ffit8 first released its protein bars on Xiaomi Youpin in March, exceeding RMB 10 million (US$1.5m) sales in just 12 days. Xiaomi Youpin is a crowdfunding site to test consumer interest in novel products.
In June, the firm sold RMB 3.4m (US$508,000) on Douyin (the Chinese edition of TikTok) in just one hour.
With 11 protein bars, ffit8’s products are retailing on major e-commerce sites in China where the firm has opened its own flagship stores within TikTok, JD, Tmall, TaoBao, and WeChat.
Zhang Guangming, founder & CEO of ffit8 told NutraIngredients-Asia that he wanted to create a convenient product for China’s younger generation of consumers who were lacking protein in their diet.
“We found that the younger generation in China had a high sugar, high carb diet but very low protein in their diet. So, we wanted to develop a product to improve overall nutrition.”
According to Zhang, protein bar for the masses was a relatively new concept in China.
“The protein bar consumption in China is significantly different from that of the US or Western markets. In US, proteins bars were mostly targeted for sports nutrition or supplementation, however in China, protein bars have progressed into general consumption for the masses.”
According to Zhang, the company’s name ffit8 represents future food, fast food and fashion food.
ffit8 sources its protein ingredients from dairy protein manufacturer, Milk Specialties Global.
In particular, the three ingredients are BARsoft (for making a softer bar), milk protein concentration (for creating texture and mouthfeel) and whey protein hydrolysate (to allow faster absorption of amino acids into the body).
The three protein ingredients are manufactured in US, but ffit8’s protein bars produced in China.
ffit8 is focusing its efforts on online retail channels, as Zhang Guangming pointed out: “China’s retail situation is different from the Western markets. In the West, there are typically specialty nutrition stores or grocery stores with a specific nutrition section.
“But China is unique, we don’t have that,” hence ffit8’s presence on online channels only.”
However, Zhang was hopeful that China would see such stores in the near future. “Potentially in the next few years, there would be a change in China where we can see some of these specialty nutrition stores or nutritional sections within the current retail channel, which will allow products like protein bars have a better positioning in those type of channels.”
Upcoming protein trends
Jing Hagert, director of business development at Milk Specialties Global told us that protein-fortified foods will continue to grow in China.
Within this space, Zhang Guangming said flavours and functionality will be driving the growth of such products.
“Chinese consumers are looking for something a little bit more unique, whether it’s different sensation, flavour, or texture. More products will also start to incorporate natural ingredients such as dates.
“From a flavour perspective, some of the trendy flavours now are mala hotpot, salted egg and beef flavours among the younger Chinese consumers.
“A lot of Chinese consumers are also looking for weight management and low calorie products. Protein can help grow or maintain muscle mass, and offers satiety,” Zhang Guangming said.
“From an energy source perspective, there will be increasing use of other ingredients like medium-chain triglycerides (MCT), nuts, or even fibers.”
He added that ingredients such as prebiotics and probiotics will also be increasingly incorporated.
In terms of delivery format, Zhang Guangming and Hagert pointed out that a convenient yet unique formats will be the most accessible and desired for the younger generation.
“The trend will be in how products are presented beyond the typical protein powder which is rehydrated into a shake. Consumers are now seeing trends in protein ice cream, brownies, cakes and bread,” Hagert said.
“In addition, there are also high protein yogurts, or even cereals. We're seeing companies that are inserting protein in meals or even snacks. So, convenience is definitely something to capture consumers who are looking for something that's new, different, interesting yet taste good.”