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Indian protein ingredients market – Current and potential applications
Saturday, 27 June, 2020, 15 : 00 PM [IST]
Kanchan Sharma
India's pervasive undernutrition is not news anymore. Country's per capita protein availability has fallen significantly in past 35 years, from 65 gram in 1985 to 55 gram in 2005; and then to less than 50 gram by 2015.

As per Indian Dietetic Association (IDA, 2018), vegetarian diets are claimed to be 84% protein- deficient mainly due to lack of awareness among the public. In order to combat deficiency, the government's wing, Niti Aayog is looking at widening the list of protein-rich food items under the public distribution system (PDS), expected to be effective from April 1, 2020. No doubt that protein fortification has become a key imperative to meet this palpable protein deficiency challenge in India.

Surge in demand for protein
Protein ingredients are being used as part of packaged Indian food and beverage formulations for both functional and nutritional roles. Over the past few years, increased demand for nutritious food has translated into a surge in demand for protein (due to its nutritionally-rich status of protein among food constituents).

The ongoing health and wellness trend in the country has also driven the need for more protein in diet. Hence, protein ingredients are used in infant formula, nutritional supplements, baking industry, dairy industry and functional foods, to meet the changing Indian consumer needs.

Indian protein ingredients market is forecast to grow at the rate of about 7.0 per cent during the period 2018/19-23. The leading end- use sectors for protein ingredients in the country, in terms of volume, are bakery, functional foods, dairy and pharmaceuticals.

Derived from different sources
Globally, protein ingredients are derived from different sources such as dairy, plants, animals and also novel sources such as fungal, algal and insects. As per global industry standards, protein ingredients with minimum 50% protein content are recognised as protein ingredients relevant as fortification tools, in foods & beverages.

In present Indian scenario, soy dominates the plant protein market, however, other plant proteins such as pea protein, rice protein (to name a few), are expected to show their presence felt in years to come. With major global multinationals such as Roquette and DuPont, active in India, pea protein is expected to witness traction during the forecast period. Chickpea, tomato seed, rapeseed, lentil proteins, mung proteins are also produced in India, to some extent plant-based protein ingredients such as pea and rice protein ingredients are also expected to grow in demand due to the need for soy alternatives.

Despite being one of the largest milk producers globally, whey proteins are not widely produced in India. The major reason is the limited production of cheese in the country, which eventually has led to low availability of whey. The domestic production of whey protein is mainly targeted to meet the in-house requirements for functional foods, but applications like infant nutrition and clinical nutrition, which are extremely quality-conscious, are expected to use only imported whey proteins.

Prominent types of animal-derived protein ingredients
The prominent types of animal-derived protein ingredients are gelatin, egg albumen powder and fish protein hydrolysates. Out of these, gelatin dominates the animal-derived proteins category. A vast majority of the gelatin manufactured in India is used for capsule manufacturing in pharmaceutical applications and in confectionery products such as jelled confectionery.

Novel protein ingredients (insect proteins, fungal proteins and so on) are considered to be competitive ingredients for existing dairy/plant-based protein ingredients in established markets such as in Europe. However, these are yet to create their presence in Indian market, in comparison to other sources of proteins ingredients because of legal, cultural, commercial (high production costs) and technical barriers (difficulties to incorporate material into palatable food preparations).

Spirulina is produced commercially in the country, but despite comprising a protein content of more than 60%, it is not yet used as an extracted protein source in foods in India, as the separation of protein component still needs to be fully optimised in the country.

Protein use in specific applications
The properties exhibited by each protein differ and accordingly protein use in specific applications also varies. The key trend observed is the use of plant-based protein ingredients in new product development within the Indian food and beverage industry. This poses threat for dairy-derived protein ingredients as plant-based protein ingredients (traditionally soy and lately pea) are expected to gradually take away a part of demand share from dairy proteins and animal proteins.

Though taste related-challenges are being faced by companies during formulation of plant proteins-based products, however, flavour houses are playing their role in coping up with this challenge, allowing plant proteins to become a popular choice in functional food sector (alone or in combination with dairy proteins), which once used to be dominated by dairy proteins.

Major sports nutrition/weight management brands such as Ritebite Maxprotein by Naturell (India) and Yogabar by Sproutlife Foods have started using pea protein isolate powder in place of whey protein. But at the same time, whey protein ingredients having minimum 50% protein content are still considered effective for protein fortification in India. WPC-35 is being used extensively for infant nutrition in India. One of the advantages that dairy protein ingredients have over plant proteins is their taste. This is the reason that despite being high priced, dairy protein ingredients are still preferred by Indian consumers, however, the scenario is slowly changing.

Indian protein ingredients market trends
A study on Indian protein ingredients market trends has also attempted to explore the inclination of processed Indian traditional foods processors and stakeholders of food service industry, towards the burgeoning protein trend worldwide. While these two sectors occupy minuscule share in the overall domestic demand of protein ingredients, the study investigates if the processors of these products are feeling the heat from the 'protein trend'. It also focusses on whether they are testing with only protein-rich commodity ingredients/raw materials such as soy flour, wheat flour and oats or are also looking to experiment with extracted and refined protein concentrates/isolates in their product formulations.

The global trend of inclination towards high-protein foods and plant-derived protein ingredients is also expected to gradually replicate in India. Giract's global study on protein ingredients identifies a surge in demand of plant protein ingredients in Western markets due to the ongoing trends such as vegetarianism, natural, sustainable, vegan and flexitarian movements.

Though these underlined factors do not play any instrumental role in India currently, however, we cannot ignore the fact that India remains an attractive potential market, due to the large vegetarian population.

Overall, health & wellness trend is on the rise in India, which is slated to fuel growth in the supply & demand of protein ingredients in the country to meet the growing needs of Indian food and beverage industry, during the forecast period (2019-2023). Having said that it remains to be seen, can protein ingredients further penetrate mainstream food applications where protein content inherently forms part of the raw materials being used in product formulations.

(The author is sales lead at Firstmr Business Analytics, India. She can be contacted at kanchan@firstmr.com)

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