Whey protein offers both functionality as well as health benefits to manufacturers. It is an ingredient that is naturally rich in amino acids, and (in isolate form) low in fat, lactose and cholesterol. According to the Whey Protein Institute (Le Sueur, Minn.), "it is a perfect complement to any low-carbohydrate or low-glycemic index diet plan"? and â€œhelps control blood glucose levels and has been shown to be beneficial for weight management, both of which are often a concern for type-2 diabetics.â€? The number of new North American product records containing "whey protein"? in their ingredient statement increased by some 26% in 2004 over 2003, according to Mintel International's Global New Products Database (GNPD, Chicago). [Editor's note: Figures given in this article include new products and extensions, reformulated and repackaged products.] A closer look at the new product categories revealed that snacks (often health bars) dominated product launches, followed at a distance by bakery, beverages and dairy items. At least 13 new products with a specific weight control positioning were launched during 2004 while many others more indirectly targeted the weight-reduction consumer.
Loblaws, Canada (North York, Ontario) launched President's Choice Trim Plan in Canada containing whey protein concentrate and whey powder. Next Proteins (Carlsbad, Calif.) introduced "Slim Whey" for a "slimmer you"? containing a "designer whey"? protein blend: whey protein concentrate, PDUF whey protein isolate and hydrolyzed whey protein. Notably SlimWhey is a high-protein, low-carb bar with no trans fat.
In spite of the association with blood sugar control, the GNPD recorded only nine new products (in the North American market in 2004) that contained whey protein and were specifically positioned for diabetics. And, in January 2005, Fifty50 Foods (Florham Park, N.J.) launched a Fructose Sweetened Meal Replacement Shake "for diabetic meal plans." The product contains whey protein concentrate, sweet dairy whey as well as soy protein isolate. Some five North American product launches with "whey protein"? in their ingredient statements also were tagged by the GNPD as possessing a "low/no/reduced glycemic" position in the December 2002 through December 2004 period.
New product launches in the snack category were dominated by bars touting a variety of benefits such as weight control, low-carb content, higher energy and increased performance. Hershey Chocolate USA (Hershey, Pa.) introduced Hershey's SmartZone bar containing milk protein isolate, whey protein concentrate, whey protein isolate and isolated soy protein. According to the GNPD, this is the first nutrition bar to carry the "Dr. Sears Zone Approved" seal.
Soy Protein on the Move
Similar to whey protein, inclusion of soy protein (and oils) into food products adds functionality and health benefits. No doubt, soy's heart health claim has spurred consumer interest in products containing the ingredient. Soy protein can help lower total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol as well as act as an antioxidant. More recent research exploring the role of soy in preventing tumor growth encouraged one leading soy ingredient supplier to submit a petition seeking approval for a health claim. Currently under review by the FDA, the petition links the consumption of foods containing soy protein with the reduction in risk for certain types of cancer, including breast, prostate and colon cancer. The current approved health claim for soy protein reads: "Diets low in saturated fat and cholesterol that include 25g of soy protein a day may reduce the risk of heart disease."
The GNPD also was queried for new 2004 North American product launches containing "soy protein"? by using the database's ingredient search field. Readily apparent is the significance of soy protein in low-carb product formulations. Fully 30% of new product records listing soy protein in their ingredient legends also were positioned for low-, no- and reduced-carb claims.
Furthermore, soy protein ingredients dominated the snack category within the top line results.
The low-carb trend further is evidenced by the snack category's (largely made up of bars and chip products) domination of top line results. Nutrition bars particularly emphasized low-carb or high-protein positioning with some performance-focused products.
Universal Nutrition (New Brunswick, N.J.) launched Doctor's CarbRite Diet Sugar Free Cookie Dough bar with one net carb and both isolated soy protein and whey protein concentrate. Unilever Bestfoods (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.) introduced Carb Options crunchy snack chips containing four net carbs per serving and formulated with soy protein concentrate.
Noticeable among new product launches containing soy protein ingredients was the absence of positioning directly associated with the established health benefits of soy. While the number of reduced-fat and -cholesterol products containing soy protein has grown, overt use of a soy-based health claim on recorded new product launches appears to have diminished against the backdrop of the high-protein, low-carb playground. What is more evident is growth among products formulated with soy that are positioned with an "all-natural" claim, products conferring multiple benefits and overall cleaner labels. Organic Milling (San Dimas, Calif.) introduced Hi-Low Natural Cereal with strawberries and positioned it as being an all-natural, high-protein, low-sugar and low-carb product. Labrada (Houston) launched CarbWatchers tortillas, which contain soy protein and are being positioned as having no trans fat, no cholesterol and "two grams of net impact carbs." Millburn Foods (Maywood, N.J.) debuted Darielle pasta with five positioning claims: all-natural, high-fiber, high-protein (soy), cholesterol-free and non-GMO.
Is Soy Mainstream?
The proliferation of soy in low-carb products in addition to the large variety of soy-based products in the marketplace might beg the question of whether soy is now a mainstream, healthful ingredient. In the current "good-for-you" environment, manufacturers appear to be focusing on a wholesome or natural bent, rather than touting specific health benefits. If, indeed, soy is mainstream, Zoe Foods (Needham, Mass.) feels they will benefit enormously. Their soy- and flax-based cereal and bar products assume that consumers have a basic knowledge of the health benefits that these nutritionally dense ingredients confer. The company positions itself around the slogan: "foods you enjoy eating and that are also good for you." Zoe Foods chooses to focus on the fiber, protein and micronutrient content of the products, rather than the "good-for-you"? ingredients, flax and soy. Other industry sources feel that soy is at a critical awareness point with mainstream consumers, presenting an opportunity for marketers to continue promoting its benefits.
Weighing in on Wheat
Wheat protein isolates have been another beneficiary of the low-carb foods era. The high-protein content of wheat protein isolates adds viscoelastic properties to products, as well as assists in the reduction of carbohydrate levels in the items.
Searching the GNPD for new product launches in 2004 containing wheat protein isolate resulted in some 73 records, of which 67 also had "no/low/reduced carb"? positioning claims. The vast majority were cereal-based products and meals.
In the meals/meal centers category, General Mills (Minneapolis) debuted Hamburger Helper Carb Monitor Cheeseburger Macaroni, with enriched high-fiber macaroni formulated with semolina, wheat protein isolate, oat fiber, niacin, ferrous sulfate, thiamin mononitrate, riboflavin and folic acid. Gardenburger (Portland, Ore.) introduced a frozen meatless meatball entrée with penne pasta including wheat starch, powdered wheat protein and wheat protein isolate ingredients. Consistent with the trend toward cleaner labels with multiple health benefits, the product is positioned as being 100% natural, low-fat, low-carb and vegetarian. NS
Much of the information in this article was derived from Mintel International's Global New Products Database, www.gnpd.com, 312-932-0400.
Sidebar1:On the Web: PROTEIN
Sidebar 2: Going GlobalManufacturers overseas will use protein sources similar to what is used in the U.S., but they will never fail to add the uncommon protein ingredient. Mintel's GNPD reported the launch of Nutrition & Sante's (Spain) Chocolate Chip Cereal Bars in July 2004. Along with 8% of the customary texturized wheat proteins, the company included 12% pea protein.
Lemaco (Ramadan City, Egypt) Extra Fit Baby Food with Colostrum and Vegetables is unlike any product launched in the U.S. Bovine colostrum has never been mentioned in any U.S. product launches for babies or infants. Extra Fit is naturally gluten-free and suitable for babies six months and on.
Consumers and manufacturers alike are familiar with the use of milk proteins in infant formula for developmental growth and immune health, but very few Mintel entries, besides Morinaga's (Tokyo) Lactoferrin 200 Yogurt & Probiotic Drinks, promote lactoferrin for normal adult health.
According to Mintel's records, a dessert and ice cream containing rice protein has never been launched in the U.S.; however, just last year, two such products were launched in Spain and Hong Kong. One, Nestle's (Yuen Long, Hong Kong) Kusamochi Tai Fu Frozen Novelties, features red bean-flavored ice cream with a green tea flavor shell.
Fish collagen peptides are used in Amino Collagen Jelly drink, a grapefruit-flavored, sugarless jelly drink by Meiji Seika Kaisha (Tokyo). It provides 5,000mg of collagen and 5g of protein.
PHOTOS COURTESY OF MINTEL INTERNATIONAL'S GNPD