To learn about the recommended daily intake of protein, consumers rely on health websites, doctors, and food labels, according to the NPD Group. But the barrage of sources has not created a more educated group of diners; 71 percent are still unsure of the actual amount of protein the need.
What consumers are sure of, however, is that they want more protein in their diets—and this creates an opportunity for restaurants to step in, teach them, and promote the protein on their menus.
"One of the top ways that consumers actually measure how much protein they're consuming is 'just looking at it,'" says Darren Seifer, NPD food industry analyst. "So, most consumers don't use a very scientific method to determine how much protein they're getting in any particular dish. For restaurants, it's about helping them figure out that overall picture."
Seifer says one way restaurants can step in is by training the wait staff to have a conversation with diners about protein options on the menu. The talking points for servers are straightforward: discuss approximately how many grams of protein a dish has, how many grams are actually recommended for adults (46 grams for females and 56 grams for males), and what percent of the daily recommendation a dish is.
"The wait staff isn't necessarily nutritionists or dietitians, but they could be more educated about how much protein exists in the items they're selling," Seifer explains.
Other options for restaurants include a short description on the menu about a dish's protein quantity, a rundown on the specials board about top protein options, or a nutrition label that's available on request.
About half of consumers consider animal protein the best source of protein, NPD found, but when the survey asked which proteins people ate, if they were trying to increase their protein intake, the most popular responses were eggs, nuts and seeds, and nut butters.
"What we found is that about 18 percent of consumers are classified as purists, and what that means is, they pretty much believe that animal protein is the way to go," Seifer explains. "But clearly, many consumers, when they are trying to get more protein, are willing to go beyond meat."
One barrier that could prevent consumers from eating more protein is the fear that they’ll consume more calories. But this is actually another marketing opportunity for restaurants, Seifer says. "To get over that, market yourself as a lean protein.”
Lean proteins include Greek yogurt, which Seifer says can be lean depending on its fat variety, quinoa, and egg whites.
By Sonya Chudgar