Aishwarya Ramesh

India's protein craze now hits chocolates, chips, sodas and more

Now, a range of products use added protein content as a marketing tool. But why are brands adopting this strategy?

It's normal if a granola bar or a weight loss product uses protein as a selling point. But a packet of chips? Chocolate chip cookies? What about a bar of chocolate?

If it sounds too good to be true, it is. Now, there are a host of companies creating products that claim to be healthy, advertising the amount of protein, fiber, nutrients etc, with extra emphasis on the protein aspect. Some examples of these products include RiteBite's chocolate chip cookies, Yogabar's protein enriched muesli, Raw Pressery's cold coffee chocolate protein shake, Amul's protein enriched buttermilk, The Whole Truth Foods' protein enriched peanut butter etc.

It’s completely logical that people should want to consume more protein. Its benefits include aiding people with weight loss, appetite control, reduced cravings, increased strength, lessened fatigue, lower blood pressure and increased metabolism.

In the past, athletes, bodybuilders, sportspersons and gym enthusiasts would track their protein intake, but the scope of that is changing now.

It is generally recommended that a person eats protein according to their body weight. For every kilo that a person weighs, they have to eat a gram of protein corresponding to that. For example, if an individual weighs 50 kilograms, they need to eat 50 grams of protein per day.

A person might be tempted to believe that consuming the product - such as a packet of chips - could actually contribute towards achieving their protein target for the goals. However, it's not that straightforward.

Ronita Mitra, founder and chief strategist at Brand Eagle Consulting, acknowledges that packaged foods and snacks offering to contribute to a person’s daily protein intake is a gap that needed to be tapped in the market.

Ronita Mitra
Ronita Mitra

“Foods with protein as a nutrient will not require much education and will have broad based appeal for all segments of the audience - from homemakers managing their family’s health to working young couples or youngsters who are always on the go. Certain food categories have a natural consonance towards any nutrient additive and such products would have an advantage,” explains Mitra.

Shashank Mehta, CEO and founder of The Whole Truth Foods explains that Indians, and especially vegetarian Indians, struggle to get adequate protein in their diets. He quotes a research study that found that 80% of Indians are protein deficient; concluding that this implies that even affluent Indians struggle to get enough protein in their diets.

“This has created a market for both supplemental proteins led categories (protein bar, protein powder) and for added protein in categories consumed for other reasons like chips, cookies etc. The addition of protein by itself does not make any category "healthy": one needs to look at the macro balance, the amount of sugar, salt, fat, artificial sweeteners, flavours, preservatives etc. before we decide whether a particular product is positive, neutral or negative to what it is replacing in our diet,” he explains.

Different protein products in India
Different protein products in India

Mitra agrees, mentioning that the authenticity of the claim will help win customers’ trust by incorporating a quantity of the nutrient that will make a meaningful difference to consumers’ lives.

“Transparency of claims would also be a progressive step towards ensuring that the consumer knows how the food item is beneficial to him/ her such as %age of RDA that the protein content in that food item delivers,” says Mitra.

While talking about increased protein intake, it’s hard to ignore the role that the pandemic has had to play in changing behaviour. Many consumer behaviours relating to eating healthier, building immunity, exercising, etc, all changed after the pandemic hit in 2020. People were increasingly health conscious and this led them to attempt to make healthier choices.

Mehta adds that the spillover effect that this awareness has, is that packaged foods that have protein in them now hold increased relevance to consumers. He says consuming protein from fresh food will be a major diet change in the future.

"Many start ups had entered the packaged snacks/food segment with a focus on quality of sourcing, natural ingredients and offering nutrients. However the pandemic has taken preventive health maintenance to a new level altogether," mentions Mitra.

“The willingness to take a supplement to cover up a nutrient deficiency has increased now. During the pandemic, there were multiple recommendations to take Vitamin C, Zinc supplements etc to increase immunity,” says Kaustuv Paliwal, SVP, HealthKart (parent company of MuscleBlaze).

Kaustuv Paliwal
Kaustuv Paliwal

Mehta says that along with the pandemic came a slew of dietary recommendations; some for building immunity to avoid Covid, some for recovering faster from Covid if you contracted it, and some for post-Covid convalescence and some for just staying fitter while cooped up indoors due to lockdowns.

“Adding more protein to diet was a consistent recommendation across all these diets, and this increased the salience of protein amongst people. But the protein deficiency in Indian diets pre-dates Covid and continues post the peak Covid phase as well,” recalls Mehta.

Shashank Mehta
Shashank Mehta

Mehta and Paliwal point out that while following an Indian vegetarian diet, a person is much more likely to run into a protein deficit - which can cause long term problems like muscle atrophy.

“Most of our products are in line with the fact that people want to welcome protein into their lives. We have ready to drink beverages, high protein shakes, and sparkling protein water too. These products are for people who want to increase their protein intake without taking a supplement for the same. MuscleBlaze and Healthkart products are available on Amazon and Flipkart,” he explains.

Paliwal points out that protein supplements tend to have a higher percentage of protein per gram of product and that’s what sets it apart from natural sources of protein - such as cheese, eggs, milk, tofu, paneer, etc.

Mehta agrees that it’s possible to construct a balanced diet out of pulses, eggs, milk, yogurt etc. which can help a person meet their daily protein requirements, but existing eating habits are difficult to change. “Adding a scoop of protein powder to the atta in your roti or adding a protein bar as a snack instead of biscuits can help a person reach their protein goals with lesser change in eating patterns. This is why external sources of protein help - they are more convenient and need you to vary from your existing habits less,” says Mehta.

The Whole Truth Foods has designed all its marketing messages on the back of calling out other brands that claim to be healthy. The messaging that they go by, is that their own brand stays true to the claims they make on the labels and they do not add unhealthy ingredients while claiming to call a snack healthy.

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