Malnutrition is an ongoing challenge in India, and protein deficiency is a significant part of the problem.
This led ITC and Danone to each launch its own high-protein biscuit products late last year, which, according to market intelligence agency Mintel’s India food and drink analyst Ranjana Sundaresan, could "signal that the protein trend is set to take off in India".
ITC, India's third largest player in the biscuit category, added to its Sunfeast Farmlite range with Active Protein Power Biscuits. The biscuits, which come in 150g packets, are said to contain 2.7g of protein per 25g and to help support sustained energy. They are made from cardamom, as well as whole wheat flour and roasted chana sattu (Bengal gram flour), the latter of which serves as their protein source.
Danone India launched Protinex Bytes, multigrain biscuits meant for busy consumers needing nutritious snacks. According to Danone, these not only contain 8g of protein per 25g serving, but also 26 essential nutrients. The protein comes mainly from soy and casein, and the biscuits are said to help retain energy levels and meet daily nutritional needs.
Such launches so far have come mainly from smaller brands that cater to specific demographics, such as athletes and other physically active individuals.
Sundaresan said these launches from mainstream brands like Danone could "make the products widespread in terms of availability and increase awareness of their nutrients, opening up opportunities for high-protein snack foods in the country", and set the trend for other major firms to follow suit.
The Protinex line is part of Danone's nutrition portfolio, which accounts for over 80% of its sales turnover in India.
This has encouraged Danone to drive growth in the nutrition sector, especially with protein: from January to October 2017, it launched nine such products, including a high-protein Greek yogurt, a protein-rich health drink called Protinex Grow, and Protinex Bytes.
For consumers, this means protein-rich supplements are getting more accessible, and the more common such products become, the more affordable they will be.
Biscuit boom in the supplement sector?
As Protinex Bytes is one of only 3% of biscuit launches last year to boast a high-protein claim, Danone has positioned it as a competitor to snack and energy bars, of which over 25% were sold as 'high-protein' last year.
Sundaresan said: "Biscuits have a near-complete penetration in India and are a very popular snack. They also have high association with convenience and health.
"This (high-protein) claim will see growth in the coming years and become mainstream in the long term — as it has across APAC — as consumer awareness grows in India about the different ways that protein is beneficial to health."
High deficiency, low awareness
Many in India remain unaware of the country's prevalence of protein deficiency.
Sundaresan said, "While the current focus is on micronutrients, many consumers are also deficient in macronutrients like protein. A number of recent studies show that the majority of Indians are deficient in protein, and many do not even understand its importance in their diet.
"This is worsened by the large number of vegetarians and the skew towards carbohydrates in the standard Indian diet, driven by easy access to cereals through the public distribution system."
A study published in the Journal of Nutrition showed that despite the availability of high-quality protein food, its consumption remained low across all income groups.
On the upside, the number of products launched with added protein or high-protein claims doubled from 2013 to 2017, indicating increasing consumer interest.
"Brands are starting to address this issue and launch products featuring a high-protein positioning. As awareness grows of the importance of protein, greater demand for convenient sources and formats of protein can be expected," added Sundaresan.