Coffee Evolution: Adding A Healthy Halo With Protein

Wednesday, February 16th, 2022

Proffee or protein coffee was a viral Tik Tok sensation in 2021. Consumers added a scoop of protein powder to espresso and poured it over ice and created their very own caffeinated, protein drink.

Yet, even before this social media trend, protein beverages have been rising in popularity over the years. Protein coffees are now expanding the frontier for protein beverages beyond sports drinks and smoothies, offering protein-seeking coffee lovers a delicious and healthful alternative to regular coffee that helps them wake up and power through the day. Ready-to-drink (RTD) protein coffee options also offer consumers the perks of anytime, anywhere convenience. 

Protein coffee products are taking off in the global marketplace, well-aligned with consumer desires for great taste, variety and the nutritional benefits of added protein for a healthy, active lifestyle. Supermarket shelves in the United States offer a widening selection of RTD canned and bottled protein coffee offerings, available in many options such as espresso and mocha. Protein coffees also are available in the United States as ready-to-mix powders, with both single and multi-serve packaging options. The protein coffee trend is also evolving in Asia. In Japan, both ready-to-drink and ready-to-mix options are available to satisfy consumer desires for delicious protein-added beverages with a caffeine kick. 

South East Asia Potential

Although RTD protein coffees are not yet mainstream in Southeast Asia, the coffee culture is well-rooted in the region. Here, coffee taste preferences generally skew stronger, often balanced by the creamy addition of condensed or evaporated milk. There are many different variations of both hot and iced coffees popular region-wide. Businesses should look towards the coffee or kopi category that provides an attractive opportunity ripe for breakthrough protein-added creations. Southeast Asian formulators can elevate the protein coffee trend regionally, innovating new products tailored for local taste, texture and packaging format preferences. 

A shift to at-home coffee consumption is also partially behind an uptick in Southeast Asian demand for convenient RTD coffee beverages. Due to the pandemic, people mostly stayed home, and social distancing requirements constrained coffee shop visits. The future demand outlook remains promising even as the COVID-19 situation eases; drinking habits established during the pandemic are likely to continue while occasions for on-the-go consumption resume. Euromonitor estimates RTD coffee retail sales value across six Southeast Asian markets (Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam) at US$848 million for 2021, projecting it to grow further at a compound annual growth rate of 7.8 percent to reach US$1,144 million by 2025.

Innova Market Insights’ tracking and analysis further supports the promise of coffee beverages in the region, notably in Indonesia. Between October 2020 and September 2021, coffee was the top subcategory for new beverages, accounting for 17 percent of beverage product launches in the nation. Indonesian RTD beverage manufacturers have been expanding premium coffee offerings sold in supermarkets and convenience stores that compete with coffeehouses, while coffee chains are also launching their own bottled versions of specialty coffee beverages. To find out what motivates the desire for coffee, Indonesian consumers were surveyed, and their top answers were ‘relaxation’ (52 percent), ‘energy boost’ (48 percent), and ‘indulgence’ (35 percent).

Coffee As A Functional Beverage

Many packaged coffee beverages currently on the market have a high sugar content, which is a key concern for consumers as well as governments. Premium RTD coffees possessing uniquely appealing, distinctive flavour and health advantages, like reduced sugar or added protein, are especially well-positioned to catch consumer interest in Southeast Asia and stand out from the competition. Convenience-driven, cost-conscious and better-for-you options also offer strong potential. 

“In a recent U.S. Dairy Export Council (USDEC) consumer study in Southeast Asia, three-in-one hot beverages such as coffee and tea were among the preferred formats for new products with added protein,” said Anoo Pothen, USDEC’s director for consumer insights based in Singapore. “This indicates promising opportunities to marry benefits associated with coffee like energy or alertness with dairy protein advantages, in a beverage format popularly consumed in the region,” she added. 

Are Southeast Asian Consumers Looking For Protein?

A 2021 Euromonitor survey found that 36.2 percent of Indonesian consumers and 35.1 percent of Thai consumers surveyed were actively looking at food and drink labels to check if the product contains protein. For Indonesian consumers, the top three reasons why they looked for protein claims on labels were ‘makes me feel healthier’ (65 percent), ‘build/support immune system’ (65 percent) and ‘medical recommendation from doctor’ (63 percent). ‘Build/support immune system’ also ranked as the second most popular answer in Thailand at 61 percent, narrowly behind ‘better for me’ (61 percent) and ‘diet fits my day-to-day lifestyle’ (56 percent).

Innova Market Insights’ analysis also found that with a growth rate of 11 percent between October 2016 and September 2021, ‘high/source of protein’ was the fourth fastest-growing health and choice positioning tracked in new beverage launches in Indonesia. This was just behind the top three answers of ‘natural’, ‘no additives/preservatives’ and ‘high/source of fiber’.

Amidst this rising protein trend, formulators seeking to capitalise on protein coffee or other protein beverages must consider several factors when developing new products. These include target protein content level, pH, whether the product requires heating (and if so what temperature), the desired viscosity, and requisite shelf life. Selection of the protein ingredient utilised is especially critical as it can impact the nutrition, taste and texture profile, and ultimately the marketability of the beverage. For example, the flavour of certain protein ingredients could provide developmental obstacles requiring flavour maskers and additional flavouring agents to improve organoleptic properties. Protein solubility is also critical, as it is directly related to attributes like grittiness. 

“There’s so much for health-conscious and indulgence-seeking consumers to love about the delicious combination of protein and coffee,” says Kristi Saitama, chief strategy and innovation officer for USDEC Singapore. “The multifaceted functional and nutritional benefits along with the clean and milky flavour profile of U.S. dairy protein ingredients make them the ideal choice for successful usage in coffee and other protein beverages.” 


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