By Kanchan Sharma* and Vidhi Tiku**

Consumer interest in protein sources have grown significantly due to wellness trends and high awareness on nutrition of daily diet. Based on  positive benefits with regards to personal health and environment, plant protein ingredients are showing a rapid uptick in demand recently. New-age consumers are concerned equally about health and taste in food and tend towards a holistic approach in their choices.

 The major trend observed in the usage of these protein ingredients is that high protein content ingredients have already been made available, hence current focus has shifted towards sustainable sources and quality of the protein in the ingredients being offered.  Blending multiple plant proteins to achieve the amino acid profile of dairy-based proteins is one of the ongoing trends. For example, a combination of pea and rice protein ingredients can be used to achieve this. Taste related-challenges are still faced by companies during the formulation of plant proteins-based products in India. Few players have launched pea protein ingredients by raising bar on flavour, which is expected to overcome these challenges. Pea Protein isolate is also used as non-GMO, soy free, dairy free, and gluten free ingredient. This measure is taken to avoid occurrence of allergenic and digestives issues pertaining to the use of soy and dairy proteins.

 In the current scenario, soy protein is the dominant source of plant protein used in India. Defatted soy flour and texurised soy protein are the key protein ingredients produced in India. Pea protein is the next big thing  that is gaining significance as alternate protein source. Other alternate sources of plant proteins available in India include rice protein, chickpea protein, lentil protein, mung bean protein, wheat gluten. These alternate plant protein ingredients have a protein content of 60 to 80%. Pea protein, rice protein and soy protein isolates are mostly imported to fulfil the current demand. Adani Wilmar, Ruchi soya industries, Shakti soy, Mahakali Foods, Sonic Biochem are some of the key producers of texurised soy protein in India.  Pea protein isolates and soy protein isolates are produced in negligible volume and mostly it is imported to fulfil the current demand. Roquette and Dupont are the leading suppliers of pea protein in India. 

India contributes 2% to the global nutraceutical market and is expected to hold minimum 3.5% of global share by 2026. ​ Standards for health supplements and nutraceuticals are specified under the Food Safety and Standards (Health Supplements, Nutraceuticals, Food for Special Dietary Use, Food for Special Medical Purpose, Functional Food, and Novel Food) Regulations, 2016. According to FSSAI’s definition, nutraceuticals provide a physiological benefit and help maintain good health and a food business operator may purify, isolate, and extract nutraceuticals from food or non-food sources. The formats can be either granules, powder form, tablets & capsules, liquid, jelly, semi solid or other formats. FSSAI regulations cover eight categories of functional foods, namely, health Supplements, nutraceuticals, food for special dietary use, food for special medical purpose, specialty food containing plant or botanicals, foods containing probiotics, foods containing prebiotics and novel Foods.

Nutraceuticals shall contain any of the ingredients specified in the Food Act Schedules.

Schedule I: Vitamins and minerals

Schedule II: Essential amino acids and other nutrients

Schedule IV: List of plants and botanical ingredients

Schedule VI: List of ingredients as nutraceuticals

Schedule VII: List of strains as probiotics

Schedule VIII: List of prebiotic compounds 

According to the regulation, no ingredient other than those specified in Schedule VI shall be used as nutraceuticals with standardization to marker compounds specified and at daily usage levels specified therein. Only nutraceuticals or extracts of ingredients specified in Schedule IV can be used in nutraceuticals.

F1rst, in its study has focused on six segments under nutraceuticals to track the demand of plant protein ingredients, namely, functional foods, functional drinks, slimming products, health supplements, clinical nutrition and health nutrition. 15% of the total demand volume of plant protein ingredients comes from the nutraceutical sector. For nutraceutical products, the focus is more on the source and quality of protein. Blending of one plant proteins with other plant proteins has been also seen as one of the major trends in nutraceutical products.  

Functional foods and drinks hold a maximum share for plant protein ingredients usage in the nutraceuticals sector accounting for almost 72% of the total demand volume. This is followed by health supplements including mass gainers accounting for almost 23% and others (Infant nutrition, slimming and clinical nutrition) by 5%.  In the infant nutrition sector, only soy proteins are allowed by FSSAI and BIS and that too only under specific conditions, milk proteins are generally used as it is considered complementary to milk. However, use of soy protein is expected to grow at a significant rate by 2026. Similac Isomil Soy Infant Formula, Dexolac Nusobee Soy Lactose and Sucrose- Free Infant Milk Formula are few examples of infant formula milk where soy protein isolate is used. Slimming foods or meat replacers have gained the importance recently amongst fitness freaks and people with medical conditions and the demand for market of plant-based protein ingredients show a growth rate of 10% for the next five years. Rising consciousness and fitness fad among Indian consumers is boosting this sector in India. Usage of both plant and diary protein in the same product has been observed as a common trend, products such as HealthKart SlimShake, Dr. Morpen meal replacement slim shake and Saffola FITTIFY Gourmet Hi-Protein Slim Meal Shake contain both soya protein isolate, and whey protein concentrate as key protein ingreidents.  Though whey protein used to be considered an irreplaceable protein source in sports nutrition/weight management products, the trend is changing with the increasing use of plant protein ingredients in these products, products such as Ritebite Maxprotein by Naturell (India), Yogabar by Sproutlife Foods, Unived Lean Pea Protein Isolate Powder have plant protein ingredients as the key protein ingreidents. Pea protein isolates have been identified as a key replacement for whey proteins in this sector. Demand for pea protein has increased because of its advantageous functional attributes and appealing nutritious profile. Cost -effectiveness over non-soy alternatives will escalate pea protein demand. It is preferred by vegan consumers as a substitute for dairy proteins specifically in nutrition supplements, as gaining healthy weight without improving the muscle tone is preferred by female consumers.

F1rst in its study has forecasted that out of all the key segments of nutraceutical sector, the demand of plant proteins is going to be higher for functional foods and drinks by 2026 and is expected to grow for all major segments such as infant nutrition, clinical nutrition, slimming products, and health supplements. 

Though the market for plant proteins in nutraceuticals will continue to grow in future, India lacks major players in the local production of plant protein ingredients other than soy. The increase in demand for plant protein ingredients also creates the need to ensure raw material availability, developing performance attributes equivalent to that of established ingredients such as whey, and certify protein quality. There lies a major opportunity for all protein ingredient players to grab, with high demand volumes and low local supply, to bring in balance and have a profitable business, considering the popularity and adoption of more and more plant-based foods and nutraceuticals by the consumers. 

*Sales and Marketing manager at F1rst

**A postgraduate in food science and technology, is part of India sales team at F1rst.

F1rst has recently published a study on the Market for plant protein ingredients in nutraceutical sector in India Supply-Demand-Forecast (2021-2026). For more information about this study, you can reach out to them at