. There is no doubt that the protein trend is here to stay and to capitalise on this trend, Mars Chocolate Drinks and Treats launched two new products in May – a Snickers protein bar with 18g of protein, and a Mars protein bar with 19g of protein.
“The protein bar category is fast growing, with sales valued at £22m, increasing by £8.2m on last year. Almost two in 10 UK consumers now typically consume food or drink that contains protein as a snack between meals.”
The flavoured milk market
As well as protein bars, within the flavoured milk market, the specialised flavoured milk segment has grown by 12%, and now accounts for £64.7m of total value sales (22%). To latch onto this trend, along with the increasing demand for protein products, Mars Chocolate Drinks and Treats introduced Mars High Protein and Snickers High Protein milk drinks to the category last year.
“Each contains 22g of protein to reflect consumer interest in protein-based products,” Frost says. “Mars High Protein is showing a value sales growth of 43%, and Snickers High Protein is at 36%.
“These drinks represent a real profit opportunity. As ambient products, bulk stocks can be stored outside the chiller, allowing for easy storage and an extended shelf life. The drinks, offering eye-catching packaging, are best presented to consumers in refrigerators, chilled and ready to consume on the move.”
Nature Valley is another major brand that’s come on board, and is hoping to accelerate further growth in the healthier biscuits category with its protein bar range.
Available to convenience retailers in 85p price-marked packs (PMPs) and non-PMP 40g single bars, the new Nature Valley protein range, in Peanut & Chocolate and Salted Caramel Nut flavours, contains 20% (10g) of daily protein needs.
Arjoon Bose, marketing manager for Snacking at General Mills (UK & Northern Europe), says: “The healthier biscuits category continues to flourish as more consumers focus on balanced lifestyles and seek alternative snack options. We’re confident that these two protein products will be instrumental in delivering incremental sales to retailers throughout the year.
“More and more consumers are focusing on balanced lifestyles and seeking alternative snack options. To stand out among competitors in this sector, it’s essential that we continue improving our products to give consumers what they’re looking for. Our new protein range is a perfect example of this, by tapping into key and growing consumer trends around ‘better for you’ snacking options that taste great.”
The protein drinks category has seen 26% year-on-year growth, according to independent channel champion Boost Drinks. The brand believes it has identified a gap for a protein drink that focuses solely on the independent convenience channel. The initial launch of the milk-based protein drink is live in London and Northern Ireland, with a UK-wide rollout planned for early next year.
Boost strategy director Kirsty Birks says: “This is a very exciting piece of new product development for us. While the health and wellbeing agenda has continued to gain consumer momentum, we saw a real gap in the convenience sector for protein drinks.
“Innovation has always been a priority for us, and now seems the right time for us to diversify and further demonstrate our commitment to independent retailers.”