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Paleo Diet Driving Shift to ‘High-Protein’ Marketing Frenzy

By Beth Nichols – Feb 19, 2014 at 10:53AM

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Food companies are launching new "protein" lines, hoping to cash in on this year's hottest food claim.

Remember when it seemed every new packaged food launch led with info on anti-oxidants and high fiber? Move over acai berries, protein is in! According to industry analysts, the hottest claim on the rise continues to be protein.

Protein has gotten a power boost of its own by "Paleo" diet trends and the return of low-carb eating. While we need to be clear that not every packaged food making a protein claim would fit into those diet categories, nevertheless buzz makes a trend and the food companies are on it. The protein claim works especially well for snack and convenience brands, offering consumers a way to easily and conveniently raise their protein consumption, and offering producers a way to boost the perceived value and appeal of their products.

The protein appeal also has a wide demographic reach, touching those with active lifestyles, busy moms, and boomers seeking to maintain healthy bones and muscle mass.

More than nuts

This week, Kraft Foods Group (KRFT.DL) plans to launch Oscar Mayer P3, a somewhat sleekly packaged combo pack of meat, cheese, and nuts. Of course, with Oscar Mayer emblazoned on the top, and a three-compartment plastic pack within, it's not hard to wonder if this is Lunchables for the "cool kids" – and perhaps that's just what it is. The packaging features a bold design that could certainly appeal to young adults as well as help drive male appeal.

Tony Vernon, chief executive officer of Kraft Foods Group, sees P3 as a natural way to update the Oscar Mayer brand and lift sales. "Protein, whether it's peanuts or meats or cheese — we happen to be the leaders in each of those categories — we feel great about what we can do there."


Protein to start the day

Manufacturers want to be sure to stay top of mind for consumers who are continually reminded that protein for breakfast keeps them energized and fuller longer.

Tyson (TSN -1.82%) just unveiled its first line of breakfast food, which it describes as – you guessed it – high protein. Tyson says its new "Day Starts" products are "high protein" breakfast options for "busy families." The breakfast sandwiches, which look similar to something you might get at McDonalds (NYSE: MCD), are surely high protein with egg, cheese, and meat. (Of course, the biscuit means this might be high protein, but it's not low carb.)

When rolling out its 2014 plans, General Mills (GIS 0.06%) gave top billing to its strategy to spiff up some "sleepy" cereal brands with a high-protein boost. Ian Friendly, EVP/COO for General Mills U.S. Retail, said the company hopes to reignite sales of its Fiber One and Nature Valley cereal brands by infusing them with the "protein benefit" consumers are seeking.

It's hard to pack prime rib

Filling up on easy-to-carry, inexpensive protein can be a challenge. Most meat, cheese, and yogurt require refrigeration, making them a challenge to pack for kids or adults on the go; nuts can be expensive; and still other proteins are difficult to find at a traditional grocery store or may seem a bit exotic for some tastes. Food manufacturers have an opportunity to marry the high-protein trend with consumer preferences for convenience and accessibility, and in so doing aspire to give some sizzle to outdated brands and add a shot of relevance to their products.

At the end of the day

Despite all the protein claims, these products are more about repackaging and spin than significant nutritional changes. A McMuffin by any other name is still, well, a McMuffin. So the extent to which consumers are moved remains to be seen.

Will shoppers buy into the nutritional trend of the year? Can food manufacturers put enough muscle behind these newly protein-infused brands to pump up sales and brighten the bottom line? Despite the energy, enthusiasm, and dollars that marketers have put into these launches, for now I'll just stand with my good friend from Missouri and say, "Show me."

Beth Nichols has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends McDonald's. The Motley Fool owns shares of McDonald's. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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