The Rise of Plant Proteins in Latin America

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Obesity in Latin America is a growing problem. Consumers believe protein—including plant protein products—may be the answer

KerryDigest Fast Facts:
  • Almost half of the population of Latin American is considered overweight.
  • A growing number of consumers in the region believe protein may help slow the obesity epidemic.
  • Protein is now trending in the region, and high-protein launches have increased exponentially in the last 5 years.
  • Although animal-based protein sources remain in the lead in Latin America, plant proteins are winning over consumer appeal and shelf space.
  • Market gaps exist, especially in one ready-to-tap category.
KerryDigest Full Scoop:

Over the last decade, dietary recommendations in Latin American countries have changed dramatically, shifting away from combatting undernutrition and towards obesity prevention, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. About half of the region’s population is considered overweight and reduced access to and consumption of protein may be to blame, according to a recent study in the American Journal of Human Biology.

But the pendulum has already begun to swing back towards protein, with a growing number of Latin Americans now eating significantly more protein that the average daily requirement, according to the World Resources Institute. It seems that revised dietary recommendations and protein-promoting LATAM social media influencers have convinced consumers that protein—including plant protein—can lead to better health and weight loss.

Here, we detail the meteoric rise of protein-enhanced products, as well as the increasing popularity of plant proteins among Latin American consumers.

A Rise in Latin American High-Protein Launches
Protein was listed as a “top 5” trend at the Fi South America 2018 expo, according to Food Navigator Latam, and the ranking appears accurate. So far this year, Latin America has launched more than 500 products sporting the high-protein claim, and over the past 5 years the number of such launches grew by 186%, according to Mintel. Mexico and Brazil lead in the region, but an increase in high-protein product launches has also been observed in Colombia, Chile and Puerto Rico.

Strengthening the presence of the claim is the fact that many of the biggest food and beverage brands have all launched their own high-protein products for the general public. As the market moves from niche to mainstream, high-protein claims are growing faster in snacks such as cereals and bars than in meal replacers, likely because 34% of consumer think the former is healthier, according to a survey conducted in Latin America by GlobalData.

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A Shift Toward Plant-based Proteins
In Latin America, products made with soy protein, whey protein and milk protein account for 70% of all high-protein launches in the last 5 years, but plant-based protein sources are gaining attention. Consumers are working to add more plant-based foods to their diets by embracing legumes, nuts, grains and seeds as alternative sources of protein. In mainstream food and beverage products, proteins derived from peas, rice, chia seeds, oats and potatoes are some of the most popular sources.

This shift has been swift. In 2013, there were no recorded plant-based protein product launches in Latin America; in 2018, 116 plant protein products were launched in the first 10 months. In Latin America, plant protein launches represent 6% of the total launches in the last 5 years, according to the GNPD Mintel tool.

There are three main reasons Latin American consumers are gravitating towards plant proteins:

  • Sustainability: 68% of consumers in Argentina, Chile and Brazil say they really care about responsible consumption, according to Mintel.

  • Vegetarianism and veganism: A growing number of consumers identify as vegan, vegetarian or the newer “flexitarian”,  which is making a vegetarian-like diet even more popular amongst consumers.
      
  • Dairy intolerance: Milk intolerance in Latin America affects a majority of the population, according to some studies, which position plant proteins as a more palatable option.

Entering the Latin America Plant Protein Market
Rising consumer interest in plant products—including high-protein ones—is based on health and ethical reasons as well as evolving taste preferences and the appeal of novel flavors. Also, people simply want even more options, according to Mintel: a reported 17% of Brazilian adults agree there is a lack of vegetable-based alternatives to popular animal-based ingredients.

Many consumers also see plant sources as a better-for-you ingredient when compared to animal proteins. More than 40% of consumers in Latin America reported that plant-based protein has a positive impact on their health. Of all of the plant proteins on the market, pea and rice protein are the most popular.

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Because snacking is more common than ever, with consumers complaining about lack of time, this category has seen wide growth—especially in products that can substitute as meals. Launching a high-protein snack that fulfils the nutritional necessity of a meal could grab the attention of consumers. According to one recent Mintel survey, 34% of Brazilian adults agree that living a modern lifestyle makes being healthy very difficult. The right high-protein products could help make this feel a little easier.

To speak with our experts about bringing together nutrition and convenience into high-protein products, or to learn more about our range of plant proteins, contact us.

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