This is Whey Expensive! Understanding the Rising Costs of Protein Powder

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Have you noticed just how pricey whey protein is?

In fact, if anything, it seems to get more expensive year-after-year.

You know yourself that the amount of money you spent on protein powder a few years ago has almost doubled now.

Then again, let’s face facts, whey protein has never actually been that cheap, especially when you compare it to other supplements.

So, what exactly is going on here?

One of the main reasons that whey protein is so expensive is due to the supplier’s profit margins. You’ll typically find that most suppliers will initially offer heavily discounted prices in order to bring in new customers. However, this doesn’t make much profit, so eventually you’ll see huge price hikes. Additionally, supply and demand has increased, so this once more is reflected in the price. Plus, the manufacturing and marketing costs, as well as the need to import whey protein makes it so costly.

Whey Protein Supplier’s Profit Margins

Mark Rippetoe: "If whey protein costs more than your rent, you might be doing something wrong. Time for a reality check (and maybe a budget adjustment)."

You’ve probably noticed that many whey protein suppliers offer huge discounts.

Then again, they have specific discount codes you can use to purchase any of their products.

Obviously, this is true when you purchase your whey protein online.

The aim here (as a supplier) is to entice you as a customer, and find a whey protein product that you can use and enjoy.

Suppliers will sell you on the benefits and may even try to scare you into thinking you could lose muscle if you dont continue taking their brand of whey protein.

Then hopefully you’ll become a loyal customer.

However, all these discounts, codes, and “buy one get one free” offers won’t last forever.

In effect, the supplier is making very little profit from sales to new customers.

So, eventually the prices will go back to “normal”, but by now you like the whey protein that you’ve been using and you don’t want to go anywhere else to get it.

Essentially, you are now paying the usual price for your supplements.

With that being said, I know this isn’t always the case.

In fact, you may simply go to your local health store or sports store and purchase a tub of whey protein whenever you need it.

However, once more, quite often they are offered at “discounted” prices.

So, it’s actually quite shocking once the price returns to normal.

This is looking at things from a sales and consumer perspective, but whey protein is still so much more dear than you would think.

The Whey Protein Manufacturing (and Marketing) Process

Now, you’ll probably find many articles online that tell you the manufacturing process is both long and expensive.

Admittedly, to some extent this is true, but it’s not actually as expensive as many make out.

Okay, there is the expense of machinery and employees when it comes to extracting protein from both plants and animals.

However, as whey protein is produced in bulk, this still doesn’t explain why whey protein is so pricey by the time it hits the shelves.

With that being said, if you look at the costs of macronutrients in their simplest form, then protein is usually more expensive anyway.

As an example, look at the difference in price between 1kg of beef (protein) and 1kg of rice (carbohydrates).

In fact, you can’t really even compare the two, as there’s such a huge difference in price.

So, the cost of protein is always going to be fairly expensive.

Layne Norton: "Whey protein is great, but let's not pretend it's some magical elixir. Sometimes, a plate of chicken and rice is just as effective and a lot cheaper on the wallet."

However, even once the manufacturing process is done with, you also have to consider packaging and then marketing of the product.

Once more, there is the expense of machinery and human employees when it comes to packaging whey protein.

But, the largest expense typically comes down to marketing the product.

Now, you wouldn’t think this would be an issue, as so many people regularly consume whey protein.

In fact, it is estimated that nearly 50% of all Americans actually take a whey protein supplement.

However, this isn’t so much about the demand (although, I’ll get to that in a moment), but rather the competition for sales among “non-producers”.

Basically, there are protein marketing companies who don’t actually produce the products, but simply want to get in on the action.

If you think about it, wherever you go online to search for whey protein, you’ll be greeted with literally thousands of different options.

Plus, it is said that approximately 60% of the price of your tub of whey protein comes down to marketing costs.

This is also why it makes sense to shop around before making your purchase.

The Cost of Whey Protein Import & Export

Not only are there costs for manufacture, packaging, and marketing, but also for actually importing and exporting whey protein.

Okay, the initial manufacturing process of whey protein will typically start on a dairy farm, but that doesn’t mean that every country in the world is doing this.

The country with the largest whey protein production is Germany, with almost 14,000,000 metric tons produced annually.

The Netherlands comes second with just over 8,000,000 metric tons per year.

Plus, Poland, Italy, the UK, France, Turkey, Ireland, Denmark, and Spain make up the rest of the top 10 largest whey protein producers in the world.

So, in effect, there are the costs of shipping and importing whey protein, and obviously the export costs from the source.

Therefore, depending on exactly where you are in the world, you could find that whey protein is significantly more expensive than other parts of the world.

Increased Demand For Whey Protein

I guess this is probably quite obvious now, but it’s the same for any business, i.e. supply and demand.

Whey protein is probably one of the most popular supplements there is.

It is typically used by those looking to build muscle, lose weight, or even as a dietary/meal replacement supplement.

So, if more people want a product, then more of it needs to be produced.

Therefore, this obviously increases manufacturing, packaging, importing and shipping costs.

I’ve already mentioned that almost 50% of Americans take a whey protein supplement.

Plus, the current value of the whey protein market is approximately $10BILLION worldwide.

This is expected to gradually increase year-on-year, and the whey protein market is estimated to be over $18BILLION by 2028.

Two different men's hands in a meeting using a calculator, laptop, and paper reports

In effect, according to statistics produced by Statista, the whey protein market will have doubled from 2020 to 2028.

Demand for whey protein doesn’t appear as though it will slow down any time soon, and unfortunately this will always be reflected in the price.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is Whey Protein Worth the Cost?

Whether whey protein is worth the cost for you depends on several factors, including your individual needs, goals, and budget. 

Personally, for me, it’s definitely worth it, as it fits into my budget and as I’m often “eating on the run”, so a protein shake and some fruit and nuts will keep me going until my next meal.

However, here’s the pros and cons to help you decide for yourself.

Pros of Whey Protein

High-Quality Protein: Whey protein is a complete protein, meaning it contains all nine essential amino acids your body needs for muscle growth and repair. It’s also highly bioavailable, meaning your body can easily absorb and utilize it.

Muscle Building and Recovery: Studies have shown that whey protein can be effective for building muscle mass and improving exercise performance, especially when combined with resistance training.

Weight Management: Whey protein can help you feel fuller for longer, potentially leading to reduced calorie intake and weight loss.

Convenience: Whey protein powder is a convenient and portable way to increase your protein intake, especially if you’re on the go. It can be easily mixed into smoothies, shakes, or even baked goods.

Variety of Options: Whey protein comes in various forms, including concentrates, isolates, and hydrolysates, each with different protein content, lactose levels, and processing methods. You can also find a wide range of flavors to suit your taste preferences.

Cons of Whey Protein

Arnold Schwarzenegger: "Whey protein? Back in my day, we built muscle with schnitzel and sauerkraut! But for you fancy folks, I guess it's worth its weight in gold…or should I say, protein!"

Cost: As I’ve already spoken about, whey protein can be expensive, especially compared to other protein sources like whole foods. The price can vary depending on the brand, type, and quality.

Lactose Intolerance: Whey protein contains lactose, a sugar found in milk. If you’re lactose intolerant, consuming whey protein can cause digestive issues like bloating, gas, and diarrhea .

Potential for Overconsumption: It’s easy to overconsume protein, especially with protein powders. Excessive protein intake can put a strain on your kidneys and lead to other health problems.

Not a Magic Bullet: Whey protein alone won’t guarantee muscle gain or weight loss. It’s essential to combine it with a healthy diet and regular exercise to achieve your fitness goals.

Potential for Additives and Fillers: Some whey protein powders contain added sugars, artificial flavors, and other unhealthy ingredients. Choose reputable brands and carefully read the labels to avoid unnecessary additives.

Alternatives to Whey Protein

If whey protein isn’t the right fit for you, plenty of other protein sources can help you meet your needs.

Plant-Based Protein Powders: Made from sources like pea, soy, brown rice, or hemp, these powders are a good option for vegans, vegetarians, and those with lactose intolerance.

Greg Plitt: "Forget the fancy brands and overpriced blends. Get yourself a simple bag of bulk brown rice protein. It's affordable, effective, and won't leave you feeling like you robbed a bank."

Whole Food Protein Sources: Lean meats, poultry, fish, eggs, beans, lentils, tofu, tempeh, and nuts are all excellent sources of protein and come with additional nutrients like fiber and healthy fats.

Ultimately, the decision of whether or not whey protein is worth the cost is up to you. 

Weigh the pros and cons carefully and consider your individual needs and budget. 

Don’t forget, a healthy diet and regular exercise are essential for achieving your fitness goals, regardless of whether you use protein powder.

Are There Cheaper Alternatives to Whey Protein?

Absolutely! While whey protein is a popular choice for athletes and fitness enthusiasts, it’s not the only (or necessarily the cheapest) way to meet your protein needs.

 Here are some budget-friendly alternatives to consider, plus, you’ll note that I’ve already mentioned some of these options.

Plant-Based Protein Powders

Five containers of plant-based protein

Soy Protein: Affordable, complete protein source (contains all essential amino acids), readily available, may not be suitable for lactose intolerant individuals.

Pea Protein: Naturally hypoallergenic, good source of iron and B vitamins, slightly lower protein content than soy, may have a grassy taste.

Brown Rice Protein: Hypoallergenic, easily digestible, lower in protein content than soy or pea, may have a slightly chalky taste.

Hemp Protein: Good source of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, fiber, and minerals, lower in protein content than other options, may have a nutty taste.

Whole Food Protein Sources

Beans and Lentils: Excellent source of protein, fiber, and essential nutrients, generally more affordable than protein powders, require cooking or preparation.

Nuts and Seeds: High in protein, healthy fats, and fiber, portable and convenient snack, can be more expensive than beans or lentils.

Eggs: Affordable, complete protein source, versatile ingredient, some cholesterol concerns for heavy consumption.

Tofu and Tempeh: Plant-based protein sources made from soybeans, high in protein and fiber, may require marinating or seasoning for better taste.

Greek Yogurt: Good source of protein and probiotics, can be high in calories and sugar depending on the brand, choose plain varieties and add your own fruit or sweetener.

Tips for Saving Money on Protein

Buy in bulk: If you regularly consume protein powder, buying in bulk can significantly reduce the cost per serving.

Shop around: Compare prices at different stores and online retailers to find the best deals.

Consider store brands: Store-brand protein powders are often just as effective as name brands but at a fraction of the price.

Focus on whole foods: Prioritize whole food protein sources like beans, lentils, and eggs for a more budget-friendly approach.

Get creative: Don’t be afraid to experiment with different protein sources and combinations to find what works best for you and your wallet.

Can You Make Your Own Whey Protein at Home?

Some yoghurt on a cheesecloth inside a strainer with a wooden spoon

Making your own whey protein at home is not only possible but also surprisingly straightforward. 

While it might not match the convenience or protein percentage of store-bought options, it offers several advantages

Pros of DIY Whey Protein

Cost-effective: Making your own whey protein can be significantly cheaper than buying it, especially if you source milk in bulk.

Freshness: You can control the ingredients and ensure your whey is free from additives or preservatives.

Customization: You can experiment with different flavors and add superfoods like fruits, greens, or spices to personalize your protein powder.

Reduced environmental impact: Skipping commercially produced whey minimizes packaging waste and transportation emissions.

However, DIY whey protein also has some limitations

Lower protein content: Homemade whey typically has a lower protein percentage (around 10-20%) compared to store-bought options (up to 80%).

Time investment: The process takes time and effort, especially compared to simply scooping pre-made powder.

Limited shelf life: Homemade whey has a shorter shelf life than commercially produced versions, so consume it within a few weeks.

Here are two popular methods for making whey protein at home

1. Using Yogurt or Curds

  • Ingredients: Plain yogurt or fresh cheese curds (cottage cheese, ricotta)
  • Equipment: Cheesecloth, strainer, bowl, optional dehydrator

Place the yogurt or curds in a cheesecloth lined strainer over a bowl.

Let it sit for several hours or overnight, allowing the whey to drain into the bowl.

Discard the solids (cheese) and gently concentrate the whey by simmering it on the stovetop until it thickens slightly.

Alternatively, dehydrate the whey in a dehydrator to turn it into a powder.

2. Using Acid Coagulation:

  • Ingredients: Milk, lemon juice or vinegar
  • Equipment: Pot, thermometer (optional), cheesecloth, strainer, bowl

Heat the milk to 180-190°F (82-88°C). Do not let it boil.

Add a few tablespoons of lemon juice or vinegar while stirring, causing the milk to curdle.

Let the mixture sit for 10-15 minutes to separate the whey.

Strain the curds through cheesecloth into a bowl, reserving the whey in another bowl.

You can further thicken the whey by simmering it gently on the stovetop.

Dehydrate the whey in a dehydrator to turn it into a powder, if desired.

Tips for Success

  • Use unpasteurized or minimally processed milk for better results.
  • Adjust the amount of acid (lemon juice or vinegar) depending on how much whey you want to extract.
  • Be careful not to overcook the whey, as it can affect its taste and nutritional value.
  • Store your homemade whey protein in an airtight container in the refrigerator and consume it within a few weeks.

Final Thoughts

So, as you can see, there are a number of reasons why whey protein costs so much.

This could be something as simple as initially receiving heavily discounted products, as well as discount codes, which may mask the “real” price.

With that being said, there are obviously manufacturing, packaging, and marketing costs to also consider.

In fact, it is estimated that 60% of the overall cost is for marketing purposes, especially by protein marketing companies who don’t actually produce whey protein.

You also have to consider that as Germany and the Netherlands are the main whey protein producers, so their products have to be imported.

Finally, protein in itself is fairly expensive anyway, and the increase in demand has further increased the costs.

Here’s something that infuriates me.

Not only are you charged exorbitant prices, but the tubs are usually pretty empty.

So, check out what I have to say about protein powder tubs coming half full.

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