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Protein Deep Dive Day

Ensuring your protein product evolves with consumer trends [Interview]

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Fortified protein bars are now competing with traditional confectionery brands as recently launched flavours, such as birthday cake and chocolate orange, attest. But taste is just one attribute; brands must also consider protein functionality, texture, and cost when developing new products, says Carole Bingley, senior associate principal scientist at Reading Scientific Services (RSSL).
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Carole Bingley will be taking part in Fi Global lnsight’s Webinar Series: Protein Deep Dive Day on 8 March, delivering two in-depth and interactive sessions on formulating with protein and how to make substantiated protein health claims. You can sign up by clicking here.

Carole, what kind of interesting protein products have you seen on the market that illustrate how brands are answering consumer demands?

“In both bars and drinks, which started very much in the sports nutrition area but have moved to become more mainstream, we’re seeing brands trying to deliver on taste. Early products were for dedicated gym-goers for whom taste was less critical. However, protein bars are moving more into the confectionery area and coming up with some quite interesting flavour combinations, such as birthday cake, salted caramel, and chocolate orange.

“This is also true for nutritional beverages too. Before it was very much just chocolate, strawberry and vanilla but now we’re seeing more interesting flavours to try and attract a wider consumer base. Other products carrying protein claims are more luxury, indulgent products, such as a super granola product, luxury protein chocolate, and cookies.

“On the savoury side, we have seen pastas and tortilla wraps carrying a protein claim; these are everyday products that consumers can incorporate into a meal. We have even seen a range of ketchups and sauces.”

What are some of the most important protein formats available for manufacturers, and to which products are they best suited?

“Often when looking to make protein claims, manufacturers are using either concentrates or isolates because you can get more protein into the product. For products such as snack and nutrition bars, often they are combined with hydrolysed protein. This is because hydrolysed proteins tend to be more soluble so when you’ve got quite a small product size and you’re trying to get as much protein in there, hydrolysed can help; otherwise, you are binding up the available liquid so it can become dry, tough and chewy. Getting the right combination of hydrolysed protein with a concentrate or isolate can help improve the texture.

“Hydrolysed proteins are also important if you are looking to create a clear beverage because [it is] soluble and generally proteins aren’t particularly soluble, so that can be a challenge. The downside of hydrolysed proteins is they can sometimes be bitter with quite an unpleasant taste so that can limit the use level.

“Another area where we are seeing plenty of protein claims is meat and fish alternative products, which are typically based on texturized protein. This is protein that has been usually extruded to form a fibrous, expanded texture that gives the bite you’re looking for in meat or fish alternatives.

“Texturized protein is usually around 60 to 70 % protein so it is fairly high, but brands may also want to boost the protein content by adding concentrate or isolate.

“A limiting factor [of texturized protein] is that you have to hydrate it. So, you want enough to get bite and texture but not too much because it takes up a lot of the available moisture, which will result in a product that is dry and not succulent.”

Are there any other elements manufacturers should consider when deciding which protein to use for their product?

“Cost is always an issue with proteins, whether you’re talking about plant-based or animal-derived, because they are expensive ingredients to use. To make a product with a ‘high protein’ or ‘source of protein’ claim, you will have to pay a certain amount for those ingredients. So, you need to make sure your consumer is willing to pay the extra to ensure there is value in having the claim on the product.

“The cost depends on the animal or plant source but also the processing. If you take a flour or whey protein, which are minimally processed, they are fairly affordable. With concentrates and isolates, that are 80 to 90 percent protein, the cost goes up. If you put that through a further processing step, such as hydrolysation, you are adding cost again.

“Plant-based proteins that have been around for quite a while and are well-established tend to be lower in cost. So, wheat and soy are lower cost than the newer proteins such as chickpea. I think we will see these newer proteins appear as part of blends with a lower cost ingredient, […] particularly for ingredients that bring a unique functionality.

“Potato protein is a good example of a protein that brings a unique functionality. It forms quite a firm gel that can be used to replace egg white in certain applications. Many brands that have vegetarian products containing egg white, but want to launch a vegan version, turn to potato protein. Potato protein is expensive because potatoes only contain about two percent protein […] and it does have taste issues. But, having said that, you can get very good functionality at low doses.”

How has the protein market evolved in recent years?

“There has actually been a slight decline in the number of new launches carrying protein claims over the past two year.  In the meat and dairy alternatives area, maybe consumers expect that brands will give them protein and now want to know what else is new. I just looked at the number of products making a protein claim, so it may be that products are being launched with high protein contents but not making a claim. But it will be interesting to see, as we move beyond COVID, if protein claims will pick up again or if the market has moved on and consumers are looking for other front-of-pack claims.”

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