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Feature article- Protein power

A happy woman eating a protein bar healthy at the gym after her workout.

The explosion in the popularity of protein products such as bars, beverages and balls shows no signs of slowing up as the health and wellness trend continues to transform the convenience store landscape.

Supermarkets have for some time been devoting more and more shelf space to protein, and the convenience channel is similarly recognising the growing potential for the high-margin products. Broadening their protein offer can help convenience stores attract new customers and increase the average transaction value.

A recent report from market research company Euromonitor International said: “few ingredients in recent memory have experienced protein’s sustained and meteoric rise”.

“Thanks to a greater emphasis on communicating protein’s health claims beyond muscle health, marketers are generating interest among new demographics, including females, millennials and the elderly,” said the Euromonitor International report.

“As protein’s health halo continues to shine brighter, food manufacturers are increasingly pumping up the protein content of their fortified/functional food and beverages, in an attempt to capture consumer spending.”

While supermarkets may be able to tap into the needs of customers making a fairly large buy-for-later protein purchase, convenience caters to customers who are buying in smaller quantities for immediate consumption. As health-conscious consumers become increasingly educated about protein and the vital role it plays in their diet, the evidence suggest they are now expecting to find protein products on convenience store shelves and in the fridges. While they may not be anticipating the same range of protein products in convenience as they would in grocery, they are looking for a range of protein products that form part of a credible nutritional snacking offer.

Bounce Australia, which has been enjoying sustained success with its range of protein energy balls, says consumers are increasingly aware of the health and energy benefits of protein and are looking for natural snacks to grab on the run.

Bounce Australia CEO Stephen Hamilton said: “We all find ourselves in a situation where we need to grab something quickly, and preferably healthy, and the convenience channel can help consumers make that decision with focused ranging by the top brands and clean planogramming”.

“A product that is seen in a consumer’s weekly grocery shop will be the product purchased at a convenience store.”

While the majority of supermarket shoppers tend to be females and mums, foot traffic into impulse outlets is more mainstream, allowing wider exposure. The typical protein product shopper in the impulse channel was once seen as being the likes of tradies, sales reps, and gym goers looking for immediate consumption. However, the protein trend is quickly moving to become a part of the mainstream health and wellbeing movement.

As the lifestyle of the average Australian gets busier, there is a growing snacking culture which sees consumers looking for nutritious ready-to-eat food products. In some ways, there are now two styles of category shopper, lifestyle choice shoppers who purchase protein bars and products as part of their day to day routine, and the health and fitness conscious buyer who are looking for an expanded choice of protein powders and shakes.

Bounce Australia said its Coconut Macadamia Protein Energy Ball and Peanut Protein Energy Ball are both in the top five selling SKUs nationally within the nutritional snacking category, and it believes it is millennials who are driving category growth.

“Our research shows that men are more likely to purchase protein drinks or balls and bars that are higher in protein whilst women are more likely to opt for a balanced product profile,” Mr Hamilton said.

“Such consumers have a positive attitude toward healthy eating and are willing to pay more for a quality product.”

Crankt Protein also sees convenience as a natural place to sell its range of protein shakes and bars.

Crankt Protein marketing manager Maleeha Chowan said: “Consumers dropping into these outlets are generally in a hurry and always looking for a quick fix, an on-the-go option – whether is a loyal consumer or a new consumer”.

“Although ranging may be limited, it is the placement which gives exposure and any outstanding promotional activity that grabs attention.”

Crankt – whose leading protein shakes include chocolate and choc honeycomb, and whose leading bar includes choc caramel and cookies and cream – said its products should be dispersed throughout the store with bars on shelf and shakes in a chilled fridge. It said clear branding allows customers to continuously come into contact with the product in different areas through the store.

“As they move to the cashier where they are stationary for a few minutes, they might see our product placed in front of them and that’s when a purchase opportunity is evident,” Ms Chowhan said.

“Offering sample tastings, along with promotions and giveaways to excite the customers are all optimal ways to further maximise sales.”

While the supermarket shopper will spend more time making buying decisions and typically will spend quite a bit of time in the health food section, the petrol and convenience shopper is in more of a rush, and stores don’t have long to get their attention.

Crankt Protein said that, for shakes, promotional bright stickers on fridges are effective sales boosters and swing tags on bottles can alert customers to the fact there is a prize to win. It said gondolas and cashier areas are best suited for promotional activity around bars.

For its part, Bounce Australia, the very nature of a grab on the run purchase means sales are higher in stores where products are placed at the point of sale.

“The size of our products is perfect for such placement or as part of a deal like a water and a Bounce ball,” said Bounce Australia’s Stephen Hamilton.

“Protein bars, balls and shelf stable drinks makes sense to be in the same planogram.”

He says that the planograms that are confusing to consumers are those that add healthy confectionery options like muesli, oat and nuts bars, or products that are dubbed as protein but have a small trace of protein in the recipe.

While some stores wrestle with the best way to display and sell protein products, the Australasian Association of Convenience Stores (AACS) said new store layouts were placing more emphasis on dedicated health sections.

“The strong performance of brands like Bounce has dovetailed with the dedicated focus on better-for-you zones within petrol and convenience retail, such as those used in the modernised Caltex stores,” AACS said in its 2016 State of the Industry Report

“For example, specific zones reflect more concerted efforts to offer healthy food alternatives for health conscious Australians on the go.”

As the average consumer becomes increasingly knowledgeable, it is not simply about stocking products though. AACS said brands in the segment are now facing the challenge of being the subject of additional scrutiny from consumers about ingredient specifics – especially sugar and the length of the ingredient list. Market research company Ipsos, for example, said that one out of every two adult Australians now strongly believes that packaged products have too much sugar in them.

At store level, operators can ensure that point of sale merchandise communicates product benefits rather than just brand and price. For their part, manufacturers can use packaging both to explain their product’s benefits and make it stand apart from the new protein brands coming into the market.

Noting that Bounce recorded 100% dollar growth in 2016, AACS SOI Report said the benefits of high energy, protein rich, natural snacks are clearly articulated via Bounce’s front-of-pack health messaging on bright coloured packs that create immediate shelf impact.

“Bounce growth has also been boosted by pack format innovation, with a 30g format introduced in 2016 to align with the smaller footprint of P&C stores at a price point that competes with confectionery products,” the report said.

“Similarly, the 120g resealable pouch bag format developed in 2016 resembles sugar confectionery hang packs.”

Bounce Australia said the challenge for the consumer is to understand how to read the back of a pack to know exactly how much protein and nutrition they are really getting.

“Effective packaging, both design and content, helps a brand rise above the noise in its category,” Stephen Hamilton said.

“Bounce’s packaging is a reflection of what our customers want to see and helps them assess the product quickly.”

Crankt agrees that packaging is crucial in the increasingly competitive protein product space, and said its all-black branding is both attention grabbing and practical.

“Our shakes come in resealable bottles which minimises the risk of leakage,” Ms Chowhan said.

“Bars are a treat size enough to fit in a hand bag or gym bag.”

While packaging can provide vital information about the health benefits of certain ingredients, it is also important that convenience store staff are well informed about the product they are selling and are able to offer guidance to customers if it is requested.

“Educating the operator is just as important as educating the customer of our product as we need the operator to fall in love with our product just as much as the customer,” Ms Chowhan said.

“In a smaller setting such as an impulse outlet this is more achievable and effective due to product and brand availability.”

This staff expertise is likely to be ever more important as the segment quickly evolves and innovates with new forms, new packaging and new tastes. As consumers continue to learn the important role protein plays in their bodies, it seems certain then that sales of protein bars, balls and drinks will continue to grow and convenience is well placed to benefit.

* Convenience and Impulse Retailing would like to thank Crankt, Bounce Australia and Euromonitor International for supplying information for this article.

AT A GLANCE

The protein product trend is quickly moving to become a part of the mainstream health and wellbeing movement.

Consumers are becoming increasingly knowledgeable about ingredients and stores need to be well informed about the product they are selling.

Operators should ensure that point of sale merchandise communicates product benefits rather than just brand and price.

Protein products can be an impulse on the run purchase and so sales are higher in stores where products are placed at the point of sale.

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