The language of protein


We like to keep one eye on the constantly evolving language of retail: the terminology and tone of voice used by retailers in their customer comms.

One thing which has been interesting to watch is (i) the hero-ing, and (ii) the creep of the word ‘protein’ into everyday retail language.

This Guardian feature by Bee Wilson eloquently sets out some background to, as she puts it, “our new protein obsession”. As Wilson points out, this has led to a proliferation of foods that are marketed as being high in protein. Supermarkets, amongst others, have seized the opportunity to market high-protein foods, and some sell specific own-label products (e.g. Tesco – see image 5) and dedicated space in-store (e.g. M&S – see image 1).

However, what is most interesting to us is the way in which some retailers are using the word ‘protein’ as a collective term to encompass categories, or individual dishes, in the context of meal deals. See images 2, 4 & 7.

Once upon a time, supermarkets would typically set out the options e.g. ‘meat or fish’ (see images 3 & 6), and it would be trade suppliers or buyers who might refer to the ‘protein category’, or just ‘protein’ when talking about meat, fish & poultry. That now appears to have crossed over into customer comms. We’re unsure why. Perhaps in a bid to avoid spelling out all of the options in a meal deal? With the growing plant-based trend, the range of proteins available within meal deals is likely to increase, so using a collective term does have its advantages. Or, perhaps it’s in order to capitalise upon protein’s health halo? Either way, in this context, ‘protein’ feels less foodie, more functional and arguably a little clinical.



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