Sales of vegan protein powder have grown significantly in recent years. Future Marketing Insights (FMI) reports that the market reached $4,326 million in 2022 and predicts an annual growth of 7.2% for the 2022 to 2032 period. The biggest market is North America, followed by Europe, with Asia Pacific as the fastest-growing region. Major players in the US include Archon Vitamin, Sequel Natural, Hormel Foods Corporation, Vital Amine, and NOW Health Group. Despite competition from corporations, a growing number of start-ups are producing smaller batches of artisanal blends and gathering loyal followers. And despite the sometimes macho image, there is an increasing number of vegan protein powders aimed at women at different life stages such as motherhood, menopause and ageing.
According to a recent Allied Market Research (AMR) report on vegan protein powder, millennials are the largest age group, but sales from Generation X and Baby Boomers are strong and predicted to account for nearly half of all sales by 2031. The report says health-conscious consumers are mainly responsible for driving demand for all plant-based protein, including meat substitutes and protein powder. Other factors are consumers seeking to reduce their impact on animals and the environment and customers with dairy allergies and intolerances.
The growth of plant-based protein powder follows a more general increase in demand for plant-based food. In 2021 plant-based food dollar sales in the US grew by 6%, three times faster than overall food sales. Ethical, environmental and health reasons drive this shift. People eating plant-based are more likely to consume supplements than the general population. A National Institute of Health survey found that 66% of vegans consume vitamin supplements compared to 25% of vegetarians and 30% of omnivores. The Vegan Society recommends supplementation to achieve a balanced diet. So those trending towards plant-based eating are a natural target market for protein powder.
Vegan protein powder is also benefitting from significant innovations, such as developing animal-free whey powder made using precision fermentation. Two North American brands are making protein powder with Perfect Day whey protein, which is also used in ice cream and cheese. Canadian company Natreve is launching its animal-free brand Mooless, and Perfect Day is launching its powder under the California Performance Co brand. They will be bioidentical to animal whey protein and deliver the same functional and nutritional benefits.
The optimistic outlook for vegan protein powder is supported by anecdotal evidence. UK brand Nasty Vegan sells a mix of pea, brown rice and pumpkin seed protein, in three flavours, via its website and health food shops. The business was founded in 2019 by friends Rob Henson and Alix Wallace using their savings and is now scaling up. Despite the challenges of Covid, cash flow and a very competitive market, Rob Henson agrees that interest in vegan protein powder is growing: “The vegan movement is expanding year on year, which is brilliant. We’ve found interest in the brand has been strong. We’re getting more repeat customers and bigger order values. Each month orders are growing. People are coming back and buying more each time. We are building on that and expanding as we grow.”
Nasty Vegan perfected its packaging, designed to appeal to today’s consumers. Each flavour is represented by a rich colour with botanical illustrations of its plant ingredients. Rob Henson explains: “We had a clear brief to engage with particular audiences. Around 80% of our customers are women. We don’t promote our product as a muscle-builder but as an everyday drink that boosts the nutrients in your system. It’s got 26 vitamins and minerals as well as protein. We’ve positioned it as suitable for anyone, not just for gym goers or bodybuilders.”
The company’s biggest marketing platform is Instagram, where they post customer-generated content – often recipes: “People create their dishes with our product and share them online. We created it as a drink, but many of our customers use it in food like pancakes, waffles, protein bowls, cookies, brownies, and many different things. It’s very versatile and works in lots of different ways.”