By: Mandeep Kaur *
Milk is considered as the most important part of a balanced diet. It is not only rich in calcium but also drinking it regularly can provide various health benefits such as; improved bone health; controlled weight; and blood pressure. Milk also provides protection against conditions such as; cardiovascular diseases; and type 2 diabetes, etc. Despite all these benefits, consumers no longer prefer drinking milk as a daily beverage. It may be because the dairy/dairy-based products are lacking in variety. To better capture, the expectations and needs of today’s consumer many dairy companies are exploring/launching new dairy-based products. Fermented drinks like drinkable yoghurts; post-workout recovery drinks; high protein dairy products; dairy alternatives; low sugar and lactose-free milk products are just some of the important niche markets in dairy.
With changing consumer preferences towards foods carrying nutritional, indulgent and convenient attributes the dairy industry is also driving towards innovation and growth. The consumer nowadays is more open to try new things; so this is the time to focus on providing new exciting options and appealing ways to consume dairy-based beverages and dairy foods.
Innovation is the key word here! It is a balance between the consumer’s present needs and the identification of upcoming needs. Dairy industry also has a responsibility to always keep a balance between consumer-led innovation and technology-led innovation. Traditionally, the dairy innovation was limited to flavoured milk using different flavours and ingredients such as sugar. The aim was to enhance taste and palatability. But now as the times have changed and the consumer is becoming more aware of health and continually updated about the product options.
Now the question is, how do brands innovate with dairy? They do experiment with exotic and unusual ingredients to introduce a novel twist in the dairy segment such as:
–Adding health- enhancing ingredients to enhance the nutritional profile of dairy products: Milk provides nine essential nutrients, including calcium, potassium, phosphorus, protein, vitamins A, D, and B-12, riboflavin and niacin. Further to enhance the nutritional profile of milk/milk products they are fortified with vitamins like vitamin A and vitamin D or by adding other health-enhancing ingredients. E.g. fortifications with fibre, as studies have proven the benefits of fibre consumption. However, milk itself is not considered as a good candidate for fibre fortification but other dairy-based products like, yoghurt, ice cream, pudding and smoothies certainly are.
–Launching dairy products to target specific consumption occasions to increase consumption: The dairy brands are giving a new definition of dairy consumption occasions by targeting new dayparts in order to boost consumer engagement. These products pitch for consumption at particular times of the day. Nowadays these types of trends are more commonly seen in yoghurt but they are becoming an increasingly significant part of the dairy industry. There are opportunities to expand usage occasions for milk and cheese by targeting late evenings and after-dinner.
–Formulating new products like plant-based alternatives in more sophisticated forms: Non-dairy alternatives are hitting the industry like a storm. Protein and calcium content of milk products have made them staples in diets for decades. Whereas these plant-based alternatives do not necessarily have comparable nutrition but they are much preferred by consumers because they are lower in saturated fats than dairy products.
–Packaging to target the high proportion of lactose-intolerant consumers: Young consumers are more attracted towards the on-the-go lifestyles because ready-to-drink, shelf-stable carton packaging not only retains the taste and nutrition of beverages but also protects the contents for a longer period until the packaging is opened. The dairy industry has also been successful in fulfilling consumer demands for low-fat or lactose intolerant consumers.
Innovation is a major driving force in the dairy industry. Be it a new product development to improved testing methods, the dairy industry is constantly working to develop technologies that allow researchers to create uniquely delicious products that exceed consumer expectations. Innovation trends are impacting the core dairy segments including milk, cultured dairy products, cheese, etc.
Fermented Dairy Products
Innovation in the dairy industry is also targeting a nutritional focus on gut health. Nowadays digestive solutions and probiotics have increasingly grown in popularity and they are very much in the trend. We all are very well versed with yoghurt. The cultured dairy segment available nowadays presents the highest opportunity for growth and innovation, from kefir drinks to healthy yoghurt-based smoothies offering a portable and convenient way to meet nutrition and digestion needs. Further, there is an opportunity for innovation in flavour, quality and traditional fruit-enhanced options. The use of different processes and ingredients helped in the advancement of manufacturing of popular products, such as; Greek yoghurt; kefir; and frozen smoothies, with higher protein concentrations.
High-in-protein dairy products are using daypart targeting. High protein smoothies that can combine the positive aspects of dairy into trends around protein are promising. Also, the use of whole milk in formulating such products is on the trend, as studies show that the high-fat dairy products may help in preventing weight gain.
Whey Protein Ingredients and its Co-products
Researchers are innovating new ways to improve the flavour, aroma and performance of these whey protein ingredients and to make them suitable for the use in higher-protein foods and beverages. Studies conducted on whey permeate helped to identify its ability to replace salt in formulations. Other aspects such as: heat stability; and sensory attributes of whey protein and its co-products are also being researched.
Cheese is the all-time favourite of consumers. The cheese makers are continuously innovating and improving to provide the best taste and quality to the consumers. The current researches are focusing on various factors such as: improving the quality and safety of cheese; developing cheese with lower-sodium content; as well as manufacturing speciality cheeses with more nutritional benefits.
Plant-based Dairy Alternatives
“Dairy-like” products made from nuts such as coconut, cashew and others, are gaining popularity nowadays. Recently many plant-based options are being launched in the market. These products are providing solutions to those who are lactose intolerant as well as health-conscious consumers who are switching to non-dairy options for several reasons. The brands providing dairy alternative are innovating with variations that can provide good substitutes for cooking as well.
Recent research advancements have made the fractionation of milk feasible both economically and technically. Also, there is a strong need to explore this area to invent new enhanced processing technologies.
Milk and Milk-based Beverages
The dairy industry is also working to accelerate innovation of milk and milk-based beverages to help better answer consumer’s beverage needs. Researches on milk are trying to link technical quality factors such as; light oxidation; and fat levels to consumer preferences in order to identify and share best practices.
With all this happening in the industry, it gives a clear opportunity for dairy purveyors to get more creative when it comes to capturing the attention and purchases of the consumer. It is certain that a combination of understanding the value of nutrients in dairy; health and overall-wellness trends; and sensory attribute innovation will spur ideation and create success within dairy.
* Source: Associate Editor of Food Marketing and Technology Magazine