A growing segment of consumers are relying less on animal proteins when it comes to meeting their nutrition needs and giving plant proteins a try. The increasing market for plant proteins has also enabled some consumers to give up animal proteins entirely, according to a new study from market researcher Packaged Facts.

“Consumer interest in boosting protein intake remains strong headed into 2016 with more attention being paid to the specific types of protein being consumed,” says David Sprinkle, research director at Packaged Facts. “The desire for clean labels, ease of digestion, the need or desire to avoid allergens, compatibility with vegetarian and vegan lifestyles and concerns about sustainability among the general population are putting the spotlight on plant proteins. Consumer notions of what constitutes a good protein source are expanding to include a wider variety of plant protein ingredients. Subsequently interest in plant protein ingredients among food manufacturers and foodservice operators is intensifying.”

Plant protein purchase or use by all US adults in the past 30 days was highest for nuts and seeds (37 percent), more than double that of soy protein, and substantially more than whey, vegan protein blends, pea protein and hemp protein. So who is most likely to purchase these plant proteins? Research conducted by Packaged Facts indicates that 37 percent of consumers ages 25 to 39 are likely to seek out plant proteins, the highest of any age group, followed by 22 percent of adults under age 25. Similarly, at least 25 percent of Asian, Hispanic and Black consumers report seeking out vegetarian protein sources, compared to 15 percent of White Non-Hispanic consumers. In general, men and adults holding advanced college degrees are more inclined to seek out plant protein.

In the US, researchers say the current high level of interest in plant proteins can be several factors among which increased consumer awareness and demand for dietary protein play a key role.  Heightened consumer interest in flexitarian, vegetarian and vegan lifestyles is in part a result of a growing list of concerns related to meat production and consumption that includes environmental and economic sustainability, the presence of antibiotic and hormone residues and inhumane treatment of animals. The greater affordability of vegetarian protein options also is not to be overlooked. Concurrently, a growing list of health benefits is being associated with plant-based diets.

Plant protein ingredients are available as fractionated concentrates and isolates including powders used specifically for fortification, and as whole food ingredients inherently high in protein that contribute characterizing flavor, texture and color attributes to food and beverage products. These protein ingredients are now being used in a wide range of food and beverage categories that have in common their association with healthful protein, either implied or stated as a nutrient content claim such as "good source", "excellent source" or "rich in protein". On a global basis, alternate protein sources will grow faster than meat and seafood which will wane in the coming years, according to Packaged Facts. Global production increases are expected for protein-rich crops including soy, peas, rice, flax, canola and lupin.