Protein powder launches continue to grow while bars hit saturation point

By Nikki Hancocks

- Last updated on GMT

© Murzik Nata | Getty Images
© Murzik Nata | Getty Images

Related tags Protein Whey bars

The number of protein bars on the European market has significantly decreased, while the protein powders category has continued to grow thanks largely to innovations with clear protein and collagen, new data reveals.

The findings, from specialist active nutrition data and insights provider, Nutrition Integrated, unveil a 13% reduction in the number of protein bars on offer in the 12 months ending December 2023. 

At 25%, the rate of delists considerably outpaced the rate of new product launches, which stood at 12%.  

For wholefood protein bars –a nutrition or cereal bar claiming protein – the reduction is even more stark at 25%, thanks to a 30% delist rate compared to a 5% new product rate. 

“Bars have become a really popular format, in no small part due to their convenience and appeal for the everyday consumer. But what we’re now seeing is a market that’s reaching a saturation point,” explained Nick Morgan, managing director at Nutrition Integrated.

“Consumers only want so many choices and there’s only so much space on shelves, so brands are starting to consolidate their offering to focus on the bars that sell, and lose the ones that don’t,” he added.

Morgan explained brands are having to work hard to show true innovation and not come across as another ‘me too’ SKU.

“Where we’re seeing great innovation is when protein brands are collaborating with well-known confectionery brands to create products that are unique and that provide intrigue and nostalgia that drives trial." 

He provided examples including the 'iconic' Mondelez inspired collaboration of Grenade and Oreo, Trek’s collaboration with Lotus Biscoff, and Big’s collaboration with legacy candy brand Conguitos​.

Collagen and clear protein

The news is much more positive for the protein powder category. 

While some categories, such as gainers and blends have seen a reduction (-7% and -3%, respectively), collagen and clear protein have experienced substantial growth. 

Across the year, there was a 17% increase in the number of collagen brands and a 29% increase in the number of collagen products available. 

“It’s no surprise that collagen products are experiencing such substantial growth, as brands continue to find new ways to innovate with the ingredient of the moment,” asserted Morgan.

And the clear whey category, where he sees the most innovation, saw a 12% increase in the number of products available, appealing to both everyday consumers and those looking for alternatives to milky protein shakes

Considering the macro trend for a more plant-based diet, a surprising trend was a 3% decrease in the number of plant-based protein powders available.  

“While a 3% decrease in plant based protein powders isn’t huge, the fact the category hasn’t grown against the macro trend for plant based products is surprising," the consultant noted, putting forward two main reasons for this downturn.

He explained protein powders have 'manifested' differently in plant than they have in whey as whey allows for multiple product options – concentrate, isolate, hydrolysed etc. Plant protein doesn’t have that versatility and Morgan explained the market isn’t yet mature enough to support the growth of multiple protein powders. 

“The other reason is that the flavour, taste and texture of plant based protein powders still don’t meet the standards that consumers are looking for. And while there have been huge improvements in this across the industry, we’re not there yet.

"So for now, as a new, better tasting product is developed, it makes sense to take out an older product that may not be selling as well, resulting in the number of total products staying about the same.”

He concluded: “In all categories, one thing is clear – that true innovation, beyond flavour or added vitamin options, is key to creating successful products.” 




Related topics Functional Dairy