The U.S. Dairy Exporter Blog: Market Analysis, Research & News

  • 5 Research-Based Strategies to Improve Whey Protein Messaging

    By Margaret Speich February 18, 2016

    Communication based on science will gradually grow demand. 

    Whey protein is a product perfect for the times.

    Consumers around the world are looking to increase the amount of protein in their diets for a variety of reasons. Researchers continue to amass data that sets whey protein ahead of alternative protein sources in terms of nutritional quality and the ability to deliver on consumer lifestyle goals.

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    Unfortunately, studies show most consumers are not getting the full message about whey protein. Untapped potential remains. 

    "The research shows there is no doubt that science-based communications will create gradual demand for whey protein in many developed markets and can help protect established markets," says Véronique Lagrange, senior vice president, strategy and insights, at the U.S. Dairy Export Council.

    USDEC, in collaboration with the Whey Protein Research Consortium, commissioned multiple market studies on consumer perceptions, consumption patterns and purchasing behavior for whey protein.

    Citing these studies, Lagrange and Michael Gromek of Dairy Management Inc. (DMI) recently wrote an article, "Education and Messaging: An Effective Way to Increase Demand for Whey Proteins in Developed Countries," for the European Dairy Journal.
    While the studies analyzed were of U.S. consumers, Lagrange and Gromek see opportunities to improve messaging both domestically and internationally. 

    “We are actively engaged in sharing this information with manufacturers and multi-nationals, allowing them to fine-tune communications and promotions to better target consumers with messaging and products,” says Lagrange. “A rising tide lifts all boats.”

    Based on the research (two surveys were conducted, one in 2011 and another in 2014), Lagrange and Gromek identified strategies, including these five, for building the global case for whey protein consumption:

    1. It may sound basic, but emphasize the protein in whey protein.

    Consumer attitudes toward protein remained positive overall from 2011 to 2014. More than half associate protein with a variety of valuable benefits, including: “Achieving a balanced diet,” “More complete/quick muscle recovery after exercise,” “Preventing muscle loss during aging,” “Not feeling hungry between meals,” “Maintaining healthy bones and joints,” and “Increasing lean muscle mass definition without bulking”.

    At the same time, nearly two-thirds of consumers said they do not get enough protein in their diets, a significant increase from the 2011 survey. Plus, almost half of respondents identified themselves as “a little too heavy around the waist,” while others said they desired more muscle, needed more strength or wanted to firm up or tone certain areas of the body.

    “Overall, the benefits consumers believe protein can deliver are well-aligned with their body composition and lifestyle goals as well as whey protein research findings,” says Lagrange. “That spells opportunity for dairy. Helping consumers think ‘whey protein’ rather than ‘meat,’ ‘soy’ or ‘pea’ when they seek out a protein product in the store will help the dairy sector gain a bigger slice of the expanding global protein market.”

    2. Educate consumers that whey protein comes from milk.

    When asked about the origin of whey protein, one-third of consumers said they have no idea where it comes from. More than one-third believes it is plant derived (most from wheat). In all, only about 30 percent of respondents identified milk as the source of whey protein.

    There might be some U.S. bias in those answers—whey-based drinks have been marketed for decades in some European countries, and other languages lack the alphabetical resemblance between “whey” and “wheat” that is likely behind some of the confusion expressed in the survey.

    “But given that both the 2011 and 2014 research indicated a tremendous boost in favorability when consumers knew whey protein derived from milk, any response to this question other than ‘milk’ represents an ongoing opportunity to better educate consumers and grow demand,” says Lagrange.

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    3. Correct the misconception that protein is just for bodybuilders.

    Despite favorable overall responses to protein, simply emphasizing whey as a high-quality protein source is no magic bullet to greater sales. Although protein registers high favorability with consumers, persistent misconceptions still cloud potential.

    In fact, compared to the 2011 study, a greater number of adults believe “Protein is just for body builders” and “Women shouldn't eat too much protein or their muscles can get bulky.” Respondents agreeing with both those statements skewed toward those considered favorable target markets, including women.

    “Marketers should communicate and message about those topics—what proteins ‘do not do’ and the levels that can be safely eaten—in particular among women,” says Lagrange.

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    4. Improve and market whey protein's taste.

    When asked about barriers to whey protein consumption, one hurdle stood above the rest: taste. Taste as a sales barrier was the only attribute to register a statistically significant increase from 2011 to 2014.

    “With the growth of whey protein products in recent years, we believe the increase might be due to athletes consuming products containing higher concentrations of protein and/or mainstream adults starting to incorporate whey protein into their normal diets,” says Lagrange.

    In either case, close collaboration between whey protein suppliers and end-users is key to overcoming taste issues. Once taste is improved, it's marketers' turn to convey the message.

    “We need to continue to invest in application research to develop better flavors for serious athletes, such as bodybuilders, as well as everyday consumers looking to improve their diets who may be less familiar with the taste of whey protein,” says Lagrange.

    5. Create different whey protein messages for different consumers.

    Survey findings differed among sub-groups in the overall analysis, according to age, gender, lifestyle and general body composition: an indication that communication messages can be effectively tailored to various population groups in order to further increase their interest in whey protein. Some examples of those subgroups and tactics:

    • Fat-Loss Believers (including anyone concerned with weight). Messaging: weight management and fat loss. Although men are less focused on the weight loss benefits associated with whey protein, more men are following a variety of diets than in 2011. Therefore, efforts to address weight loss and overall weight management will likely resonate with many.
    • Athlete Exercisers. Messaging: muscle strengthening and recovery aspects of whey protein, with a focus on the pre-/post-workout recovery aspects of milk. Active consumers are more likely to consult personal trainers and coaches and value their input when trying new or “healthy” products, so communication targeting those positions is advised.
    • Older Consumers. Messaging: whey protein’s role in preventing muscle/bone loss and helping adults stay active as they age. The best way to reach and this growing demographic with information on healthy aging with dairy and whey protein is through health professionals.

    The importance of ongoing research

    Further whey protein research will help the industry better address the
     needs and concerns of specific market segments, improve product taste and increase innovation.

    That, in turn, will sharpen messaging.

    Ongoing research is underway—funded by members of the Whey Protein Research Consortium, the U.S. National Dairy Council, USDEC and several international organizations—which continue to identify tangible and desirable health benefits for whey proteins, supporting the growth of the industry and contributing to measurable health outcomes for consumers.

    Says Lagrange, “It is possible to dramatically improve consumer perceptions of whey protein by providing people with simple messages about source and quality. Even in countries where the regulatory environment tightly controls messaging and potential claims, whey suppliers and end-users should be in a position to create incremental demand for their products.”

    Learn more: Related articles on whey products have appeared in the U.S. Dairy Exporter Blog: 

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    The U.S. Dairy Export Council fosters collaborative industry partnerships with processors, trading companies and others to enhance global demand for U.S. dairy products and ingredients. USDEC is primarily supported by Dairy Management Inc.through the dairy farmer checkoff. How to republish this post.   

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