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Muscle Milk Maker Announces New Plant-Based Protein Platform

Meagan McGinnes

Last year, Muscle Milk maker CytoSport sent a group of its employees on a team-building wilderness retreat into the Rocky Mountains with a goal in mind: to think of new ways to evolve the protein market, keeping in mind consumers’ changing demands. They didn’t expect to leave the mountains with a concept for a revamped clean, plant-based protein shake– but that’s exactly what they did.

CytoSport is expanding its protein offerings this month with Evolve, a new complete line of protein powders, bars and ready-to-drink, shelf-stable shakes. The entire vegan-friendly platform, which contains no gluten, soy, or dairy ingredients, is made with non-GMO pea protein. The chocolate and vanilla powders come in two sizes that retail for $44.99 and $24.99, while the shakes come in four flavors and retail for $3.99. Joshua Mohr, Vice President of Consumer Marketing, said the bars are still in the final stages of development and will launch later this year.

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Jason Hull, Evolve’s Associate Brand Manager, told NOSH he thinks the new line plays to a larger trend of consumers seeking out plant-based protein alternatives.

“There are a lot of developed brands out there in the plant-based set. Leaders, such as Vega, who really created this category and did a great job inviting people to try the plant life,” Hull said. “We just want to be another catalyst. What we thought would be a hurdle — not having that first-to-market and predominantly having been in that dairy based protein world — has really been a tremendous asset for the brand because we are able to showcase that we see, understand and adapt to the overall movement in this category.”

Both the shakes and powders are being launched nationally now, including within some of Muscle Milk’s current retail partners. Mohr said that Evolve will open new doors with natural food retailers that CytoSport hasn’t been able to reach in the past. Natural grocer Sprouts will start selling the Evolve powders and shakes nationally this month. Mohr expects that the bars will be sold in the same retailers as the shakes and powders upon launching this spring.

“We really want to give people as many options as we can to live that plant life,” Hull said.

This is not the first appearance of the Evolve brand on shelves. Two years ago, the company launched a lactose-free protein drink under the same name, albeit with a different look. Mohr said though the products are entirely different, CytoSport felt the name still best fit the company’s mission: to grow and be a number one market share in the protein space for all types of consumers.

Muscle Milk has historically been embraced predominantly by men, but this iteration of Evolve follows a new path. The compass logo and a simple packaging design were selected to be more gender-neutral from the start, according to Mohr. There’s also change in the type of consumer the brand hopes to reach.

“How it sits alongside Muscle Milk is the name in and of itself– we are evolving,” Mohr said.”You are not going to see us as deep in the gym or performance space branding with this new line of plant-based protein. You are going to see more of an outdoor lifestyle focus.”

To keep with this focus, the brand has partnered with the National Parks Association to donate 1.5 percent of overall sales back to the parks. The company will also be working with the Association and its own on-the-ground marketing teams to provide samples to their target audience– a lesson the Evolve team learned from the experience of Muscle Milk, its sister legacy dairy brand.

“One of the best things we have found when it comes to return on investment has been trial,” Mohr said. “We are going to overlay that same concept with our Evolve line as well, and create a team of brand ambassadors called Evolvers that will go out there and put these [products] in a person’s hand when they need it in that moment.”

Hull added he is looking forward to see the shakes and bars handed out during the Rocky Mountain Half Marathon in August.

“I’m very excited we are going back to our roots,” he said.

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