Nutrition products with great taste and functional benefits
The Nutrition Market Growth
The global sports nutrition market is thriving. Accounting for US$28.37 billion in 2016, it is expected to reach over US$45 billion by 2022, according to a recent report. And within this robust category, clear trends are emerging.
An evolving consumer base of so-called “lifestyle” and “recreational” users – motivated by general health and fitness goals – continues to influence market developments. They have demands both in terms of product functionality and expectations of a positive eating experience.
But achieving a successful balance between nutritional profile and taste is not easy – particularly when it comes to protein-based products – a category which is proving particularly dynamic:
- Over 80% of global sports nutrition sales came from sports protein products in 2016.
- Growing consumer awareness of the beneficial role protein-rich foods play in muscle building and weight management is a major factor influencing growth.
- Demand for plant-based proteins continues to grow; not only due to the growing vegan and vegetarian movement, but also increased concerns over rising dairy allergies.
This energetic pattern of change within the nutrition sector paints a positive picture for food and drink developers. But to fully exploit the opportunity, formulators must first overcome the complex taste and texture challenges presented by many protein-rich ingredients.
As can be seen in Figure 1, every protein – whether from an animal or vegetable-source, has its own unique taste profile – may bring specific off-note challenges such as bitter, dry, beany, astringent, or earthy flavors. The Pea protein in Figure 2, for example, is one of the most established plant-proteins the market forecasts a rosy future for – but it is known for its troublesome bitter, chalky, and earthy notes.
Even individual protein-based ingredients can’t be expected to behave in a uniform manner across applications. Each can be expressed differently in a beverage, protein bar, or cookie. Plus, the intensity of flavor will be diminished or enhanced according to the overall level of sweetness; an outcome which can be further complicated by the use of sweeteners.
And that’s not all. Successful nutrition concepts must also engage an increasingly discerning consumer audience; offering creative and nutritious ingredient combinations in a satisfying eating experience. All within a defined commercial budget which reflects the retail price point.
It’s a tall order. But one which can be fulfilled with the right technical knowledge, flavor masking solution, and processing technology.
Figure 1: Technical challenges in nutritional formulations
Figure 2: Pea protein: why the bad taste?
Forward-thinking flavor formulation
The bottom line: Just because a product is focused on delivering nutrition, doesn’t mean it can’t also deliver great taste.
Yet rather than look for a “magic bullet” to eliminate the unpalatable, protein-related off-notes, the aim should be on harnessing flavor masking ingredients and processing techniques to reduce their impact. This may involve blocking aftertastes or distracting and disturbing the taste buds in order to improve the sensory experience.
In fact, the most effective masking solutions perform on a number of different levels. Not only imparting a complementary flavor profile to counteract a less desirable one, but also adding valuable functional properties, such as enhancing the sweet perception of an energy bar or beverage.
Advanced ingredients can also deliver a higher and longer lasting intensity which, harnessed effectively, can be leveraged as an advantage; boosting the appeal of novel nutrition products and creating a point of differentiation in a crowded marketplace.
Global taste improvement
There are many different flavor-masking ingredients and processes that can be used to ensure nutrition products taste good. It’s certainly not a question of “one size fits all” approach.
In fact, selecting the most effective solution will depend on numerous factors – including the target market, consumer audience, product positioning, and the functional properties of the concept itself. For example:
- A plant beverage formulator may wish to reduce the strong off-note of the vegetable protein. But, rather than mimic its dairy-based counterpart, they may want to conserve the plant sensation as a unique point of difference.
- A protein-based powder shake will likely need to address its watery mouthfeel and minimize the perception of a bitter aftertaste.
- A ready-to-drink product will require a stable solution formulated to maintain the desired flavor during heat treatment and throughout its shelf life.
Given the level of complexity and variation involved with developing protein and other nutrition-based products, a successful outcome for any flavor masking challenge is global taste improvement. A valuable guiding principal, no matter what the application.
- The protein trend continues to strongly influence product developments in the nutrition sector.
- Understanding the behaviors and taste profile of a growing number of protein sources – and how to mask associated off-notes effectively – will be the key to successful product formulation.
- Rather than look for a “magic bullet” to resolve flavor-masking challenges, solutions must be tailored to suit individual application needs.
Learn more about how to develop practical strategies for the creation of great tasting, nutritional products.