More and more consumers are expressing interest in healthier food options and the benefits that they bring. Protein, in particular, has gained popularity as a critical ingredient for a healthy diet. This leads consumers to seek foods rich in protein.

According to recent research, the majority of US consumers (78%) agree that protein contributes to a healthy diet—proving that consumers recognize the value protein brings to a balanced lifestyle(1). Immense opportunities exist for food and beverage manufacturers seeking to capitalize on the needs of today’s health conscious consumer. For these manufacturers, formulating a protein strategy is critical to market success.

An effective protein strategy helps companies optimize their formulations from a cost, sensory and supply point of view. Meanwhile, manufacturers can reduce over-reliance on any one protein source while they deliver products that meet consumer needs and taste expectations.

This strategy minimizes the risks of relying on a single protein source—particularly commodity proteins that tend to fluctuate in price and supply overtime. Through protein diversification, manufacturers increase their ability to maximize brand profitability (in the short and long term) and reduce exposure to market volatility.

The Current State of Protein

Consumers today are paying more attention to protein in their diets and are increasingly seeking it out in food and beverages that they buy. In fact, 50% of US consumers are trying to consume a certain amount or as much protein as possible daily and 91% agree it’s important to get a sufficient amount of protein in their daily diet(2). Similar trends are seen in other regions of the world.

Strong demand for high protein foods, a rapidly expanding global food industry and an expanding global population are expected to strain future protein supplies and increase global protein demand from 90 tons to 150 tons by 2050(3).

Meeting this growing demand for protein solely from animal-based sources is expected to place a tremendous strain on the environment. Experts agree that an over-reliance on animal-based proteins is economically and environmentally unsustainable in the long-run, making it imperative to identify alternative and plant-based sources of protein.

As a plant protein source that is highly nutritious, affordable, sustainable and functional, soy protein is expected to play a major role in meeting long-term consumer demand for protein. From a nutritional perspective, soy protein is unique in that it is the only widely available plant protein that is considered to be a high quality protein—meeting the essential amino acids requirements of both children and adults.

In this regard, it is comparable in protein quality to meat, milk and egg protein. Furthermore, soy protein is low in fat, saturated fat and is cholesterol and lactose-free. Clinical research also demonstrates that soy protein—as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol—is effective in lowering cholesterol levels. Thus, it is considered a heart healthy protein.

In addition to its nutritional benefits, soy protein has many economic benefits compared to common animal-based proteins, in particular dairy proteins. Historically, dairy proteins have exhibited significant price and supply volatility. For companies heavily reliant on dairy proteins, this market volatility can cause problems in predicting and maintaining brand profitability.

Soy protein, on the other hand, is widely available, stable in pricing and supply, and when used as an alternative to dairy proteins in food formulations, can deliver significant ingredient cost savings, while offering comparable protein quality. Soy protein also is environmentally sustainable because it requires less land, energy and natural resources to produce compared to both dairy and meat proteins.

Many food and beverage manufacturers have successfully incorporated soy protein into their formulas as a means to reduce their exposure to the market volatility of dairy proteins. This enables them to better manage protein costs and brand profitability. In doing so, manufacturers generally can save significant ingredient costs, deliver equal or better flavor performance and maintain the protein quality of their finished product.

Knowing the Needs of Your Target

Protein is important at every life stage, but is perhaps of greater relevance to specific consumer segments. As a high-quality, plant-based protein, soy protein can be a valuable tool for food marketers in meeting the health and nutrition needs of a variety of consumers.

For infants and children, protein is essential for healthy growth and development. For milk-intolerant infants in particular, soy-based infant formulas have provided high-quality nutrition and growth and development outcomes comparable to milk-fed and breast-fed infants for more than 50 years. Soy milk is also a popular alternative for individuals of all ages who have dairy allergies, are lactose intolerant or prefer non-dairy beverages.

For adults, soy protein promotes satiety, lending itself well to consumers looking to lose or maintain their weight. In fact, clinical research has demonstrated that soy protein is as effective as other high-quality protein sources at increasing satiety and promoting weight loss when consumed as part of a calorie-controlled diet(4). Diets that are rich in high quality protein are gaining scientific support as a successful strategy to promote fat loss while maintaining lean muscle.

These benefits can also be applied to adolescents, as proven by a recent study conducted by DuPont Nutrition & Health in collaboration with the University of Missouri. The study revealed that protein-rich afternoon snacks in adolescents led to greater reductions in appetite and prolonged satiety(5).

Protein also is a critical nutrient in muscle growth, making it appealing for recreationally and competitively active consumers. Soy protein can help maintain and build lean muscle mass in conjunction with an exercise program, and is effective in supporting post-exercise muscle recovery.

Newer research suggests that blending proteins—namely soy and dairy protein—can be beneficial in optimizing muscle gains in conjunction with an exercise program. Soy, whey and casein digest, and thus are absorbed, at different rates in the body. Whey protein is a rapidly digested protein, while soy is more intermediate, and casein digests at a slower rate. When combined, this creates a prolonged delivery of amino acids to the muscles, lengthening the time post-exercise when muscle-building can occur. It is speculated that this effect may help athletes maximize muscle gains.

Lastly, the aging community is an emerging target for high protein foods. Older consumers process protein less efficiently than younger consumers. This means they have a higher requirement for protein to maintain muscle mass as they age. They also are at greater risk of developing sarcopenia or age-related muscle loss. Protein can play an important role in helping aging consumers maintain muscle mass.

Soy protein offers many other benefits as a protein source for aging individuals. Most notable is its heart health benefits. Clinical research has demonstrated that soy protein offers numerous positive effects on cardiovascular health, including supporting blood vessel health and the ability for blood vessels to expand and contract when under stress(6). Soy has also been found to produce clinically relevant improvements among individuals with elevated blood pressure(7).

Furthermore, clinical studies have proven that soy protein, when consumed as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, can decrease total and LDL-cholesterol levels. The strength of this research has resulted in the establishment of approved heart health claims for soy protein in 13 countries.

While the benefits of soy protein for the aging community are evident, this is an area where active research is still underway. In the coming years, new findings linking soy protein consumption to positive health outcomes for aging individuals will continue to emerge.

Selecting the Right Protein

There are many technical considerations when choosing proteins for high protein foods and beverages, as proteins vary widely in their functional performance and general characteristics.

One of the most important considerations in choosing the right protein is the intended application. For instance, the ideal protein for a beverage should exhibit excellent mouthfeel, low viscosity and excellent dispersibility characteristics. In other applications, functional characteristics—such as emulsification or gelling—might be more important considerations.

When it comes to soy proteins, formulators have many forms to choose from, as well as options exhibiting a variety of functional properties.

Soy protein isolates are high in protein (~90% moisture-free basis) and are versatile across a wide range of applications. They are often specifically designed to deliver the functional properties desired for a particular end application.

Soy protein concentrates (~70% protein) are available in powdered and textured formats, and are particularly suited for meat and vegetarian applications.

Soy protein nuggets, which range in protein content from 50% to 90%, are crispy, crunchy, extruded crisps, and are ideal when high quality protein and a crunchy texture are desired. Nutrition bars, cereals and snacks are typical applications for soy protein nuggets.

DuPont Nutrition & Health offers a range of soy proteins and can guide manufacturers in selecting the right protein for their specific application and processing conditions.

Formulating the Flavor Sweet Spot

Sensory is a top consideration when formulating high protein foods and beverages. The selection of protein sources, and how they are combined with other ingredients in the formulation, can have a significant impact on flavor, texture and mouthfeel.

In high protein beverages, DuPont Nutrition & Health has demonstrated that combinations of dairy and soy proteins yield better sensory results than either all-dairy or all-soy beverages. Beverages made with dairy and soy protein combinations typically rank higher in overall liking and flavor liking when evaluated by consumers. By themselves, dairy and soy proteins exhibit both positive and negative flavor characteristics.

Dairy proteins are typically profiled as having strong “barnyard” notes, while soy proteins are often described as “beany.” When they are combined, these negative notes are minimized, allowing the positive flavor drivers to be more pronounced.

Similar positive sensory impact is observed when incorporating soy proteins into nutrition bar formulations. Bars that are formulated with all dairy proteins have a greater tendency to harden over time, creating an undesirable texture and short shelf life. Soy proteins have been specifically designed for nutrition bar applications to maintain a softer texture for a longer period of time, extending shelf life and providing a more desirable sensory experience.

Taking Action

While there are many important factors to consider in a protein strategy, the key is to have a diversified portfolio of proteins available to reduce supply risks, expand formulation options and manage long-term costs, while delivering high quality protein and a great sensory experience for consumers.

DuPont Nutrition & Health can be a beneficial partner for food and beverage companies by offering expert formulation support, sensory insights and a wide portfolio of ingredient solutions to help brands develop a protein strategy that maximizes brand profitability and ensures market success.

Jean Heggie is a strategic marketing lead at DuPont Nutrition & Health. Visit for additional details.

1. U.S. Consumers Want More Protein In Their Diets And Look to A Range Of Sources For It, NPD, March 2014
2. International Food Information Council Foundation, 2014 Food & Health Survey, n=1,005
3. According to Soyfoods Association of North America, 2014
4. Van Nielen et al. J Nutr. 2014
5. Leidy, et al. J.Nutr.doi: 10.3945/jn.115.21209
6. Beavers et al., Nutr Met Cardiovas Dis. 2012
7. Dong J-Y et al. Br J Nutr; 2011