Animal Protein vs Plant Protein in the US

Explore the latest animal protein vs plant protein trends, including consumer insights and specific protein ingredients

The Innova report “Protein Puzzle: Analyzing Ingredients and Top Food Categories – Animal Protein vs Plant Protein in the US” examines trends in the use of animal protein and plant protein ingredients in the US.   

Protein is Highly Desired by Consumers 

Protein captures the interest of consumers surveyed globally by Innova Market Insights. One in six people changed to a high protein diet in the past year. Also, more than 8 out of 10 people say they are interested in having protein in the foods and beverages they consume. In most categories, more than one-third of US adults consume both animal-based and plant-based foods and beverages. Animal protein foods continue to be highly popular — more than 60% of adults say they consume only animal protein foods. When consumers were asked by Innova about protein powders, one quarter of users of protein powder consume only plant-based protein powder. 

Consumers Want to See More Products with Animal and Plant Protein 

Innova asked consumers about whether they have enough choices in the plant protein market. A noticeable proportion – one-quarter – say that the plant-based milk market and plant-based meat substitutes market need to offer more choices. Consumers give two reasons for desiring plant-based meat alternatives and plant-based dairy alternatives, additional plant-based protein in their diet and digestive/gut health. Innova also looked at which plant protein sources are preferred by consumers. At least half of US consumers say that they are willing or somewhat willing to buy plant-based meat alternatives that are made with plant-based protein from potato, bean, almond and corn.  

Animal Protein vs Plant Protein

Food Categories with Animal Protein vs Plant Protein 

The percentage of food and beverage launches with plant protein or animal protein ingredients has been stable over the past five years. Of food and beverage launches with plant-based protein or animal protein ingredients over a two-year period, the highest percentages were in the bakery, ready meals, and sports nutrition categories. Compared to other categories, sports nutrition products have the deepest penetration of product launches with animal protein ingredients or dairy protein ingredients. Comparing growth among all food categories in the market that have plant-based protein, Innova observed that meat substitutes grew the fastest over a five-year period. This is not surprising since plant-based meat substitutes have become so popular in recent years. 

Use of Plant Protein and Animal Protein Ingredients Varies 

Manufacturers can choose from a growing variety of plant protein and animal protein ingredients for their products. Among ingredient categories, plant protein ingredients and dairy protein ingredients showed the strongest growth. A comparison of individual ingredients shows that pea is the fastest-growing plant-based protein and beef collagen is the most frequently used animal protein ingredient. This is not surprising since pea protein is a versatile ingredient for meat substitutes and interest in animal-based collagen is growing.  

Packaged foods, including those with animal protein or plant protein, typically display one or more labels with health claims. Plant-based claims and vegan claims showed the highest growth. demonstrating continued innovation to bring more plant-based meat substitutes and dairy alternatives to the market. 

Specific Categories Utilize Plant-Based Protein and Animal Protein Ingredients 

A high percentage of products in the bakery category contain plant-based protein or animal protein ingredients. One-quarter of recent launches were round to have animal protein or plant protein ingredients. Breads and cakes are the product types most likely to contain a protein ingredient and plant protein ingredients appeared in more than 6 in 10 bakery launches with a protein ingredient. Use of egg protein has also grown.  

The percentage of ready meal and side dish launches with a plant protein ingredient or animal protein ingredient has remained flat over the past five years. Sandwiches and prepared pasta contribute the most launches with protein ingredients, while growth was strongest in sandwich and pizza launches with protein ingredients. Plant protein ingredients were used in more than 7 in 10 ready meal and side dish launches with a protein ingredient in 2022. The share of ready meal and side dish launches with pea protein is growing rapidly. 

Sports nutrition products often are associated with protein to build muscles. It is a bit surprising that the percentage of sports nutrition launches with a plant protein vs animal protein ingredient dropped in the past five years. A majority of the sports nutrition launches with animal protein or plant-based protein ingredients are sports powders. The main protein ingredient used in sports nutrition products is dairy protein, which is present in almost two-thirds of sports nutrition launches with a protein ingredient. About half that proportion of sports nutrition launches with a protein ingredient – one-third – have a plant protein ingredient. 

What’s next? Animal Protein and Plant Protein Separately and Together 

While animal protein ingredients will remain a major part of the US diet for years to come, consumers now are more willing to get protein from a mix of animal protein and plant-based protein sources. Expect continued growth of plant-based and vegan protein sources such as pea, chickpea, sunflower, almond, mung bean and fava. 


This article is based on our report, “The Protein Puzzle: Analyzing Ingredients and Top Food Categories – Animal Protein vs Plant Protein in the US.”
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