Americans love protein. Recent surveys have found that American men eat an average of 100 grams of protein a day, with American women consuming an average of 70 grams daily. This is nearly double the daily recommended intake of only 56 and 46 grams, respectively.

Traditionally, this high demand for protein has been met mainly with one food group: meat. Eggs, cheese and milk have been strong seconds. There is a change afoot, however, as consumer preferences have shifted due to a number of factors, such as traditional eaters seeking healthier alternatives and escalating environmental concerns. Where people get their protein is beginning to evolve and will likely continue to do so. Read on to learn about a few of the more popular sources of non-meat protein and what these new trends mean for the food and ag industries.

Plant proteins

When you think of alternative protein, this is probably the first group that comes to mind. They are by far the most popular alternative and can be classified into three categories.

First-Generation: The most prevalent of the three, these are alternative proteins that come from soy. In the short term, they will occupy about 80% of the alternative protein market.

Second-Generation: These proteins come from sources such as rice, peas, flax, canola and lupin. They are predicted to take up 9% of the market by 2024.

Third-Generation: Plants like moringa, quinoa and chia make up the third-generation protein group. They claim the smallest market share but are still growing, expected to earn 4% by 2024.

Insects and algae

If you can get past the gross factor, insects actually are very high in protein and are becoming more and more popular as a source. Crickets are currently the most widely used insect as a protein source, dishing up 13 grams of protein per 3.5 ounce serving. Companies like Six Foods, Exo Bars and Bitty Foods are cooking up everything from chips to protein bars using nutrient-rich cricket flour. These companies claim that cricket protein is not only better for humans, it’s also better for the earth, requiring 2,000 times less water to produce than beef.

Algae protein is protein powder made from algae. Proponents claim that it contains the most protein per weight of any of the plant-based proteins at 60%. Like insect’s supporters, those in favor of algae claim that it is far more sustainable and efficient than meat proteins.

By 2024, Algae is expected to make up 2% of the alternative protein market. It’s a small percentage to be sure, but it is one that is on the rise.

Lab-grown protein

The true future of alternative proteins just might be found in a lab. Using self-renewing stem cells from animals typically cultivated for meat, companies like Memphis Meats say they are able to literally grow meat that possesses all the same sight, smell, taste and texture properties as traditional meat, but in a sterile, controlled environment. Hmm … are you ready for a taste test?

Proponents claim that lab-grown protein is much better for the environment, reducing the amount of land needed and greenhouse gases created through livestock farming. However, the challenge will be finding affordable ways to produce their product. A team of Dutch scientists grew a burger at a cost of $330,000, while Memphis Meats served up the world’s first lab-grown meatball at a relative bargain price of just $18,000 per pound.

What does that mean for the food and ag industries?

Love it or hate it, the alternative protein trend is rapidly accelerating, and there are no signs of it slowing down. Yes, it is a small market so far and most Americans are likely never going to abandon meat. Regardless, significant change is afoot. Top entrepreneurial minds like Bill Gates and Richard Branson are getting in on the action via substantial investments, and the landscape of the food industry will continue to shift. So, what can the industry do to thrive in this evolving landscape? It’s simple: innovate.

When consumer mindsets begin to intrinsically shift, successful companies have two options: 1) Find ways to capitalize through forward-minded change that meets consumer needs. 2) Protect your existing markets by getting into the minds of consumers while also seeking ways for your product to evolve that fit today’s market. Both shifts are tough, but not impossible to navigate.

Our team at C.O.nxt can help. To find out how, contact Marcy Tessmann at or 262-563-5100.

Published On: October 24th, 2017Categories: Campaigns and Communication

C.O.nxt Insight.

Our team of subject matter experts focuses on food and agriculture—farm field to processing to entrée on a plate. We can help you build a new brand, protect an old one or target customers to foster sales. Let’s talk when the time is right to handle your next strategic marketing and communications challenge: Marcy Tessmann,


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