Think RTD protein shakes are the sole preserve of muscle-bound gym-goers? Think again. Our research reveals just how diverse people’s reasons for buying protein shakes are. It also provides plenty of pointers for retailers looking to cash in on protein’s pulling power.

This research was commissioned by The Grocer and carried out by Toluna/Harris Interactive independently from Glanbia Performance Nutrition.

1. Most people are trying to consume more protein

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The rocketing sales growth of high-protein food and drink seen in recent years hasn’t yet dampened demand. More than three-quarters (77%) of the people polled say they are still trying to consume more protein, followed by 60% who want more fibre, and 48% who want more probiotics.

“Consumers are more aware of how much protein they need,” says Jessica Watson, Glanbia Performance Nutrition general manager. “They recognise the multiple benefits of protein, from aiding muscle recovery after exercise and helping people stay active as they age to keeping hunger at bay. This means demand for high-protein products continues to grow.”


2. Brits are saying no to sugar and fat

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No prizes for guessing what most people want to cut back on. All the bad press about the health consequences of consuming too much sugar is rubbing off on people: 74% say they are trying to consume less. This is followed by 60% trying to cut fat and 29% reducing carbohydrates.


3. Protein shakes are for more than just working out

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Protein is the nutrient that’s most in demand. But its power isn’t only as a post-exercise pick-me-up. Of course, that’s important: 48% of RTD shake shoppers drink them to aid recovery post-exercise, making this the top reason for buying. But 40% also buy them to keep hunger at bay and 38% reach for them to keep them going when they’re out and about. That makes these the second and third most popular reasons.

“It’s great to see that consumers understand the satiety benefits protein brings,” says Watson. “RTD protein shakes meet a wide array of health needs. The opportunity lies in helping people meet their more general lifestyle goals as well as their fitness goals.”


4. Northerners are most likely to drink shakes after exercise

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Our research also reveals startling geographic variations in reasons for drinking RTD protein shakes. In northern England, Scotland and Northern Ireland, 51% of people buy these products to aid recovery after exercise. The figure is only marginally lower in the Midlands and Wales, but in the south, just 36% use RTD shakes for post-exercise recovery.

Instead, people in southern England are most likely to drink RTDs to feel fuller for longer. Forty-two per cent cite this as their reason, while 40% of southerners use shakes as a meal replacement. Thirty-one per cent of people in the Midlands and Wales report using RTDs as meal replacements, compared to just 21% of people in the north.


5. Protein content is just as important as taste

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A common refrain in soft drinks is “taste is king”. Our research shows this is the case in RTD shakes, but taste shares the throne with protein content. Sixty-two per cent of shoppers say protein content is one of three attributes they value most. The same proportion of people puts taste in the top three.


6. Men are more likely to prioritise protein content

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Reasons for buying protein shakes vary between men and women. Two-thirds (66%) of men say protein content is important to them, making this the most valued attribute. But that number falls to 59% of women, who are more likely to prioritise taste. Sixty-four per cent say taste is important, versus 61% of men.


7. Protein products are preferred over fruit as a handy post-exercise snack

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Protein bars and shakes are by far the most popular post-exercise snacks with people polled. They were asked to select up to three products they’d typically choose as a snack when in a hurry after exercise. Fifty-two per cent would plump for protein bars, 50% for protein shakes. Fresh fruit was third with 36% of the vote.

“Over 60% of people in the UK are active, whether they’re going to the gym or playing football, doing yoga, zumba, or whatever,” says Watson, citing Future Fit statistics. “What’s clear is that active people are more and more clued up about the benefits of protein and they want to see more high-protein products available in stores.”


8. Brits want to see more protein products in stores

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Our research suggests there is indeed a gap in retail. “Currently, 53% of people state that RTDs are difficult to find, and when asked what would make them consume more, a third (33%) say they would if they were kept chilled in prominent areas in store,” Watson says. The same proportion say they’d buy more if they were more widely available.

“What also caught my attention is that 65% of the people we polled said they would purchase more protein RTDs if there was a wider range of products and flavours available,” Watson adds.  “This shows that the opportunity also lies in expanding out protein RTD ranges to fully realise the opportunity.”


9. Shoppers like their protein shakes to be chilled

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The majority of protein shake shoppers want their drinks to be chilled in stores. Sixty-two per cent either strongly or somewhat agree shakes should be chilled at point of purchase. That’s a finding that gains resonance when considering 75% of people tend to buy RTD shakes to consume there and then.


10.  Most shake shoppers want immediate satiety

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Our final chart lends weight to the argument that stocking more RTD shakes in front-of-store chillers could deliver big gains for retailers. Three-quarters (75%) of people who buy protein shakes do so to drink there and then. Despite this, more people (45%) buy them as a pre-planned purchase than on impulse (35%).

“Eighty-four per cent of people say they tend to buy RTD in supermarkets while 41% tend to buy from convenience stores,” adds Watson. “That most people buy RTD protein shakes to consume immediately, and most think they should be chilled, suggests there is a huge opportunity for these products in the convenience channel.”