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Protein Supplements – a growth market that could be undermined by poor quality control

How to protect brand reputation and help consumer assurance in a fast growing protein supplement market that is open to contamination

13 December 2022

What are protein supplements?

Protein supplements are becoming an increasingly popular fixture in many people’s diets as they look to eat more healthily, gain muscle or lose weight. They are one of the most popular dietary supplements used by athletes, recreationally active adults, and employees in professions such as the military, security or police, striving to increase muscle mass, improve exercise recovery, and improve performance. 

Protein, a slow burn source of energy, is composed of various types of amino acids, provides the raw material for both muscle construction and repair.

Protein powders make up the best-known form of protein supplement, however there is a growing variety of protein supplements now available on the market, ranging from protein bars, cookies and assorted snacks.

These products provide a concentrated form of protein, enabling consumers to supplement their diet without needing to eat vast quantities of additional food. Depending on the specific product, other additives may be included. Plant-based sources of protein are also becoming more prevalent.

Why are protein supplements so popular?

Protein supplements are catering to a wide consumer group around the world. The prominence of sports and fitness activities, celebrity endorsements, social media influencers, and various government campaigns, have encouraged consumers to participate in various fitness and sports-related activities.

According to ReportLinker, protein has become a popular macronutrient among all consumers, including athletes looking for a competitive edge, an older generation intent on maintaining muscle mass, and busy professionals who are opting for meal-replacement protein bars and ready-to-eat shakes.

Global Markets Insights estimate that the global protein supplements market, which was valued at USD 8.7 billion in 2021, is expected to expand at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 7.6% from 2022 to 2030. The Western Europe and North American markets are expected to drive this growth.

Infographic Market Projects in the Protein Supplements Market (Source: Global Markets Insights). CAGR (2020-2030): 7.6%. Global value in 2021 USD 8.7 billon up to USD 17.1 billion by 2030. CAGR growth (2022-2030) for plant-based segment equals 8.4%; Market value by 2030 for powder segment equals USD 11,114 million; Market value (2021) of animal-based segment equals 5,891 million. USA market value by 2030 greater than USD 6,807 million; Germany market value by 2030 greater than USD 680 million

Figure 1: Market Projects in the Protein Supplements Market (Source: Global Markets Insights

With New Hope reporting that 31% of American consumers increased their usage of protein powders in 2020, as compared to the year before, the market represents a significant growth opportunity for existing supplement brands, as well as those entering the market.

What are the issues affecting the protein supplement sector?

Protein supplement quality is an ongoing concern. These products are mostly unregulated, and there are examples of products being placed on the market that are contaminated or contain heavy metals, pesticides, and other dangerous compounds that are not included on the label.

The Clean Label Project, a non-profit group promoting truth and transparency on food and consumer product labelling, published an independent study on toxins in protein providers. It showed that many top-selling protein supplements contained heavy metals such as high levels of lead, bisphenol A (BPA), mercury, cadmium and arsenic – substances which have been linked to cancer, reproductive harm and brain damage.

Testing the top-selling 134 brands available in stores and online, an independent laboratory revealed that:

The Clean Label Project survey of the leading protein supplement brands. 75% had measurable levels of lead; 2 x plant-based protein powders for each contained on average twice the amount of lead per serving of other products; 55% of protein powders had measurable levels of BPA, a known endocrine disrupter; 2x certified organic products averaged twice as much as heavy metals; The plant-based protein powders contained mercury, cadmium and arsenic in several cases above the health based guidelines

Figure 2: The Clean Label Project survey of the leading protein supplement brands

Other studies have found similar levels of contamination including ConsumerLab, which found that 31% of products tested failed due to issues such as only containing trace levels of the stated protein content, lead and heavy metal contamination.

As a result, Amazon US updated its requirements for dietary and sports supplement products being sold on the site in an effort to add additional quality assurance measures for consumers purchasing products.

How can brands protect their reputation?

Recognised testing and certification programmes verify product content, label verification and manufacturing processes to minimize the risk of inadvertent adulterants and ensure products are produced to high-quality standards.

LGC ASSURE’s group of nutrition industry-focused assurance programs, INFORMED, has developed a new protein testing and verification certification, Informed Protein. The new certification joins other members of the INFORMED family of global programs which include Informed Sport, Informed Choice, Informed Ingredient, and Informed Manufacturer.

It was developed to give confidence to consumers by verifying the amount of protein within protein supplement products. Certified products are assessed for their total nitrogen content and are evaluated for their carbon/nitrogen ratio to ensure batch-to-batch consistency.

Informed Protein also performs a free amino acid analysis and tests for common adulterants to evaluate non-protein nitrogen that can falsely elevate protein claims. To minimize the risk of inadvertent adulterants and to ensure products are produced to high-quality standards, the verification program performs robust facility assessments of all manufacturing facilities producing certified products.

Protein supplements tested and certified by Informed Protein carry the Informed Protein logo on product packaging stating they have been regularly tested. The presence of the Informed Protein logo gives supplement users assurance that the product label claims have been verified independently - thereby providing confidence that the amount of protein within a product matches what is listed on the label.

It has already seen interest from many popular supplement brands worldwide, certifying products from Bare Performance Nutrition, Ritual, TYM, AGN Roots, and CleanShake. Many other protein products are currently going through the certification process, poised to offer their customers an added layer of trust and assurance in their supplement products.

Banner image with man sitting down on road wearing sports clothes holding a phone in his right hand and protein shake bottle in his left hand. There is the red and black "Informed Protein We Test You Trust" label with strapline below "Building Trust in Protein Verification" with a yellow background.

Protein assurance with Informed Protein

Give customers a feeling of trust in your protein product with the Informed Protein logo. Get in touch to find out how the programme can protect your brand.

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