Proteins are important building blocks for muscles. Like fats and carbohydrates, protein is classified as a “macronutrient” as the body requires it in large (macro) quantities. However, unlike fats and carbohydrates, the body does not store proteins and has no reserves to draw on. It is, therefore, essential that an adequate amount of protein becomes a part of our regular diet. An average adult requires about one gram per kg of body weight of protein as per recommendations by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR). This can vary with age and requirement, such as in athletes who require more for maintenance and training recovery, and pregnant women.
However, according to a recent study by the Indian Dietetic Association (IDA), about 84% Indians are deficient in protein. This is due to predominantly vegetarian diets and a lack of awareness about the importance of getting enough protein.
About 93% are unaware of the ideal protein requirement. What is further alarming is that about 65% of Indian non-vegetarian diets are also deficient in protein. Loss of muscle mass is one of the first signs of inadequate protein intake and can increase the risk of bone fractures. Muscles are the largest reservoir of protein and when there is inadequate supply, the body takes protein from skeletal muscles to preserve tissues and body functions. This can lead to wasting over time, true even in case of moderate protein insufficiency.
Transformation in food habits, less physical work, increase in desk jobs have made Indians more vulnerable to lifestyle ailments but still India currently has one of the lowest per capita spends on functional foods – $2 (compared to Vietnam at $17 or China at $18). This provides a massive growth opportunity for Dietary Supplement Market in India, in particular proteins. Between 2018-2030, the incremental spend on Healthy and Organic food is expected to be $416B, with another $325B spend expected on premiumization of food and a $270B incremental spend on buying Health and Fitness (H&F). Consumers are getting more aware of their fundamental needs for nutrition and proactive steps they can take to prevent chronic ailments and attain higher well-being. India has a vast young population, and this generation is vigorously pursuing a more active lifestyle to enjoy fitness and guard against obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular problems, and similar diseases.
However, there are active issues within this market. Lack of proper standardization in the market has been a major challenge in the market and has resulted in number of small companies offering products, which are not up to the quality standards. About 60 to 70% of dietary supplements being sold across India are fake, counterfeit, unregistered and unapproved, besides it is extremely difficult to identify them, noted a recent Assocham-RNCOS joint study.
The biggest hurdle to cross within this space is consumer behavior stemming from historical perceptions - while health awareness is on the rise, nutrition is still seen as secondary to exercise and a balanced diet is seen as good-to-have rather than must-have. 70% of women believe protein in fruits and vegetables are easily available, and 73% urban Indian population think leafy vegetables contain more protein. Another major misconception among Indians is that protein plays a major role for athletes, weight lifters or sportsmen.
This is a grossly wrong view - the fact of the matter is that an optimum protein intake is needed for all. Finally, most Indians grow up on a low protein diet and their body is not conditioned for high protein absorption, hence face issues like indigestion and bloating, after consumption. These attributes map India high on the list of protein deficit countries.
The protein supplements sector until 4-5 years back was dominated by a handful of foreign players and a few local unorganized Indian brands. However, of late, things are heating up in this sector with almost all imported brands as well as the organized indigenous players vying for a share in the market. Having said that only those brands that invest in growing the category by spreading awareness regarding the benefits of protein supplements as well as a focus on quality products customized to Indian needs will stay relevant and gain the lion’s share in this growing sector. This will not only enable them to carve a niche place for themselves, but also contribute to India’s nation building by improving the country’s health standards.
Dhruv Bhushan, Founder & CEO, Supplecent