Shifting Nutritional Trends: Protein for global ageing populations

Euromonitor's Tim Foulds and Arshad Mawla unpack shifting nutritional trends in protein for ageing populations

12 Mar 2024

6 min

#Blog #Global #All Categories #Protein

Global consumers are moving away from supplement nutrition drinks and meal replacements and instead consuming more sports nutrition products1, especially protein powdered drinks and protein bars. Older consumers are the key demographic driver: whilst historically older consumers preferred meal replacement products, they are now consuming more protein-based products2.

Sports protein/energy bars becoming a staple of global sports nutrition

Sports protein products experienced a strong year in 2023 according to Euromonitor’s Passport data. The sports protein/energy bar category grew by 9.5% globally, with some particularly dynamic countries including China (28.9%) and South Korea (20.1%)1. The protein/energy bar category reached over USD7.6 billion in retail value sales in 2023, making up 27% of the entire sports nutrition market1.

NZMP image - male eating a chocolate protein bar

Dairy protein dominating despite recent developments in plant-based alternatives

Protein products in the sports nutrition category are largely based on dairy, namely, whey protein. This is currently the standard in the industry and what most consumers are familiar with and comfortable with taking. Recent years have seen an increase in sports nutrition products being labelled as vegan (i.e. not containing dairy), with the claim being prominent in the United Kingdom (18% of SKUs), Australia (16%) and the United States (16%)4. However, this still leaves over 80% of products in the category which are likely to use dairy. Consumer perception around the efficacy of dairy protein compared to plant-based is one of the factors keeping dairy as the main choice for protein.

Older consumers consuming more protein products for better health outcomes

The strong performance of protein products is in part due to more consumers outside the target demographic consuming such products. Typically, sports nutrition is targeted towards consumers who are athletes or engage in regular exercise, with the extra protein being an essential nutrient for muscle recovery. According to Euromonitor Voice of the Consumer: Health and Nutrition Survey2, the majority of baby boomers engage in exercise at least 1 or 2 times a week. Consumers in China and South Korea are the most likely to be doing daily exercise, but the proportion of baby boomers that get zero exercise is relatively small.

Graph in NZMP Perspective article on exercise habits of baby boomers

However, the demand for protein extends beyond consumers undertaking regular exercise: higher protein intake can help deal with sarcopenia, which is the loss of muscle mass and strength due to ageing. As a result, it is recommended that older adults get a higher amount of protein than younger adults3. For example, according to the Australian Government’s National Health & Medical Research Council3, men aged over 70 are encouraged to eat 1.07g/kg of body weight daily, higher than 0.84g/kg of body weight for men under 70, to minimise the effects of sarcopenia and maintain stronger muscles for longer.

The need for convenience when it comes to protein opens up opportunities for consumption beyond the basic protein or energy bar. Dairy products can be an excellent source of protein, being both convenient to purchase and easy to consume2In Australia, 12.6% of all SKUs in the dairy category claim to be high in protein; this value is also relatively high for the United Kingdom at 11.3% and the United States at 6.7%4. However, in Asian countries like China, Japan and South Korea, fewer than 4% of dairy product SKUs make the claim of being high protein4. Since demand for protein in these markets is strong, there is potential for further growth in the dairy industry to incorporate high protein as a health claim, especially in products like milk and yoghurt1.

Ageing population creates a ready market

Ageing populations across many key markets globally will increase the proportion of consumers trying to mitigate the impacts of health conditions like sarcopenia3. The 45 years and over age bracket in China has increased by 1.7% over the last five years, whilst the population of consumers aged 18-45 declined by 0.6% over the same period5. Similar trends are also seen in other countries such as Japan, South Korea and Australia. This trajectory is expected to continue over the next five years and a rise in age-related illnesses are expected to become more commonplace. Protein intake for an older population will be key to maintaining good health for as long as possible1.

NZMP Medical Elderly Drinking Beverage

Where to next for dairy manufacturers amidst ageing population’s need for protein?

Recent developments in the consumer health space regarding the importance of protein in diets have been shaped by an ageing population and scientific research showing the value of protein to improve health1. For dairy manufacturers, there is an excellent opportunity to highlight the importance of regular dairy consumption. For older consumers, convenience and ease of consumption will be important as they look to increase their protein intake amidst dietary restrictions. Leveraging the additional health benefits associated with dairy products can keep consumers engaged, such as probiotics for gut health and calcium for bones. High protein yoghurts and cheese can be the perfect vessel for older consumers to boost protein in their diets as they are also perceived as being more ‘natural’ compared to sports nutrition products4. Additionally, there are a variety of learnings that can be taken from the recent success in the sports nutrition market to help capture the wealth of healthy ageing opportunities in the dairy market as well.


Tim Foulds

Head of Insights​, Euromonitor International

Tim is Head of Insights at Euromonitor International with a focus on consumer research. Based in Sydney, he has more than 20 years of experience in the industry.

Tim leads Euromonitor’s research capabilities for Australia and New Zealand across all Passport industries, as well as promoting Euromonitor’s Consulting capabilities to clients in ANZ.

Tim loves sharing ideas and how research can help business, and regularly presents to clients and public forums across Australia, New Zealand and Asia. Most recent engagements have included subjects as diverse as consumer trends, Australia in 2030, food security, sustainability, meat-free alternatives and gut health.

Arshad Mawla

Research Analyst​, Euromonitor International

Arshad is a Research Analyst at Euromonitor International, based in the company's Sydney office with almost 5 years of experience in consumer research.

Arshad has experience working across a range of different industries, including consumer finance, consumer foodservice, hot drinks, pet care and dairy.

Most recent engagements have included being a guest presenter at the New Zealand Pet Food Association Conference 2024 held in Wellington New Zealand where he delivered a talk about the global trends in the pet food industry and key growth opportunities in the APAC and Middle-East regions.

The views expressed above are the opinion of the author, not those of Fonterra, and Fonterra is not responsible for any decisions taken in reliance on the same.

  • 1. Euromonitor International Consumer Health 24ed:
  • 2. Euromonitor International Voice of the Consumer: Health and Nutrition Survey:
  • 3. Eat for Health Australian Government:
  • 4. Euromonitor International Health and Wellness 24ed:
  • 5. Euromonitor International Consumers: Population:

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