Taking its cue from consumers who want healthy foods with natural ingredients, an Eden Prairie firm is making inroads into the $11 billion North American sports nutrition market.
BiPro USA launched three new products this summer and its sales are on track to double this year.
The company makes whey protein isolate, a key ingredient in some popular protein-enhanced drinks and also as a powder that can be mixed into pancakes, muffins, salads, soups, spreads and other foods.
BiPro is a brand of Agropur Inc., Canada’s largest dairy cooperative. Agropur acquired BiPro two years ago when it purchased the dairy processing assets of Davisco Foods International, a Minnesota-based cheese and dairy ingredients company.
At the time, Agropur officials said that the acquisition of privately held Davisco would double its U.S. dairy processing operations and add more than $1 billion in annual sales.
Jon Davis, executive vice president of Agropur Ingredients, said BiPro’s rapid sales growth is the result of renewed emphasis on marketing and branding after Agropur took over. The company launched a major Minnesota media campaign during the Olympics, with endorsements by former Gophers basketball star Rachel Banham and former Vikings linebacker Ben Leber.
“We’re very optimistic and very excited about that continuing, and taking this brand and this product to a whole new level,” Davis said.
Whey protein is a natural component of cow’s milk. When milk is processed into cheese, in this case at Agropur’s cheese plant in Le Sueur, Minn., whey protein is a byproduct that’s processed separately and dried to become a shelf-stable powder.
Before the acquisition, Davisco sold the whey protein isolate powder first to other businesses, beginning in the 1980s. In 2004, it began selling it in jars directly to consumers online.
Product choices expanded from the original unflavored powder to French vanilla and chocolate varieties. Since the Agropur acquisition, BiPro unveiled a strawberry powder in June. Also making its debut in July was BiPro in liquid form: protein water in peach and lemon flavors.
Kara McDonald, vice president of global marketing communications for the U.S. Dairy Export Council, said that growing consumer interest in protein has expanded sports nutrition products to a wider audience, including older adults and children. In combination with exercise, she said, adding protein can help control or reduce weight and increase or repair muscle, among other benefits.
Many Americans consume the minimum recommended daily amounts of protein, she said, but more is sometimes beneficial because of activity level, age or other conditions. “Our dietary patterns currently have Americans consuming the bulk of their protein in the evening at dinner,” McDonald said. “Adding whey protein to breakfast and snacks offers ways to easily increase protein intake at those eating occasions.”
Polly Olson, vice president of new business development, sales and marketing for Agropur Ingredients, said consumers are also looking for snacks and beverages with less than 100 calories, and BiPro fits that niche.
“It works well for people who are trying to keep carbs down or looking for that afternoon holdover until dinner,” she said.
Health nutritionists have said that whey protein is easier to digest than some of the other forms of protein that are added to food and beverages, including protein from plants. It also adds little or no taste, according to the National Dairy Council, and dissolves easily in liquids without producing a gritty or chalky sensation in the mouth that’s been associated with some protein powders.
Whey protein helps to maintain muscle mass and sometimes to increase it, in conjunction with exercise, according to the nonprofit council. Studies have also suggested that whey protein increases feelings of fullness and reduces food intake, enabling it to be used to regulate appetite and body weight.
But experts advise consumers not to overdo it with protein-enriched food and beverages, and to consult qualified medical providers about the amount and frequency of extra protein if they plan to consume it regularly.
Davis said that the sports nutrition market is expected to grow by 8 to 12 percent per year between now and 2020, and BiPro expects to compete successfully with the other brands of whey protein products. BiPro uses a more pure form of whey protein, he said, and prides itself in having a “clean label” with natural ingredients.
The company plans to introduce more flavors and expand its retail geographical reach in the spring of 2017, said BiPro marketing manager Lisa Smith.
“We have always been a very large producer of whey protein, and we’ve gotten bigger since we’ve been acquired,” Davis said. “We are continuing to leverage the technologies we have to become a very relevant player in the sports nutrition market.”
BiPro products are available nationally online and at various Minnesota affiliates that include fitness centers, health food stores, coffee shops and weight loss clinics. Typical costs are about $30 for a 1-pound jar of whey protein powder with 18 servings, and $3.75 to $4.99 for BiPro protein drinks.