Low carb foods making a comeback, high protein foods set to grow, Mintel finds

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 27th November 2013

While low carbohydrate diets’ popularity peaked around 2004, it seems they may be experiencing a resurgence in Europe, according to global market research organisation Mintel. At the same time, high protein foods are enjoying steady growth.

Low carb claims double in Europe

Mintel’s research has found that new food and drink product launches with low carb claims in Europe have doubled (an increase of 95 per cent) between 2008 and 2013.

Interestingly, the most popular categories for low carb claims are those traditionally associated with carbs — in 2013, 10 per cent of new low carbohydrate food and drink launches were pasta products, 10 per cent baking ingredients or mixes, 9 per cent bread and 8 per cent snack, cereal and energy bars. According to Mintel, the top three countries in Europe for new low carbohydrate food and drink launches in 2013 were France, accounting for 17 per cent, followed by Germany and Spain, each accounting for 15 per cent of NPD share.

“Low carb diets were made famous with the advent of the Atkins diet, which reached its peak in popularity in 2004,” said Laura Jones, Food Science Analyst at Mintel. “Since then the number of followers of the diet has dropped off and a decline in the launch of low carb food and drinks products has been witnessed globally,” she said.

“However, the Atkins diet did manage to make consumers a lot more ‘carb conscious’ and aware of the quantity and quality of carbohydrates they consume and this underlying level of consciousness has been retained by some consumers,” Ms Jones said. “As recent launch of low carb options across Europe started to include a wider range of products normally associated with carbohydrates, this is said to be one of the drivers behind the recent resurgence in the launch of low carb food and drink products across Europe,” she said.

Low carb comeback aided by high protein

According to Mintel, the resurgence of low carb claims seems to have been aided by the growth of high protein claims. New food and beverage product launches in Europe carrying both a low carb and high protein claim grew by 57 per cent between 2008 and 2013.

Indeed, Mintel said it seems the hype around foods with high protein alone was promoting product innovation, with high protein claims increasingly appearing in a wide range of products. New product launches with high protein claims tripled over the past five years in Europe, increasing by 260 per cent between 2008 and 2013.

The growth in high protein claims seems to have been driven in particular by snacks, yoghurt and prepared meals, according to Mintel. Of the total new product introductions making a protein claim in Europe in 2013, snacks accounted for 24 per cent, dairy 20 per cent and processed fish, meat and egg products 15 per cent.

Mintel also found that new products launched in Europe carrying ‘high satiety’ claims grew 164 per cent between 2008 and 2013, reflecting increasing awareness of the satiety benefits of protein.

“Low carb products still occupy a relative niche position in the market and although they will never appeal to all consumers, the recent launches of low carb products in Europe are attempting to widen their appeal,” Ms Jones said. “As well as communicating the low carb content of the products, the presence or absence of other nutrients is also highlighted,” she said.

“Since low carb products often fall short on producing the same filling effects as their higher carb alternatives due to the removal of some of the bulky carbohydrate, utilising the satiating power of protein in low carbohydrate products will help increase the satisfaction of low carb options, as protein provides a sense of fullness, providing great satisfaction to low carb foods which otherwise might be perceived as empty,” Ms Jones said.

Further opportunities for high protein claims

In addition, Mintel found that there is also scope for further significant business opportunities for high protein foods and beverages.

For example, 66 per cent of Polish, 61 per cent of Spanish, 51 per cent of Italian, 51 per cent of German and 48 per cent of French consumers said they would be interested in trying high protein bread.

Meanwhile, protein claims could benefit certain categories, such as cheese, delivering a  more positive marketing message than fat content, according to Mintel. Mintel’s findings showed that 72 per cent of French and Spanish, 71 per cent of Polish, 64 per cent of German and 61 per cent of Italian consumers said they believed eating cheese was a good way to get protein into their diet.

Dairy serves as good base for high protein products

Meanwhile, Mintel found dairy products were a good source of natural protein that has served as a base for high protein claims, with milk gaining recognition over the past few years as a “ideal sports drink”. Indeed, 52 per cent of Italian consumers, 49 per cent of French, 45 per cent of Spanish, and 37 per cent of German consumers said they thought milk was a good drink to have during exercise. In the UK, one in five (20 per cent) of consumers said they thought milk was a good drink to have during and after sport.

“The ‘health halo’ of dairy products relates to the natural goodness of milk, namely its protein, calcium and minerals, which can provide a more nutritionally dense drink than commercial sports drinks,” said Chris Brockman, Senior Global Food and Drink Analyst at Mintel. “The high electrolyte mineral level of potassium and sodium make it ideal for rehydration,” he said.

“Continued research will help in the understanding of milk’s role and potential in rehydration, refuelling and repair,” Mr Brockman said. “And while milk becomes more recognised as a sports drink there will be more focus on the amount of protein, type of protein and even the ratio of protein like whey and casein,” he said.

Mintel predicted that more “science-led” milk based drinks will emerge positioned as a sports drink, “possibly with different formulations for pre, during and post exercise”.

“However, in order for manufacturers to capitalise on the trend, they will need to address the perception of milk being less refreshing than carbohydrate-based drinks to gain broader appeal,” Mr Brockman said.

Low carb is making a comeback, aided by high protein