Protein became widely popular in the mainstream food and beverage industry in the 70s and 80s. Most early protein beverages were made with whey protein, and involved mixing a rather chalky powder into water or milk in order to make a “protein shake.” Today, protein manufacturers are more advanced, creating protein drinks with better texture, flavor, and more health benefits overall.
With consumers taking an increased interest in health and wellness, protein drinks have again been pushed to the front of the pack by the functional food boom. Protein is popular among those who live an active lifestyle for its aid in muscle building, repair, and recovery, as well as its potential to curb appetite and manage weight loss.
Modern protein brands are appealing more and more to the everyday, non-athlete consumer with accessible and novel protein beverages like protein water, coffee, and tea. Beverage brand owners are also modernizing the types of protein they are putting into their drinks with a growing variety of plant-based options and branch chain amino acids (BCAAs).
One challenge faced by protein beverage creators is making sure that their drink tastes good and stays shelf-stable. Most proteins do not have an appealing flavor on their own, and they can often taste “chalky” or “powdery.” In order to counteract this, protein brands must get creative with their formulations and flavors in order to bring the best product to market.
Certain marketing and claims can also classify a protein beverage as a dietary supplement, making it subject to more stringent regulations and labeling requirements than other beverages.
Despite the challenges, protein drinks continue to ride the wave of functional beverages, and innovations in the world of protein drinks are cropping up everywhere.