Marketing Know-How for Plant-Based Protein

One area of food consumption that has taken hold in recent years is consumers’ growing interest in plant-based protein.

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By Maura Keller

Every year or two, new trends grab hold of the food and beverage industry. From sustainably farmed salmon to tasty kombucha concoctions to chickpea pasta, these types of innovative trends are grabbing the attention of consumers like never before. And one area of food consumption that has taken hold in recent years is consumers’ growing interest in plant-based protein.

In IFT20 session 234, Kathy Musa-Veloso, Intertek Health Sciences, discusses marketing opportunities for plant-based proteins in Canada and the United States. As Musa-Veloso explains, plant-based foods are gaining in popularity as consumers become more conscientious about their health, the welfare of animals, the environment, and sustainability. And there has been an increasing emphasis on plant-based proteins in dietary recommendations as these proteins have been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and colorectal cancer. But what are the proper ways to market and communicate the health benefits of plant-based proteins to consumers?

In a 2018 survey conducted by the International Food Information Council (IFIC), just over 70% of individuals surveyed indicated that protein from plant sources was healthy, compared with just under 40% of individuals who thought animal protein was healthy. This survey illustrates the vital role correct marketing claims can play in educating consumers.

Musa-Veloso identifies three distinct categories of claims, as well as the qualifying criteria that can be used in the United States and Canada on food labels to communicate the presence and health benefits of plant-based proteins. These claims represent unique and powerful marketing opportunities for the industry.

First of all, nutrient content claims characterize the content of a nutrient or other substance in a food. However, in both the United States and Canada, a measure of “protein quality” is a requirement for nutrient content claims. Protein quality is a function of three factors: 1) whether all essential amino acids are present in the food, 2) whether the levels of essential amino acids are sufficient to support the growth and development of children after 3) evaluating the bioavailabilty or digestibility of the essential amino acids. Musa-Veloso explains that the United States evaluates protein quality using the Protein Digestibility Corrected Amino Acid Score (PDCAAS), while Canada uses the Protein Efficiency Ratio (PER).

The second category of claims is structure/function claims, which generally describe the functions of nutrients in the maintenance of normal bodily structure and function. General structure/function claims for protein could be used in food labeling and advertising, but only if the food qualifies as a good source of protein. New structure/function claims for specific proteins should be scientifically substantiated.

The third category of health benefit claims is disease risk-reduction claims, which refer to the relationship between the consumption of a food and a disease or health-related condition. According to Musa-Veloso, many individual plant-based proteins cannot qualify for nutrient content and structure/function claims for protein unless they are mixed with other plant-based proteins, animal-based proteins, or are spiked with amino acids. That’s why understanding the unique health benefits of plant-based proteins that don’t qualify for these claims can provide opportunities to study, communicate, and market the effects a specific protein may have on a disease or a biomarker of a disease.

almond milk

Continued robust clinical research studies are vital to substantiate the health benefits of plant-based proteins and the subsequent functional foods in the marketplace.

Some other topics discussed in this session include the following:

  • Sylvain Charlebois from Dalhousie University explores how the COVID-19 pandemic will change the way consumers view proteins.
  • Martin Hahn, a partner at Hogan Lovells, looks at the litigation issues that arise when marketing plant-based proteins. The question “What is milk?” has become an FDA priority due to the proliferation of alternatives with “milk” in their name, including almond milk and soy milk. Hahn also discusses the question, “What is meat?”

Learn more consumer insights post-COVID-19 and the litigation risks in the plant-based protein space by viewing this session in the on-demand library.

Registration for SHIFT20 provides access to the on-demand library of sessions for a full year.

Maura Keller is a writer and editor based in Minneapolis, MN.

SHIFT20 Health & Nutrition content is supported by the generous sponsorship of AAK.

Kelly Hensel

Senior Digital Editor, IFT

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Go to the profile of Amanda Rupley
Amanda Rupley 3 months ago

Thank you for bringing more wonderful details to light about Plant-Based products.  My husband has been plant based since November 2019, and has been able to significantly reduce his bloodwork #s by it.  He loves the Beyond Meat products, and uses them daily. I had no idea products like this existed.  What would you suggest as your top go-tos for plant based meats that I can suggest to him?