Protein consumption becoming more diverse, breaded chicken on the rise

Burgers, pizza top protein foods ordered at US restaurants

Protein remains a significant and desired macronutrient in the United States, and its consumption is being derived from a more diverse array of sources. As vital building blocks of the body, proteins can be derived from many different foods, including seafood, meat, poultry, eggs, legumes, and vegetables. Consumers are attracted to these sources, but also consuming trendy protein foods, like fungi, according to The NPD Group’s Eating Patterns in America report.

Protein consumption at home

Traditional proteins that have historically seen high consumption, including beef, chicken, and pork, have been primary sources of protein in the US. Animal protein consumption, however, is down slightly from ten years ago, notes NPD.

Chicken is a top main entree in the American diet. Now chicken is being mixed with other proteins, like beans, quinoa, or ancient grains, mushrooms, and high-protein veggies, like spinach. These types of mixed dishes now account for 9.6% share of at-home eating occasions. By comparison, animal protein main entrees represent 10.3% share.


Protein snacks, like nuts, yogurt and cheese, are the second most popular snacks consumed after fruit according to NPD data.

Protein consumption at restaurants

Restaurants are another place consumers seek out protein. NPD notes that beef burgers are the top animal meat protein ordered in US restaurants. Burgers are included in 10% of restaurant orders. Pizza is a close second, ordered in 7% of restaurant orders.

Breaded chicken is rising on menus as quick-serve chains battle in the chicken sandwich wars, and now makes up 3% of orders, or 2.6B servings ordered in 2020. Plant-based burgers (from meat alternatives) have been getting a lot of attention and been trending, yet they represent less than 1% of all restaurant orders.

Protein has functional attributes that appeal to consumers and engenders health-halo connotations. Restaurant marketers can embrace the importance of protein in American diets when communicating with customers.


“Consumers got the message loud and clear that protein is important for their wellness, and, for the most part, subscribe to the theory that more is better,” says David Portalatin, NPD Food Industry Advisor and author of Eating Patterns in America. “With this in mind, any callout a food marketer or restaurant operator can make in terms of protein content in a product or menu item will be considered a plus by consumers.”

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