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Consumers Confused by Protein Sources

Protein is important to U.S. consumers’ diets, with 55% saying high protein is important to consider when they buy food for their households, while 6% of households, or more than 5.4 million people, include someone who has a high-protein diet, according to Nielsen.

The popularity of plant-based proteins is certainly growing, as Nielsen data shows consumers are still choosing traditional sources of protein over plant-based sources. Seventy-eight percent of consumers get their protein from meat, 61% from eggs, 58% from dairy, 29% from fish/seafood, and 19% from legumes/nuts/seeds.

Protein can now be found in many different areas of the grocery store, with alternative protein sources accounting for $22.6 billion in sales, a growth of 1.3% in the last year.

Products classified by FDA as good or excellent sources of protein, excluding meat, eggs, dairy, fish/seafood and legumes/nuts/seeds, made up $16 billion in supermarket grocery sales in 2018, up 1% over 2017; $6 billion in frozen foods, up 2%; $953 million in dairy, up 0.1%; $168 million in bakery, down 4%; $166 million in deli, down 0.5%; $93 million in meat, up 15%; and $37 million in produce, up 17%.

Nielsen surveyed consumers on their perceptions of the amount of protein found in popular foods in the grocery store, ranging from high protein content (more than 20 grams per serving), mid-level protein (10 to 20 grams per serving) or low protein (less than 10 grams per serving). While 78% believed peanut butter is higher in protein than it actually is, only 20% of respondents knew that shrimp is a high-protein food and 88% of consumers didn’t recognize cottage cheese as a high-protein food.

Beef, chicken and pork didn’t score well either, even though they are all high-protein foods, with between 45% and 64% of consumers not considering those meats to be high in protein. Fifty-five percent of consumers were aware of how much protein is in beef and 42% knew how much is in chicken, with the meat increasing the most in terms of consumers’ awareness of its protein content, up four percentage points from 38% in a 2015 similar survey. But fewer consumers correctly identified pork as being a high source of protein, dropping a percentage point to 36% from 37% in 2015.

Forty-three percent of consumers were aware of the amount of protein in jerky, 52% for Greek yogurt, 50% for protein bars and 43% for salmon.

The Millennial and Greatest Generation cohorts were most knowledgeable about protein content in the foods they buy. Of the 10 products surveyed for their protein content, Millennials were most likely to correctly identify protein content for peanut butter, jerky, protein bars, chicken breast and salmon filet, while the Greatest Generation was most likely to correctly identify protein content for cottage cheese, ribeye steak, pork loin and shrimp.

For the full story, go to this week’s Food Institute Report.