CPG Playbook   //   May 29, 2024

Food conglomerates are embracing high-protein breakfast items

More food brands are packing their products with protein.

Particularly in the breakfast category, food and beverage giants are rushing to release more protein-packed versions of classic items like pancakes and cereal. Kellanova launched a protein-packed version of Eggos earlier this month, which contains 10 grams of protein in a two-waffle serving. General Mills has been releasing multiple cereal SKUs with more protein, such as the new Wheaties Protein and Ghost Protein Cereal, made in partnership with protein products maker Ghost.

The rush to create more protein-packed products has been partly fueled by the rise of weight loss drugs like Ozempic, Mounjaro and Wegovy. But there’s also a growing interest in consuming more nutrient-dense meals — particularly in the breakfast category, which has historically been dominated by sugary cereals and baked goods. To capture more share in the market, food conglomerates have been rushing to create new protein-rich lines, while startups are tweaking their packaging and marketing messages to play up their protein content.

“It’s pushed by lifestyle changes,” Colombe Bommelaer, senior director of category insights at Kantar, told Modern Retail. “I think people are a lot more into specific diets, like keto, there’s an interest in health.” 

Indeed, there is a strong demand for more high-protein products among people who want to follow a healthier lifestyle. Of the shoppers seeking healthier items, 42% said they’re interested in seeing more high-protein grocery products, according to Kantar’s Defining Better 2024 study. Bommelaer said this trend is encouraging brands to emphasize the existing nutritional benefits of their products. 

Aimee Tsakirellis, evp of marketing at Cedar’s Foods, told Modern Retail that the company has seen basket size grow for its existing protein-packed products. For a little over a year now, she said the company’s basket size has grown from one product to five products per shopping trip. 

Although many of Cedar’s Foods products are already rich in protein, the company has adjusted its marketing strategy to ensure people are aware of it, Tsakirellis said. One of the brands that Cedar Food’s owns is Brekki, a line of ready-to-eat oats. Brekki’s products have up to 7 grams of protein per container. As such, they are well-positioned to capture the demand for protein. The company has invested in promotional materials like new product photos to further emphasize Brekki’s nutritional content on social media this summer.   

“Every message that we talk about… we’re just driving home that this is a high protein product,” Tsakirellis said. “It also has ancient grains, besides the oats. It’s got flax seed, chia seed and buckwheat so it’s really this like it’s like the perfect product.” 

Barry Thomas, senior thought leader at Kantar, said that the rise of weight loss medication like Ozempic is radically changing the portfolios of some of the biggest names in the CPG business. People on these types of medication are typically encouraged to consume more high-protein meals. 

“When you’re on those drugs and you’re trying to lose weight, the problem is that you generally lose too much muscle mass,” Thomas said. “You want more muscle mass, and so you’re trying to consume more protein.”

In the past, Kantar’s Bommelaer said, much of brands’ attempts to fill the demand for protein had been focused on offering protein-rich snacks like protein bars, chips or shakes. Now, these companies are increasingly directing their focus on introducing protein-packed breakfast options. People on high-protein diets typically aim to consume around 30 grams of protein for breakfast to help them achieve their daily target. 

Kellanova is responding to the demand by adding better-for-you qualities to an already popular product line: Eggo. The new product line will come in two flavors, Chocolate Chip Brownie and Strawberry Delight.

Packing more protein and other nutritional elements into a well-known product has been a common tactic among CPG brands. Much like Kellanova, General Mills also added more protein to its Wheaties breakfast cereal, which initially only had 3 grams of protein. The new Wheaties Protein line comes in two flavors, Maple Almond and Honey Pecan, and has 22 grams and 21 grams of protein respectively. 

Bommelaer said she expects this high-protein trend to start bleeding into different food categories outside of snacks and breakfast. Already, some of the biggest food companies are beginning to launch high-protein fast food options. For example, Nestlé announced this week that it is launching a new line of frozen pizzas and protein-enriched pasta in the U.S., called Vital Pursuit. 

“If your competitor is launching [a product], and you’re not answering with your own product, you’re definitely going to be losing sales,” Bommelaer said. “You want to get on the bandwagon pretty quickly.”