CHICAGO – Consumers understand that protein is an important part of a healthy diet, and they are becoming increasingly selective about which sources of protein they think are best for them, according to a new study from The NPD Group, a leading market research firm.

In a recently released report titled “Protein Perceptions and Needs”, NPD found that one-half of consumers say non-meat sources are best while the other half indicated meat and fish as the best sources of protein. NPD noted consumption increases for protein sources such as eggs, chicken, yogurt, and nuts and seeds. Beef, however, failed to register the same gains in consumption.

“Consumers want more protein in their diets. In fact, the only issue that US adults are now checking on the Nutrition Facts label on the back of foods and beverages is the amount of protein,” said Harry Balzer, chief industry analyst and author of “Eating Patterns in America”. “While our interest in protein is growing, we’re looking for alternatives to meat. Many of us are looking to lower the cost of our protein sources, and animal meat is generally more expensive than plant-based protein, which explains the growth in Greek yogurt and other alternate protein sources.”

NPD found that consumers were willing to look beyond animal-based proteins to satisfy their need for protein. However, beef faced the stiffest challenge in consumer perceptions about its health benefits. In a category called Flexible Protein Users, fat, high calories and cost were named as barriers to getting more protein from meat, especially beef. Additionally, consumers expressed confusion over the amount of protein that should be consumed daily, NPD noted.

“It is important for food and beverage marketers to highlight wherever possible that their products are a good source of lean protein. In fact, the protein study we conducted showed certain messages about protein resonated more than others,” said Darren Seifer, NPD food and beverage industry analyst and co-author of the “Protein Perceptions and Needs” report. “The study also found nearly one-half of primary grocery shoppers have purchased protein-enriched foods, and many are willing to pay, or have already paid a premium for these products.”