Friday, November 13, 2015

Obsessing on Protein, Focusing on Millennials (and not Skinnygirls)

This week’s launch of Skinnygirl Protein Tasty Nutrition Shakes should have many of us thinking about the future of protein beverage innovation. To read more about the product, link HERE.

Here’s my take. Protein-centric beverages will continue to boom, but to make a real impact, there will need to be more customization of formulations to target specific demographics. With that said, and sorry Bethenny Frankel, founder and CEO of the Skinnygirl brand, your new product appeals to me (Gen X) and probably young Boomers, but Millennials (18- to 34-year-olds) are not into skinny. They are into fitness.

Here’s a flashback. I have been obsessed with food since very early on, mostly the mechanics of food, like why butter builds a better shortbread than vegetable oil and how bread toasts. I recall carrying around the 25-cent pocket-sized calorie counter books sold near the supermarket register. Remember those? There were the generic ones and the branded lists.

I kept food intake logs and counted calories. I measured and weighed portions. I still remember that one large egg is 80 calories, a cup of skim milk the same.

Skinny was an aspiration, albeit not a healthful one. Thankfully, over time, skinny evolved into fit, and that’s where many Millennials are today. The good news for the dairy industry is that dairy proteins are truly one of a handful of all-natural, clean-label, simple and nutritious food ingredients that can deliver what Millennials are looking for.

I agree with Ms. Frankel’s statement: “Protein is an important part of our daily diet. It helps us feel full and satisfied. We developed these new protein bars and shakes to make an easy and delicious way for women to get their protein fix.”

Women do need an easier way to include high-quality protein in their diet. At only 80-calories, each 11.5-ounce shelf-stable Skinnygirl shake provides 12 grams of protein from milk protein concentrate, along with 1.5 grams of fat, 3 grams of fiber and zero grams of sugar. The formulation relies on stevia and monk fruit extract for sweetness. In two-dessert inspired flavors--Rich Chocolate Brownie and Vanilla Bean Sundae—it’s my dream beverage. I’m sure other pocket-calorie-counter Gen Xer’s would agree. But, here’s the deal with Millennials.

According to the International Food Information Council (IFIC) Foundation’s 2015 Food and Health Survey published earlier this year, compared to the general U.S. population, Millennials have differing opinions on traditional eating habits, usage of resources and information for staying healthy, and even on the value of some nutrients.

Although Millennials view protein favorably and see the importance of protein in their diets, there are still a wide range of misconceptions surrounding protein.

For starters, Millennials say the top reasons they don’t consume more protein is the belief that protein foods are sometimes more expensive (37%) and that they already get enough protein (34%).

More Millennials (21%) think that foods with protein will spoil if not used quickly, compared to the general population (15%).

One in five Millennials believe that higher-protein foods often have a lot of unhealthful components, compared to one in seven of the general population.

True or not, these are their perceptions. And let’s look at some facts. Greek yogurt—the higher protein yogurt—does cost more than traditional yogurt. Milk, eggs and meat, traditional sources of protein are highly perishable. Regarding unhealthful components, that could be the cholesterol in eggs and the nitrates in bacon. 

“Millennials are a unique generation, and their approach to health and fitness is no exception,” says Sarah Romotsky, R.D., director of health and wellness for the IFIC Foundation. “This research gave us an inside look at how Millennials are optimistic about the future of food, they look to their friends and family for support, they use technology as a tool to reach their health goals, and they have shifting attitudes about the value of certain nutrients.”

Dairy foods formulators need to think fit foods, not skinny foods.
Dairy proteins are the key to innovation. Keep the product clean and affordable.

Here are more interesting Millennials facts. They are less likely to have adopted healthful habits. Sound strange, read on. Only 70% of Millennials state that they have cut calories by drinking water, or low- and no-calorie beverages, compared to 76% of the general population who have reduced calories in this fashion. When it comes to fat intake, 54% of Millennials state that they have cut back on foods higher in solid fats, compared to 61% of the general population who have done so. (They must have done the butter vs. oil shortbread experiment.)

In addition to different perceived barriers to better health, Millennials are more likely to seek alternative sources for trusted food information. Despite most Millennials stating that they trust their personal healthcare professional to provide accurate information about the foods they should be eating, more Millennials than other age groups are trusting additional information sources. For example, more Millennials (33% vs. 24% of the general population) trust health, food and nutrition bloggers as sources of food information. (You should have one on staff or contracted to promote your dairy foods.)

Beyond turning to alternative sources for trusted information, Millennials are improving their diets in different ways. Gone are the days of pocket calorie counters. Millennials are turning to digital resources to improve their diets. Thirty-six percent of Millennials are using an app or other means to track daily food and beverage intake, compared to 22% of the population. Twice as many Millennials (12%) are using an online support group, blog or other online community, compared to the general population (6%).

Millennials also have different opinions about nutrition. When asked specifically about calorie sources and weight gain, only 20% of Millennials state that all sources of calories have the same effect on weight gain, compared to 27% of the general population. They are also less focused on limiting or avoiding calories than the general population.

Like the general population, Millennials are more concerned about the amount and type of sugars they eat than they are about the type or amount of carbohydrates consumed. Within the Millennial demographic, women and those with higher household incomes are the most concerned.
Millennials also agree with the general population that moderate sugar intake can be a part of a healthful diet and believe that there are differences between the healthfulness of naturally occurring and other types of sugars.

When it comes to dietary fat, Millennials realize the healthfulness of omega fatty acids but do not fully understand the differences between different types of fats. In fact, 64% of Millennials rate omega-3 fatty acids, a type of polyunsaturated fat, as healthful, yet only 17% of Millennials rate polyunsaturated fats as healthful. Moreover, 42% of Millennials report that they are unaware of the healthfulness of polyunsaturated fats.

Here’s one that’s long overdue and a win for dairy. One in three Millennials have recently changed their view on the healthfulness of saturated fat. Of those shifting their opinion of saturated fat in the last year, Millennial men are more likely to view its healthfulness more favorably.

Back to the benefits of dairy proteins. Let’s talk specifically about whey proteins.

At the recent SupplySide West in Las Vegas, Moises Torres-Gonzalez, director of nutrition research at the National Dairy Council, spoke about opportunities in formulating with whey proteins. In terms of the general population, he explained that recent research indicates 23% of adults are increasing the amount of protein in their daily diets because of the recognized benefits protein provides to the body and the flexibility of protein ingredients to be incorporated into a variety of food and beverages, including dairy foods.

Consumers want protein in their meals, snacks and after workouts. When protein’s functionality and nutritional benefits are understood, it can be integrated into products consumers want, he explained. This is where the opportunity lies for whey protein, as whey protein is one of the highest quality proteins and a source of highly functional amino acids and bioactive compounds. Whey offers health benefits to consumers of all ages.

At one point in time, whey was considered a byproduct of cheese. Today, cheese is often made for the sole purpose of obtaining whey.

This past August at Alpha Summit 2015, which was a whey protein conference held in Jerome, Idaho, sponsored by Davisco, a business unit of Agropur Inc., the quality of the protein in cows milk was a major focal point.

To read more highlights from Alpha Summit 2015, link HERE to an article I wrote for Food Business News.

Paul Moughan, distinguished professor and director of the Riddet Institute in New Zealand, explained the importance of dietary protein quality in nutrition and health.

“Protein is vital to support the health and well-being of human populations. However, not all proteins are alike, as they vary according to their origin, animal vs. plant, as well as their individual amino acid composition and their level of amino acid bioavailability,” he said. “High-quality proteins are those that are readily digestible in a form that can be utilized and contain the dietary essential amino acids in quantities that correspond to human requirements.”

In 2013, the Food and Agriculture Organization of United Nations recommended that a new, advanced method for assessing the quality of dietary proteins--Digestible Indispensable Amino Acid Score (D.I.A.A.S.)--replace the Protein Digestibility Corrected Amino Acid Score (P.D.C.A.A.S.) as the preferred method of measuring protein quality.

“The recommendation of the D.I.A.A.S. method is a dramatic change that will provide an accurate measure of the amounts of amino acids absorbed by the body and an individual protein source’s contribution to a human’s amino acid and nitrogen requirements,” said Dr. Moughan. “This will be an important piece of information for decision makers assessing foods that should be part of a sustainable diet for our growing global population.”

He explained that with the P.D.C.A.A.S. method, values are truncated to a maximum score of 1.00, even if scores derived are higher. Using the D.I.A.A.S. method, researchers are now able to differentiate protein sources by their ability to supply amino acids for use by the body. The D.I.A.A.S. method is able to demonstrate the higher bioavailability of dairy proteins when compared to plant-based protein sources.

Dr. Moughan did say that even with the D.I.A.A.S. score, you don’t get the whole story about the quality of the protein. “The single score is based on the limiting amino acid in the protein,” he said. For example, the leucine component of alpha-lactalbumin—a type of whey protein--has a D.I.A.A.S. score of 2.00 and the tryptophan component is 5.50. By reporting only the single score of 1.14, which is based on the limiting amino acid valine, the quality of the alpha-lactalbumin is not accurately communicated.

“High-quality data on the bioavailable amounts of individual amino acids in proteins and foods will maximize the information to consumers and health professionals,” said Dr. Moughan. “This will become a lot more important as the food industry increases efforts to support health and different physiological needs.” 

According to Donald Layman, professor emeritus of nutrition, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, data indicate all humans need to make about the same amount of new protein every day for basic lean muscle repair and remodeling. But as we age, the efficiency of building new protein decreases. To reap the benefits of healthy muscles, one must consider the quality of the protein and the quantity of the protein at every meal.

“Below the age of 30, hormones drive growth. Even with a low-protein diet, children can still grow and produce new muscle,” he said. “But as you age, hormones no longer drive muscle growth and the essential muscle replacement is driven by the quality of the diet. Aging reduces the efficiency of protein use, but does not impair the capacity to respond.”

For optimum muscle health and function, research suggests that 30 grams of high-quality protein should be consumed at every meal, and preferably proteins high in the essential amino acid leucine.

As this information gets better communicated to Millennials, they will be seeking out high-quality protein products to make them lean, mean, fit machines…not skinny girls. Put dairy proteins, especially whey proteins, back into dairy foods.

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