Animal or Plant? Understanding North American Protein Preferences

Animal or Plant? Understanding North American Protein Preferences

As consumers across North America pay more attention to the label claims on the food and beverage products they purchase, one claim has gained momentum among consumers: protein. Protein, which can be derived from both animal- and plant-based food sources, helps boost energy levels, supports muscle and bone structure, and improves focus and concentration, among a number of other health benefits. As consumers continue to focus on their overall health and wellness, food and beverage products that are rich in protein have a unique opportunity to resonate with today’s shoppers and the retailers that stock them on their shelves.  

But first, it’s important to understand what consumers’ preferences are when it comes to protein selection. Diet preference plays an important role when analyzing consumers’ choice of protein. For example, 35% of U.S. households say they follow a specific protein-focused diet such, as high protein, Paleo, low carb, etc. Meanwhile, half of North Americans say they eat a form of protein with every meal, and around one-third agree that the source of protein matters.

Regardless of preference, protein claims are winning at the cash register. In the U.S., products labeled an “excellent source of protein” grew 12% in the recent year, while those listed as a “good source of protein” grew 4%.

So where are North Americans getting their primary source of protein? Among both Americans and Canadians, meat, eggs and dairy are the top three protein sources, with seafood and legumes/nuts/seeds falling to fourth and fifth place, respectively.

Findings from a recent Nielsen survey among consumers in Canada and the U.S. found that consumers on both sides of the border intend to eat more fish, seafood and legumes. However, 20% of Canadians plan to eat more legumes, nuts and seeds (compared with 15% of Americans), while 78% of Canadians plan to eat the same amount of meat (compared with 53% of Americans). On the other hand, 22% of Americans plan to eat less meat, compared with only 15% of Canadians.

Beyond these top five protein sources, consumers across North America are also turning to whole grains, protein supplements, non-dairy milk alternative beverages and meat substitutes.

Manufacturers whose products contain protein should continue to invest in marketing that puts protein claims front-and-center of packaging labels. There are clear growth opportunities to satisfy consumers’ protein preferences, and that goes for protein-hungry consumers on both sides of the U.S.-Canada border. 

In our next round of protein insights, we’ll explore North Americans’ sentiment toward both animal and plant-based proteins, and how those preferences translate into dollars across retail.

*Legumes, nuts and seeds include canned beans, dry beans, snacking nuts and seeds.


Insights from this article were derived from:

  • Nielsen Homescan Panel survey, April 2017 (U.S.)
  • Nielsen Panelviews survey, March 2017 (Canada)