Mainstream consumers are increasingly seeking out protein for sports nutrition, but their needs and purchase motivations vary, according to a major global study by Arla Foods Ingredients.

A total of 43% of the 12,000 consumers surveyed said they looked for added protein when choosing foods and beverages for exercise, rising to 52% for those aged 18-29.

This interest in protein is rising, with 31% stating they had increased their use in the past two years compared with only 7% who had decreased usage.

The research, which looked at how people buy into the sports-nutrition market and perceive healthy living, has enabled Arla Foods Ingredients to identify three distinct consumer types, each with different attitudes to exercise, nutrition, and protein.

Three groups

The first group, called The Enthusiasts, exercise strenuously at least three times per week and frequently choose food and beverages designed to support athletic performance.

They score above average in many areas – for example 93% have a very high interest in protein and 60% actively search for added-protein sports-nutrition products.

Easy Health refers to the second group of consumers who follow a relatively active lifestyle, balanced with an interest in nutrition, and are likely to respond positively to popular health trends.

Like the Enthusiasts, they choose protein-rich foods to help with areas such as sports recovery, but are unlikely to sacrifice taste in favour of functionality.

Those in the third segment – Healthy Feel Goods – do not prioritise exercise but they have a big focus on how diet impacts health. Healthy Feel Goods are likely to favour drinkable products such as smoothies, waters, and kefir, because they buy into their health benefits (59%) and want beverages that add vitamins and nutrients to their overall diet (56%).

Director of health and performance nutrition at Arla Foods Ingredients, Troels Nørgaard Laursen, said now that sports nutrition has moved into the mainstream, it has become increasingly important for manufacturers in this category to understand consumer attitudes to exercise, nutrition and key ingredients such as protein.

“We have been able to identify three distinct consumer types, giving some useful pointers in how producers can promote protein to these different segments.”

Head of marketing at Arla Foods, Anne Høst Stenbæk, added: “A high proportion of Enthusiasts say they make a conscious effort to eat a healthy diet and they choose food to improve their athletic performance. They are willing to give up on both taste and convenience to get there, so for them it’s all about functionality.

“In contrast, Easy Health consumers agree that an active lifestyle is very important in contributing to overall health but this group is not willing to compromise on taste, so manufacturers would do well to target them differently.

While those in the third group – Healthy Feel Goods – are not focussed on exercise, their interest in nutrition is high, perhaps higher than those in the other groups,” she said.

Arla Foods supplies ingredients such as whey protein isolates, concentrates and hydrolysates for the sports-nutrition market.