Food and supplement manufacturers have "a clear opportunity" to address the elderly set's universal concern of loss of independence by using whey protein in formulations.
In a dozen focus groups conducted in Tampa and Chicago, researchers at the U.S. Dairy Export Council found consumers appreciated the role protein can play in maintaining muscle mass.
"The greatest threat is sarcopenia—the steady loss of muscle mass," said Sharon Gerdes, senior account manager at the council. "Today's 80-year-olds are the fittest in history, and they are not price-sensitive on healthy foods if it delivers a relevant and credible benefit."
The council tested 28 different messages around protein's healthful role. The top three messages among 450 consumers were:
- Protein from dairy helps to build and maintain the muscles that support your skeletal system and keep you mobile as you age
- Protein from dairy can help slow muscle loss as you age so you can stay more active longer.
- Dairy protein is a complete source of the amino acids needed for healthy muscles and healthy aging. This message actually resonated best with 45-54-year olds.
"We found the top messages were the most believable and the simplest. They can be structure/function claims," said Gerdes. "Among those older than 55, they are feeling the effects of aging, and they want more in their food to feel healthier and stay active. They don't have a problem with fortification."
For younger demographics, the 18-34-year-old set, the message that best resonated with them was around increasing lean muscle mass and the sports/performance meme.
"The sweet spot is where an ingredient is added at a level of sound research to support a claim, which appeals to consumers and abides by regulations," said Gerdes.
New research shows that the optimal protein distribution is 30 grams each for breakfast, lunch and dinner. This provides for the greatest satiety and protein muscle synthesis. However, the average American consumes 10 grams of protein at breakfast, 20 grams for lunch and 60 grams for dinner.
Because consumers have the greatest expectation for healthy eating with breakfast along with the least expectation for taste and flavor, breakfast products provide the greatest opportunity for function and fortification.