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Shifting Nutritional Trends: Protein Products for Australia’s Ageing Population

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Tim Foulds Bio

Australians are moving away from supplement nutrition drinks and meal replacement, and instead consuming a wider range of sports nutrition, especially sports protein powder and protein bars. Older consumers are the key demographic driver: whilst historically, older generations preferred meal replacement products, they are now consuming more protein-based options.

Protein/energy bars becoming a staple of Australian sports nutrition

Sports protein products experienced a strong year in 2023 according to Euromonitor International’s Passport data.

Protein/energy bars grew by 9.4%, almost matching the 10.7% growth rate of sports protein powder

Source: Euromonitor International

Protein/energy bars have experienced strong growth in recent years, reaching a market value of over AUD300 million, which is close to one third of all sports nutrition sales - making it the second most valuable category within sports nutrition in Australia.Chart showing retail sales of sports nutrition in Australasia

Convenience key to consumer interest

The success of protein bars in Australia can be attributed to multiple variables. The form factor of the product embodies the convenience food culture of the modern era, offering consumers approximately 20-40g of protein per serving, with low levels of carbohydrates and sugars.

Supermarkets contribute 13% retail value share of sports nutrition distribution, which is increasing over time

Source: Euromonitor International

Supermarket success is largely down to convenience as products are positioned as an alternative to sugar-loaded and nutritionally-deficient confectionery bars and something for consumers to purchase during their regular shop. Promotional offers are frequent at supermarkets, and the variety of flavours developed by the leading brands, such as Musashi, helps to attract a wider audience and make protein bars a more adequate replacement for sugary snacks.

Older consumers increasingly choose protein products for better health outcomes

The strong performance of protein products is in part due to an increasing number of consumers outside of the target demographic choosing such options. Typically, sports nutrition is targeted towards consumers who are athletes or engage in regular exercise, with the additional protein being an essential nutrient for muscle recovery. According to Euromonitor International’s Voice of the Consumer: Health and Nutrition Survey, a higher number of Australian baby boomers exercise daily compared to millennials, showing the appeal of sports nutrition.Chart showing exercise frequency by generation

However, there is a significant opportunity for further growth in the category: higher protein intake can help deal with sarcopenia, which is the loss of muscle mass and strength due to ageing. As a result, it is recommended that older adults consume a higher amount of protein than younger adults. For example, according to the Australian Government’s National Health & Medical Research Council, men aged over 70 years are encouraged to eat 1.07g/kg of body weight daily - higher than 0.84g/kg of body weight for men under 70 years - to minimise the effects of sarcopenia and maintain stronger muscles for longer. 

Sports protein products are the perfect supplement for consumers looking to achieve these large protein targets. They can easily be worked into daily routines due to their convenience and a protein bar or powdered drink can easily replace other snacks between meals. While protein products are not recommended to replace meals, they are an easy way of reaching high levels of protein as eating upwards of 100g of protein through solid food may be difficult for some older Australians.

Ageing population creates a ready market

This demographic of older Australians trying to prevent sarcopenia will only increase in the future, creating greater opportunity for sports protein products.

The number of Australians aged 65+ increased by 13.4% from 2018, while the 18-45 age group only grew by 1.7% over the same period

Source: Euromonitor International’s Economies and Consumers data, 2022

As birth rates are projected to continue declining and the average life expectancy for men and women continues to rise, there will be an increasing number of Australians at risk of age-related illness who will need higher levels of protein in their diets. 

Where does this leave weight management supplements and meal replacement?

The weight management category has been performing poorly in Australia, with meal replacement suffering the most with a decline in retail RSP of 3.5% in 2023 compared to 2022, according to Euromonitor International’s Passport. While meal replacement performs a similar function to sports protein products, the appeal of the category is declining among local consumers. Meal replacement is not as efficient in terms of protein content compared to sports protein powder, sports protein RTD and bars.

Protein is not only important for maintaining muscle mass and muscle recovery, but also helps to keep one feeling fuller for longer, helping to avoid cravings for snacks throughout the day. This makes sports protein products more effective as meal replacement options compared to weight management, with Euromonitor International data forecasting a continued decline for this category.

Read our article The Five Trends Pushing Global Consumer Health into 2024 for further analysis on consumer health trends, and our country report on Sports Nutrition in Australia.

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