Hemp finding new customers as a source of alternative protein

It’s a good time to be an alternative protein.

A reputation for being “overall wholesome” is also helping hemp products find a hungry market, a consumer market analyst told the Canadian Hemp Trade Association annual convention Nov. 18.

“We are seeing an increasing number of consumers who are looking for an alternative source of protein,” Svetlana Uduslivaia of Euromonitor International said.

Hemp has multiple human food uses, including protein powders, protein meal, dietary supplements, functional foods and healthy-seeming foods.

The crop is still an infant food industry in North America, after being legalized and adequately regulated in the late-1990s. However, it is appearing in an increasing number of human food and nutritional products.

Uduslivaia said hemp is well-positioned to grow.

Hemp protein, pea protein and brown rice protein have found a growing demand in the protein products area, which was once dominated by men and weight lifters. The revival of protein as a positive food element has allowed its market to expand beyond muscle-focused men to include young, health-conscious women.

“We’ve seen a lot more products coming out and targeting women,” Uduslivaia said.

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“We’re seeing a lot of consumers outside of the core group — fitness enthusiasts, athletes, body builders — really moving towards protein products that are marketed as sports nutrition.”

Many women are keen to consume non-meat and non-dairy protein, so “alternative proteins” such as hemp are being included in more products.

“We … see a move away from milk-based protein,” said Uduslivaia.

“Whey protein used to be the king of proteins, but this is no longer necessarily the case.”

Hemp is also moving into the dietary supplement and functional food markets because of its heart-healthy reputation and claims.

Hemp can claim heart-healthy properties because of its omega oil content, but Uduslivaia said an interesting development is the growing success of products that don’t push a particular benefit, instead presenting themselves as generally healthy.

The cross-functional benefits are often more attractive to consumers than a single-function approach.

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“There is a combination of overall wholesome positioning, overall nutritionally-better-for-you product,” said Uduslivaia.

Functional food sales have suffered in the last few years in North America, stagnating and even falling in some areas after strong growth in earlier years.

However, dietary supplements have been booming.

“It’s the dietary supplements that are seeing significant growth and are outpacing, in terms of growth, foods,” said Uduslivaia.

Hemp is a small crop and has only a small share of the market, but Uduslivaia said it is on the right side of almost every trend. Alternative protein, non-animal, generally healthy products are all growing in popularity and demand.

ed.white@producer.com

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