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Protein is more than just a trend – it is a lifestyle that an increasing number of shoppers are choosing to adopt. Priyanka Jethwa investigates how independents can capitalise and grow sales
From bread and bars to cereals and snacks, ‘Now with Added Protein’ is the key strapline suppliers are using as a strategy to entice your shoppers to buy their products.
In the UK, Google searches for the term ‘protein’ almost doubled between 2014 and 2018, quickly establishing itself as more than just a trend, but a lifestyle shoppers are now investing in.
An affinity for protein may have started off in the gym and in wholefood stores, but it’s now a mainstream trend every retailer can capitalise on.
It has become more than just an essential nutrient designed for muscle-building and healthy hair and nails, but an ingredient promoted as a life-changer.
This interest in protein has transformed the way consumers shop in convenience. Avtar Sidhu, who runs Simply Fresh in Kenilworth, Warwickshire, says his shoppers tend to favour multi-pack formats of protein foods, rather than single impulse lines.
“Multi-packs are selling well because people like to buy protein foods in a bulk rather than as a single item – this is what the multiples are doing to cater for demand, and is a strategy that seems to be working for us as well,” he adds.
For independent retailers, stocking protein products might be slightly more expensive than normal bars and shakes, but the margins available are certainly more generous.
For example, Cadbury Boost offers margins up to 27.5% from Booker, compared with Grenade Carb Killa High Protein Bar Cookies & Cream – Nisa’s bestselling protein bar – which offers margins up to 51.9%.
Last year, suppliers such as Warburtons entered the protein category for the first time in order to take a slice, with new innovations from Weetabix and Mars Wrigley Confectionery also hitting the market.
As well as the bigger brands, populating the market and generating the most sales, according to 50% of the retailers we spoke to, smaller protein brands, such as Grenade, Oatein and Graze, are also driving profits.
This has seen a surge in wholesalers, such as Epicurium, increasing the amount of protein food it stocks, with managing director Ben McKechnie attributing the wholesaler’s growth to health trends such as protein.
Andy Dixon, global sales director at flapjack and cookie brand Oatein, which recently won a listing in Tesco, says the media conversation around the benefits of a high-protein diet has helped drive consumer awareness of the trend. “Younger shoppers consider the content of their food more than ever before. This trend is only going to increase as consumers start to monitor their diet more intently,” he says.
How retailers should respond
It is crucial retailers offer customers a broad range of protein options from big and niche brands, including bars, protein balls, ready-to-drink varieties and powders, to protein specific cereals, such as Weetabix Protein, to make the most of this opportunity.
In particular, Beth Reeve, brand manager for Weetabix On The Go, explains protein products make up 26% of the breakfast drinks category.
“Protein breakfast drinks are growing at 10% year on year, driven predominantly by impulse grab-and-go convenience shopping missions,” she says.
Another easily accessible area for retailers is healthier snacks, a segment growing at 9.3%. Within this, protein has played a major role, driving category growth at 50.5%.
This presents a great opportunity for retailers to increase sales in the morning and tap into the demand for a chilled breakfast on the go. Reeve adds that to make the most of sales, retailers should stock breakfast protein drinks in the chilled and ambient aisles.
According to Mintel, snack brands are also leading the way in the protein category.
A recent report says: “While the growing choice of high-protein food and drink is creating intensified competition, convenient formats and increasing availability in the mainstream are helping to make protein snacks more accessible.”
Grenade co-founder Juliet Barratt says considering the main reason to purchase protein snacks, such as bars, is as a snack between meals – usually as an alternative to chocolate – it’s important any healthier snacking range delivers on taste and not just function alone.
“These everyday treats contribute to around 40% of category value and are driving the greatest amount of growth in the category,” she adds.
To investigate this trend further, RN spoke to six leading retailers, each running a different type of store, from across the country to learn how they are adapting the trend to fit in with their businesses, and find out what specific protein products are working for them and their shoppers.
How retailers from across the country are managing their protein range
As a CTN, growth in protein sales have stemmed from functional drinks, like Nurishment, rather than bars, says Muntazir Dipoti.
“We stock a range of Nurishment protein drinks, alongside Nature Valley Protein Bars. Nurishment has always been a bestseller, and we’ve stocked it for several years.
“We used to stock Cadbury Boost + Protein, but for us, chocolate protein bars didn’t take off.
“Our shoppers would rather consume protein in a drink, or in a healthier alternative.
“People find protein foods expensive to buy and unless you are in an area where people are really into fitness, or there is a younger demographic, it won’t be your bestseller, so it’s about finding out what your customers are looking for to ensure sales.
“In terms of wholesale support, our main wholesaler, Bestway, hasn’t pushed us on stocking protein. Having said that, I heard Grenade bars are popular protein products, but I can’t seem to find them in wholesale anywhere.”
‘One rule I follow…’
“It’s about knowing when foods with protein are most relevant to shoppers. For example, last year, we offered promotions on protein foods from January to April, a time when people are looking to be healthier for the new year, and sales did well during that period.
“It’s still a trend retailers need to investigate and give a fair shot, because you might pick up a few shoppers along the way.”
Village-based Sarj Patel profits from sticking to mainstream brands, such as Cadbury Boost + Protein and Mars Protein.
“We started stocking protein products around 10 months ago and they started off selling quite successfully. We first came across the trend after attending an exhibition last April where 60% of all the stands were promoting protein products, so we knew we had to invest.
“But for us, whereas protein bars started off quite popular, sales have now plateaued. In our area, people tend to go to wholefood stores to buy protein, or from gyms.
“Our wholesalers haven’t been as helpful when it comes to pushing protein products, but maybe that’s because of our location.
“However, this doesn’t mean all retailers should forgo it – it’s a bigger trend in cities, especially with youngsters who are into their fitness, so it pays to stock it. Recently, we have had a lot of people come in and ask for dried fruit, so I think this year that will take off again.”
‘One rule I follow…’
“Protein as a category may have good margins, but it comes at a higher price point, so moving stock can be sometimes slow.
“To combat this, we have streamlined our range to only include well-known brands, such as Cadbury Boost + Protein and Mars Protein. These tend to sell better than those shoppers may not have heard of.”
For Martin Ward’s shoppers, protein can sometimes be a costly purchase, so it’s about finding the right products with a competitive price, such as Booker own brand.
“We used to stock a few protein bars such as Boost + Protein, Mars Protein, Snicker Protein and Nature Valley Protein Bars, but because they are generally more expensive than normal bars, they didn’t do as well, as we are based in a price-conscious area.
“We started selling protein foods around a year ago when the trend really took off. However, only last week we invested in Booker’s own-brand protein drink, which is price-marked at 89p. It was on promotion from Booker, so we thought we would give it a shot, as the price isn’t too high.
“We tend to give protein products around three months to see if they do well, and when it comes to bars, we buy one outer and see how long it takes to sell.
“The biggest barrier is always price when it comes to protein, and Snickers Protein took a while to sell because of this, so we won’t be buying them again.
“I think the trend is now levelling out, but we just have to wait and see what comes of it. It’s still worth stocking, depending on your customer base.”
‘One rule I follow…’
“My customer base is slightly more price-conscious than other retailers’ shoppers may be, so I like to stick to brands that offer good deals, or are price-marked. That’s why I have decided to give Booker’s new own-brand protein drink a try, as it is price-marked at 89p.”
Peter Bhadal encourages all retailers to invest in protein, as even if they don’t sell straight away, most products, like Ufit, have a long shelf-life, so stock won’t go to waste.
“Protein has really taken off for us, and, as a result, we started stocking a full range around eight months ago.
“Being based near the University of Leeds, there is an uplift in sales when term starts, and demand dies down when they leave to go back home. However, sales have recently peaked as everyone is set on course to eat more healthily for the new year – student or not.
“Booker has been supportive in promoting protein, as they always have some sort of offer in the category. Currently, we are selling Ufit on promotion at £1.
“Protein is definitely a trend to invest in this year, and all retailers should give it a try because the products have a long shelf-life, so even if it takes some time to sell, it won’t be wasted. It might be expensive, but the key is to display your range using effective PoS and shelf barkers.”
‘One rule I follow…’
“Bigger brands will always sell slightly better, but the main thing is that they act as a gateway to smaller brands.
“Big brands are mostly bought as impulse and let shoppers know we sell other protein products as well.
“To achieve this, we have a wide selection of bars and drinks from brands such as Boost Protein and Grenade, as well as Bounce Balls and Ufit protein drinks to achieve help a balanced range.”
Stock multi-packs of protein foods, says Avtar Sidhu, as protein consumers often buy it in bulk, rather than individually.
“Although retailers can’t be expected to stock everything, it’s important we try and offer a wide range. We have a dedicated protein bay in store where we keep milkshakes, powders and even stock blenders, alongside a range of protein bars by Nature Valley, Grenade, Kind Protein Snacks, Bounce and Graze, so it’s all in one place for those looking for it.
“Graze Veggie Protein Power snack box is a bestseller, and currently we have it on offer at half price, so it is flying off the shelves.
“Plus, with it being Veganuary and the beginning of the year, there is always a peak in shoppers buying healthier foods. For those shoppers interested in protein, they will be looking at the protein content of what they are buying, so it’s good to have a variety so you are meeting all needs.
“Our wholesalers have overall done a good job in helping us find good protein products and have them on regular promotion.”
‘One rule I follow…’
“Multi-packs are selling well because people tend to buy protein foods in bulk rather than as a single item – this is what the multiples are doing and it seems to be working for us as well.
“So I try and look out for bigger formats of protein foods to cater for this demand and to ensure we are staying competitive with the bigger shops.”
Urban university store
When it comes to university students, Kristian Bennett says chocolate-flavoured protein bars, such as MaxiMuscle, are always popular.
“Our protein range has really evolved over the past three years, so much so that we now dedicate a one-metre bay to it, whereas previously it didn’t take much space.
“We keep the bars and drinks as part of one range together, making it easy for students to find everything.
“In terms of brands, we stock a selection from Sci Mx Pro, Kind Protein Bars, MaxiMuscle Promax, Grenade, Graze Veggie Protein Power snack boxes, Boost Protein and Mars Protein bars.
“Chocolate protein bars are the most popular with student shoppers – however, the overall bestsellers seem to be the brands that are specific to protein, such as MaxiMuscle Promax.
“Blakemore originally helped us shape together a range through a planogram, but over time we have tweaked that ourselves – we last reviewed it around nine months ago. Originally it had a few products from bigger brands, but over time, after we saw interest from students, we expanded it to include smaller brands, and more protein-specific powders and foods.”
‘One rule I follow…’
“I have noticed a trend in students favouring protein-specific brands and chocolate-flavoured protein bars. Once you find out what the bestsellers are, definitely prioritise them, and keep them together in one area. Also, see how your wholesaler can help you then manage the range.”
Protein snacks and cereals
As a trend thriving among health-conscious consumers, healthier snacks are growing at 9.3% within the snacks category. Within this, protein has played a major role, driving category growth at 50.5%.
To make the most of this opportunity, Susann Heinz, brand manager for Special K and W.K. Kellogg, says healthier snacks, such as Special K Protein bars, should be stored next to confectionery to drive footfall and highlight the healthier option, as one of the main barriers in-store for healthier snacks and protein-based products is visibility.
Furthermore, Kellogg’s is also expanding its Special K Protein range this month with two protein cereals. Both cereal varieties, Special K Protein Berries and Special K Protein Nuts, include 12% protein and have an RRP of £2.99 each.
Heinz says, in the cereal category, retailers should use segment blocks to differentiate between different trends and consumer needs, like protein.
“The new Special K Protein cereals should be located with the core Special K range as well as with other healthy-positioned breakfast cereals, making it easier for consumers who are seeking more nutritious options to find them,” she says.
With veganism and vegetarianism becoming more popular, there is an increased demand for meat-free protein sources. Plant-based proteins have seen a rising profile in recent years in mainstream food and drink, therefore more protein brands are expanding their vegan ranges.
Matt Hunt, founder at dedicated protein brand The Protein Ball Co, says to capitalise on impulse protein purchases within this dietary area, retailers should display vegan protein snacks at the till, alongside traditional snacks.
“The convenience sector is incredibly important for The Protein Ball Co. Our 45g packs of bite-size protein balls are popular with impulse shoppers looking for healthy vegan snacks to eat on the go,” he adds.
Shoppers are more educated these days about what type of food they eat, as younger shoppers have become more health conscious and educated on what to eat and drink while exercising. This has in turn seen high-protein and low-sugar foods become more popular.
To help increase sales of low-sugar varieties, Andy Dixon, global sales director at Oatein, says retailers should display products in prominent places, such as by moving foods near the healthier snacks area.
This way, retailers are able to position protein products as a healthier option.
“Historically, low-sugar protein snacks were only available at gyms and dedicated health food stores, but now shoppers can purchase them at forecourts and convenience store.
“To help retailers, we provide PoS and display stands, which can help better showcase low-sugar protein products.”
Protein sits within many categories reflecting demand from consumers for different types of protein and occasions to consume it. It is therefore crucial for retailers to offer their customers a broad range of protein options, notably whey protein.
A report called ‘UK Whey Protein Market 2018’ states the UK whey protein market is one of the strongest among countries in Western Europe, expected to grow by 7.3% between 2018 and 2023.
The report identifies research and development in the use of whey protein has contributed significantly to this growth, with whey now identified to be effective in increasing insulin for those with diabetes. This has contributed in the demand of it.
Mark Neville, managing director at Upbeat Drinks, says with one in four UK consumers of whey eating it more than once a week, retailers looking to capitalise should over-index their protein ranges on products that contain whey protein.
“Upbeat recently launched a range of protein waters containing fruit, whey protein and zero sugar. It is a must-stock for retailers looking to cater to the ever-growing customers looking to top their protein intake up in an affordable way,” he says.
RN’s final say
Out of 12 stores RN’s data partner EDFM surveyed for this week’s Pricewatch on protein, one brand that came out on top was Grenade with its protein milkshakes.
Almost all stores asked stocked Grenade Carb Killa Shake Fudge Brownie, Grenade Carb Killa Shake Cookies & Cream and Grenade Carb Killa Shake Chocolate Mint, with the average price among all three varieties being £2.10.
To take advantage of this, retailers should look to stock Grenade’s protein bars.
Out of the 12 asked, only two stocked Grenade Carb Killa High Protein Dark Chocolate Mint.
With the healthier snacks category growing at 9.3%, driven by the demand in protein, it’s an area worth investigating.
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