Meal replacements tend to appeal to three consumer types, according to Prinova. The first group includes those who want to lose weight. These consumers may swap one meal a day with a meal replacement product, meaning the satiety aspect of the product is important. Fibre and fat tend to provide this function.
The second group is made up of individuals who have a fast-paced lifestyle and struggle to find time to eat a balanced meal. The third group is made up of everyday athletes and bodybuilders. Often, athletes need to have five to six meals a day but finding the time to prepare so many meals is challenging. Adding in two meal replacements is a much more convenient way to provide them with the nutrients needed to perform at an optimal level.
“Meal replacements for weight loss are still the biggest group of consumers today but it is the more mature side of the business,” said Tony Gay, Head of Technical Sales and NPD at Prinova. “So, it might [represent] the largest turnover across Europe but probably the category of fast-paced lifestyle is growing more rapidly. People want to have a healthy diet but have limited time to prepare meals. You can also see this through the growth in companies providing meal kits, but with these consumers they still need to take time to prepare meals from the kits.”
“The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted that you need to ensure your body is getting everything it needs to maintain a strong immune system and part of that is the macronutrients; not just vitamins and mineral supplements everyday but also making sure you have a good protein, fibre, and healthy fat intake, that all maintain a healthy body, and therefore a strong immune system.”
Flavour and format innovation
To meet with this growing demand and appeal to new consumer profiles, brands have been diversifying their portfolios with new formats, such as ready-to-drink (RTD) formats with more exciting flavours, going beyond the vanilla-chocolate-strawberry powders of before.
“Companies are launching much more diverse flavours and even bringing out seasonal varieties, such as cinnamon spice for Christmas as well as creating variety boxes so people can mix and match between different flavours. This is to get away from the boredom of having the same flavour each day.” Gay said.
“People don’t always want a sweet shake. In winter especially, people might want something hot and savoury and companies like Huel have responded well to that demand with their savoury range. Innovation is definitely happening with more diversity of flavours and custom flavouring options.”
Star ingredients: Probiotics, enzymes and MCT
There are also some important formulation considerations to take into account when creating the most effective ingredient combination for a nutritious and bioavailable meal replacement.
“It’s quite a holistic approach, it’s not just about protein, carbs, and fats. You have to think about vitamins and minerals but also other nutrients that might support the body’s ability to assimilate them. We’ve seen probiotics within formulations to provide a good gut health environment for better digestion, and also prebiotic fibres that provide the fuel for the probiotics to thrive on.”
“You might also see digestive enzymes in the formulation. If you’re consuming protein, carbs and fats you need to break them down efficiently,” said Gay. “One example is an ingredient called DigeZyme, which is a branded blend of five different enzymes that help the body break down lactose, protein, carbs and fats.”
Medium chain triglycerides (MCT) are also an increasingly on-trend ingredient, believed to be a source of healthy fats and energy.
“Medium chain triglycerides can come from palm but most consumers are now looking for sustainable coconut oil as the main source of MCT for environmental reasons but also because coconut is a buzz term. Anything coming from coconut – milk, fat, water – is on trend and healthy.” Gay added.