The rise of high-protein RTD dairy beverages

By Jim Cornall

- Last updated on GMT

High protein dairy RTDs are checking all the boxes for today’s consumers. Pic: Getty Images/lmgorthand
High protein dairy RTDs are checking all the boxes for today’s consumers. Pic: Getty Images/lmgorthand

Related tags High protein Dairy Glanbia

High-protein dairy RTDs are on track to do well in 2021.

These protein-fortified drinkable yogurts, shakes, and flavored milks can be used as a healthy protein snack or as a meal replacement for busy consumers who are working from home. They can also work as a sports nutrition beverage due to their high protein levels.

Niki Kennedy, senior marketing manager at Glanbia Nutritionals in Chicago, said that high-protein dairy RTDs are also known for their vitamin and mineral content and variety of indulgent flavors, and are checking all the boxes for today’s consumers.

Flavor challenges with high protein RTD beverages

Taste can make or break a product. And while it’s hard enough to create a product with a winning flavor, product developers of nutrition products like RTD protein beverages face special challenges, Kennedy said. High-protein nutrition products often include several ingredients known for their inherent off-flavors.

Manufacturers of protein RTDs often formulate with bold, indulgent flavors to overcome these challenges. Chocolate, vanilla, coffee and caramel are tried-and-true options, while newer sweet brown flavors for protein RTDs include cinnamon roll and butter pecan, Kennedy said.

Another popular approach is the use of fruit cream flavors like banana cream, strawberry cream, and peaches and cream.

However, even products that use rich, decadent flavors may still need a little help in covering off-notes, which can come from vitamins, minerals, high-intensity sweeteners, or plant-based proteins. Protein RTDs such as sports nutrition beverages, meal replacement drinks, protein juice smoothies, and fortified yogurt drinks are all examples of products that can benefit from flavor masking. 

Kennedy cited Glanbia Nutritionals MaskWell Masking Solutions as an example of a product designed to mask proteins, plant-based ingredients, vitamins, minerals, and other ingredients that have inherently strong flavors or off-notes.

Nutritional ingredients can be especially difficult to flavor due to their bitterness, astringency, earthiness, or other unwanted flavors.

High protein yogurts

High-protein yogurt is increasingly in demand as a better-for-you snack that offers satiety and sustained energy. More than three in four global active consumers say they use high-protein yogurt as a snack, and almost one in three have been consuming it more over the past year.1

In the European market alone, new yogurt launches with added or high-protein claims quadrupled between 2014 and 2020, growing from 3% to 13%.2​ 

Kennedy said yogurt high in protein with low fat and no added sugar is proving to be the winning formula, with this combination showing the highest purchase intent among UK consumers.3​ One in four of the high-protein spoonable yogurts launched globally 2020 featured a reduced/no/low-fat claim, while no added sugar claims for new high-protein yogurts more than doubled from 2015 to 2020.4​ 

Kennedy said Glanbia’s UltraHi is a dairy protein ingredient designed for high protein yogurt applications and specifically suitable for yogurt RTDs.

Demand for high protein savory snacks continues to rise

Among global new food and beverage launches, high/added protein claims have been rising steadily, growing globally at a CARG by 18% between 2016 and 2020.5 

Protein is proving to be particularly important in snacks due to consumers’ increased interest in healthy snacking. In addition, protein-rich snacks offer satiety and sustained energy—important benefits in a snack.

However, many high-protein snacks in the market are sweet, indulgent snacks. Kennedy said high-protein savory snacks represent an opportunity for innovation to meet consumers’ growing demand for healthy protein in the savory formats they love. Savory snacks were in high demand last year due to consumers spending more time at home during the lockdown and increasing their snacking.

Healthier savory snacks—especially those with protein—can play an important role in the post-pandemic period as many consumers try to get back on track with weight management goals. Mintel’s research shows in the UK, nearly two in five consumers think high-protein chips/nuts/savory snacks are a good option for meal replacement.6​ In addition, one in two say eating healthy chips/nuts/savory snacks is a good way to top up on nutrients like protein.7

Savory snacks with protein also help consumers keep their carb intake in check. Lower carb ways of eating (such as the keto diet) are continuing to influence consumers’ choices in snacks. For example, while salty snacks experienced a net gain in penetration in the US last year, about one in 10 salty snack consumers cut back on their consumption, with one in four saying it was to reduce carb intake.8

Some products already in this space that can address consumers’ interest in savory snacks with protein are nuts, seeds, and trail mixes. Kennedy said the addition of fortified inclusions like Glanbia’s Crunchie Milk Protein Bites can boost the protein in trail mixes even further while contributing a crunchy texture. 

Growth opportunity in personalized protein RTM 

Personalized protein ready-to-mix (RTM) powders are currently a niche market but represent a high growth opportunity due to the increasing demand for personalized foods and beverages, Kennedy pointed out.

Protein powders remain hugely popular, making up just over half (51%) of retail sports nutrition products sales globally.10​ The $11.1bn global protein powder market is expected to see steady growth ahead at a CAGR of 8.1% from 2019 to 2024.11

In the US, nearly half of sports nutrition product consumers purchase protein powder.12​ Of these, more than three-quarters do so to maintain a healthy body weight.13​ For health- and fitness-oriented consumers who already include protein powders in their diets, protein powders offering the exact benefits they need with additional targeted nutrients and functional ingredients represent a huge added value, Kennedy noted. 

Besides using different approaches to collect consumers’ health data, companies also use different strategies to deliver personalized nutrition. One strategy is personalization by combination. Care/of, for example, recommends several individual products (based on assessment) that together address the consumer’s needs. This might include care/of creatine for high-intensity exercise, plant protein for muscle recovery, and chia-flax for added fiber.

Personalization of individual products is another strategy, Kennedy said.  Brands like Buddy Nutrition and Gainful take this approach to produce a custom-formulated and blended powder for each consumer. A Buddy Nutrition powder might be blended from, for example, the brand’s Carb Enzyme Boost, Turmeric Boost, and Multi-Vitamin and Mineral Boost, in addition to a custom protein blend. The powder would also include the consumer’s chosen flavor.


1. FMCG Gurus – Active Nutrition Survey – Q3 2019. 

2. Mintel – A Year of Innovation in Yogurt – August 2019. 

3-4. Mintel Global New Product Database – August 2021.

5. Mintel, Global New Product Database, accessed August 2021.  

6-7. Mintel, Crisps, Savoury Snacks and Nuts – UK, January 2020. 

8. Mintel, Salty Snacks – US, April 2021. 

9. Mintel, The Future of Salty Snacks: 2021, February 2021. 

10-11. Euromonitor, Sports Nutrition in World, February 2020 (excludes meal replacement and nutrition drinks). 

12-13. FMCG Gurus, The Evolution of Protein – USA – 2019, October 2019. 




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