Meal replacement products including protein bars, shakes and powdered drinks have increased in demand and sales. The objective of this study was to assess the consumer perception of protein content and type and product claims for meal replacement beverages and bars. The impact of exercise frequency on product perception was also investigated. Focus groups were conducted with exercisers and nonexercisers. An adaptive conjoint analysis survey was subsequently developed and conducted (n = 138 consumers, ages 18–35 years). Relative importance of product attributes was determined through a realistic trade-off scenario. Utility scores were extracted and rescaled by the zero-centered differences method, and two-way analysis of variance was conducted to identify the differences between exercise frequency and product attributes. Both groups preferred bars to beverages, and no clear preferences were observed for protein type, which was consistent with focus group results of low knowledge/understanding of specific proteins. All respondents valued the products with low-fat/fat-free, calcium, all-natural, protein, vitamin/mineral, heart health and muscle-building claims. Exercisers viewed muscle-building claims as more important than nonexercisers. Nonexercisers viewed heart health, calcium and vitamin/mineral claims as more important than exercisers. Three distinct consumer clusters were identified, and both exercise groups were found in all three clusters, although exercise frequency influenced membership in two of the three clusters (P < 0.05). These findings can be used to develop and market meal replacement products to specific consumer groups while leveraging their specific and unique needs.


Conjoint analysis provides a useful model of how consumers think during the purchase process and an understanding of the motivation for purchase through the testing of possible claims or product attributes. By applying this method to the purchase process of meal replacement bars and beverages, those in the field of development of these products can benefit from this information by being able to understand the motivation for purchase by the targeted consumer.