Generations view protein differently, with older generations more concerned about the health benefits of protein and younger generations caring about exercise recovery and feeling full, according to research conducted by Acosta, Jacksonville, Fla.

In fact, 81% of Millennials, 74% of Gen X, 66% of Boomers and 50% of Silents said protein content is extremely or very influential when making grocery store purchases, outlines the report, 2018 Progressing Protein Palates.

"Our research shows that protein continues to be a mainstay in shopping baskets, but the kind of proteins shoppers are buying is evolving," says Colin Stewart, senior vice president, insights. "Plant-based meat alternative sales are booming and popular with vegetarians and meat-eaters alike. Another trend we're seeing with protein is that shoppers are paying more attention to labels and product claims, but are overwhelmed and confused about what they mean."

Fresh meat trends

  • 18% of shoppers are buying more fresh meat vs. last year, while 12% are buying less, mainly due to price and striving to eat healthier, either for themselves or their family.
  • 41% of Millennials are buying more fresh meat vs. a year ago, more than all other generations combined.
  • Beef and chicken dominate, making up 70% of all fresh meat sold.
  • Sales of natural/organic meat are outpacing conventional options.

Plant-based meat alternatives and alternative diets

  • Shoppers are recognizing that consuming meat isn't the only way to pack protein, with plant-based meat alternatives growing 11% in units year over year.
  • 71% of shoppers who purchase plant-based meat alternatives also eat meat.
  • Meat-eaters are interested in alternative diets that are either less focused on meats or do not contain meat all together, especially Millennials. 26% of Millennials are already vegetarian/vegan.
  • 34% of meat-eating Millennials eat four or more vegetarian dinners each week.

Label confusion and product claims

  • Shoppers struggle with the wide assortment of product claims, especially with those related to meat products, such as humanely-raised and free-range claims.
  • Millennials ranked the highest for label confusion, with 58% having some level of confusion. Gen X is the most informed generation of shoppers.
  • Of shoppers who feel confused/overwhelmed, 85% would like to have more information available to understand claims and labels.
  • For Gen X shoppers that feel they are knowledgeable about various product claims, they feel most strongly about no added hormones/antibiotics and all-natural products.

"Millennials are purchasing more fresh meat and plant-based meat alternatives than any other generation, and brands and retailers need to understand they are the key to growth in the protein arena," adds Stewart. "Another clear takeaway from this study is that more awareness needs to be built around various product claims and labelling, especially for all-natural and antibiotic/hormone-free meat products."

Acosta's report was completed via an online survey of the company's customer shopper community panel as well as multiple Nielsen research reports.