By Rick Zambrano, Foodable Industry Expert
Protein is gaining importance and on the radar of consumers who are seeking health benefits and weight management from increased consumption. A total of 62% of consumers agree that they “make a point of getting plenty of protein” in the foods they eat, according to a 2014 survey by food research firm Packaged Facts. With the popularity of diets that emphasize protein intake and seek to minimize carbohydrates, like Atkins, Primal and Paleo, it’s not hard to understand why protein’s influence and importance is on the rise. Protein has been associated with health benefits, including weight management, controlling blood sugar and boosting satiety, or the feeling of fullness, which can combat overeating. Additionally, protein contributes to growth, maintenance and the repair of bodily functions.
Protein Promotion for Restaurants
Foodservice operators are keen on using protein’s power to give consumers meals and conveniences that they want and that align with their diets. From concepts to foods, fast casual operators, in particular, are serving up protein in big ways.
“We know you’re busy and want to take care of yourself at the same time, so we make it simple, fast and delicious to fuel your body while allowing you to take care of other things in your life” is the promise of Protein Bar, a limited-service restaurant concept built around a menu of protein-rich foods. The Chicago-based chain is set for national expansion, with 40 additional stores planned to be built by the end of 2015. Protein Bar, which competes against other healthy food chains like Freshii, also based in Chicago, and Muscle Maker Grill, headquartered in New Jersey, is best known for its “bar-ritos” and whey, soy and egg protein-boosted blended drinks. Using protein-rich foods like quinoa, organic tofu, chickpeas and all-natural chicken, the concept has attracted investment from Catterton Partners to the tune of $22M.
Competitor Freshii offers a variety of sandwiches, wraps, salads, soups, smoothies, meal bowls and burritos. On its website, Freshii tells customers they can “energize their meals” by adding “protein: tofu, falafel, chicken, steak shrimp,” to its vegetarian and grain combination bowls.
Restaurant chains have been quick to create and market protein-rich meals. Panera Bread, the largest bakery-café chain with more 1,800 locations, offers a power menu with morning and afternoon entrees, emphasizing lean meats and vegetarian protein and de-emphasizing starches. The Power Bowls and Power Salads, which feature ingredients like eggs, roasted turkey, antibiotic-free chicken, hummus, steak, cage-free eggs and avocados, have less than 400 calories each and range from 24 to 33 grams of protein.
Retail Emphasizes Protein Labeling
Food retailer and foodservice marketers are using the “protein” label more clearly on packaging and when describing product-rich foods. Products that feature high amounts of protein are labeled as such and are making product associations with descriptors like power, energy, strength and stamina. Powerful Yogurt is a growing Greek yogurt brand that markets and merchandises its high-protein, substantial-serving yogurts, drinkable yogurts and snack bars to men. A serving size of Powerful Yogurt is 8 oz, which contrasts to serving sizes of 3.5 oz to 5.3 oz that many other brands offer.
Organic Valley, an exhibitor at this year’s National Restaurant Show in Chicago, introduced its high-protein Organic Fuel Chocolate and Vanilla Shakes. The product is described as “nutritious and delicious” and marketing material touts the shakes as “powerful nutrition.”
How Restaurants Can Boost the Power of Protein in Menus
Restaurants and foodservice companies can leverage the opportunity of protein by creating dishes and sandwiches that boost protein nutrition with lean meats, nuts and grains; with health-halo ingredients, like avocados, kale, quinoa, chia seeds; and superfruits like pichuberry (Incan berry) or dragon fruit. Operators can also boost the “power” quotient with eggs and ancient grains. Consumers will appreciate high-protein menu items that are clearly labeled and identified by simple and well-marked signage and website pages. They will also appreciate innovative dishes that make their high-protein diets convenient, flavorful and exciting.