Milk performs as a base or an ingredient in drinks targeted to nutrition-seeking consumers

Old-timers in the milk industry will say that milk, all by itself, is a nutritional beverage. It doesn't need to be boosted, fortified or further processed to be positioned in the functional foods category, they'll argue. And they're not completely wrong, as milk is an inherently nutritional beverage. But, another reality is that marketers and consumers alike still view the white stuff as a commodity rather than a functional food.

It is true that most consumers understand the nutritional value of milk, but we live in a society of quick fixes and promises. Trendy names and functional claims are the hallmarks of today's food marketing game. Consumers want more from their foods, and more from the beverages they drink. The key word for growth in the fluid milk business is innovation. The way to innovate is to view milk as a base or carrier for good-for-you ingredients, or to view milk or its constituents as the good-for-you ingredient.

The latest on consumer habits

According to a September 2002 telephone survey of 200 women conducted for the Dairy Council of California, 40% of respondents indicated that they purchase foods to improve their family's health or prevent disease. Nearly two thirds (64%) of survey respondents think dairy products can help decrease the risk of disease and/or optimize the health and wellness of one or more members of their family.

Most of the women believe that neither calcium-fortified foods (69%) nor calcium supplements (89%) are good alternatives to dairy products. And 74% of respondents do not believe that soy foods (like soymilk) are a good alternative to dairy foods. (This doesn't mean they don't want to include soy in their diet!)

In general, the use of foods for improving health, overall consumption of dairy products and the belief that dairy products can yield healthful benefits have a direct and positive correlation with both age and household income (i.e., the older the respondent and the higher the household income, the greater the response rate).

A 2002 survey of consumers from Atlanta-based HealthFocus International shows that most shoppers see a connection between foods and their health. "Ten percent of shoppers always choose foods for health reasons and 59% usually do so," says Linda Gilbert, pres. "Only 6% of shoppers rarely or never select foods for health reasons, and 25% sometimes do.

"Consumers remain confident in their ability to manage their health, and nutritional solutions are believable," Gilbert says. "In general, shoppers are more likely to make healthy choices because they want to do so, rather than because they need to do so. Marketers must speak to the intrinsic benefits of healthy choices more than the extrinsic benefits. Positive communications are more compelling than are negative or disease-based communications.

"Today's shoppers are looking for healthy solutions that are 'right for me,'"Gilbert concludes. "Know your consumer target and speak to their motivations and personal needs."

With that said, the presence of food products that address health and wellness and are targeted to consumers as they approach and enter the golden years, are intensifying in the marketplace.

Garrity Communications, Ithaca, N.Y., calls this consumer segment the "Tweeniors." Aged 55-70, tweeniors are sandwiched between Generation X and the nation's burgeoning senior population. This consumer segment is often overlooked by food marketers, yet, if given the proper attention, has the potential to fundamentally change the marketing landscape of the food industry.

From now through 2020, tweeniors are poised to become the fastest-growing and most free-spending segment of the U.S. population.

"Everyone knows about the aging population, but if all you see is the graying of America, you're shortchanging the most significant marketing opportunity of the next 20 years," says Charleen Heidt, research director at Garrity Communications. "This age group is wealthy and active. They are highly interested in maintaining a vibrant lifestyle and are extremely aware of nutrition and health. They want food specific to their nutritional needs and personal tastes and are willing to pay for it."

The tweenior market is created in equal parts by the baby boom, improved health care, greater longevity and the wealth resulting from the productivity boom of the computer era. Increasing in number, this group is growing from 35 million today to almost 62 million in 2020, when better than three of every five seniors will be a tweenior.

"Tweeniors are very much on-the-go, and nutritional beverages fit the bill for their active and often hectic lifestyles," says Heidt. "Convenience is a strong motivator for tweeniors to purchase and consume single-serve beverages. The fact that these drinks can be nutritious as well as delicious adds to their overall appeal. When it comes to health and well-being, tweeniors are often less price-sensitive than their older and younger counterparts, recognizing a good nutritional value when they see one."

Indeed, in terms of economic power, tweeniors' household income is roughly 10% higher than the population as a whole. Their net worth is the highest of any age group with household debt among the lowest. Tweeniors are still in their peak earning-years, with 80% planning to work beyond traditional retirement. They are enjoying unprecedented levels of activity, health and disposable income.

"Dairy-based nutritional beverages can pack more nutrition per calorie into beverages ensuring that tweeniors get a much needed supply of calcium, vitamin D and protein," says Heidt. "Calcium has been shown to help individuals lose and manage weight, maintain bone health and reduce high blood pressure. These are concerns everyone has as they age and it's particularly relevant to Tweeniors who often are more health conscious than their younger counterparts. Tweeniors today have an expanded life expectancy and they want to stay healthy and vibrant well into old age. They also want to set a good example for their children and grandchildren.

"Even some lactose-intolerant tweeniors can tolerate smaller servings of milk and milk products if it is a component of a dairy-based nutritional beverage. For those who may not be able to consume an entire glass of milk in one sitting, these dairy-based beverages can be easier for them to digest and can contain as much as a third to half their daily requirement for calcium, thus eliminating the typical need for three to four full servings of milk or other dairy products each day," Heidt says. "It's always best to get calcium and other nutrients from food rather than from supplements and these beverages can be very important in fulfilling that need for tweeniors."

(The Garrity report, "Marketing 2020: Meet the Tweeniors," outlines the growth of this new market and profiles the motivational factors that will move it. For more information, call 607/272-1323.)

Products in the marketplace

Milk is the base for some canned nutritional beverages that target adults, such as Slim-Fast[r] ready-to-drink meal replacement shakes. These drinks take advantage of the flavor, mouthfeel and nutrients provided by milk.

For kids, Bravo! Foods International, North Palm Beach, Fla., markets Looney Tunes[tm] Slammers Reduced Fat Fortified Milk[tm], nutritionally enriched flavored milks slammed full of 11 essential vitamins. These milks recently became available for ala carte lunch sale at almost 300 schools across 16 states. The company also offers a lower-calorie version, Slim Slammers Fortified Milk[tm], which is made from 1% fat milk and sweetened with sucralose.

Replacing some or all of the added sugar in nutritional beverages is a trend that is likely to continue in response to the obesity crisis that America is facing.

For example, Fuze Beverage Inc., Englewood, N.J., just rolled out Fuze[tm] refresh, which is a line of fortified fruit-flavored drinks made with skim milk. Sold in 18-oz bottles, each 8-oz serving contains 90 calories, 0g fat and 25g carbohydrates. The company is trying to manage carbohydrate and sugar levels by using a blend of sweeteners, which includes crystalline fructose, sucrose and sucralose.

Many consumers of nutritional dairy-based beverages are trying to reduce calories and/or limit carbohydrates in their diet. Sucralose, the high-intensity sweetener that is made from sugar, has been shown to be completely stable in dairy-based beverages with a pH of 6.5 and heat processed at 285.8_F for 3.5 seconds. With aseptically processed beverages that have a long shelflife, sucralose maintains almost 100% of its sweetness without developing off-flavors. This is not the case with some other high-intensity sweeteners.

Just as some consumers are trying to lower caloric intake, there are some trying to increase calories through sound nutrition. For this population segment, Dairy Farmers of America, Kansas City, Mo., manufactures and markets a dairy-based nutritional beverage called VitalCal[tm], which targets consumers battling illness or don't have an appetite. Made with skim milk and cream, VitalCal[tm] tastes like a milkshake, the company says. Each 7.5-oz can of either chocolate or vanilla VitalCal contains 280-290 calories.

Some nutritional beverages use components of milk, rather than using milk as a base or an ingredient. New ready-to-drink Accelerade[r] from PacificHealth Laboratories Inc., Woodbridge, N.J., contains whey protein isolate and is positioned as a sports drink.

Very soon beverage formulators will have an array of whey ingredients to choose from thanks to researchers who are improving processes for fractionating whey into various components. Whey and fractionated whey ingredients are very appropriate for nutritional beverages because they are soluble over a wide pH range. Toss in its potential for clarity, and the premium quality of its protein, and whey becomes an ideal ingredient for boosting protein levels in beverages. Whey proteins also have an outstanding capacity to carry calcium, with protein-mineral complexing potentially improving the bioavailability of calcium, as well as phosphorous. Whey proteins can act as an interface between oil and water, helping to form and stabilize emulsions. Other functional benefits include turbidity/opacity, low viscosity and foaming properties.

(For more information on this technology, refer to, or call Dairy Management Inc.'s Technical Support Hotline at 800/248-8829.)

Manufacturers who choose to formulate nutritional beverages with both dairy and soy proteins are providing consumers a well-rounded package, and not forcing them to choose between dairy and soy. The fact is, these two can achieve a stable marriage, contrary to what many "old-timers" believe. A spray-dried whole bean powder is very adaptable to dairy processing and very compatible with milk. The powder's microfine particle size allows it to be nearly self-stabilizing, which reduces or eliminates the use of stabilizing ingredients. It provides a smooth, rich mouthfeel, and contributes to the overall nutritional profile of the beverage, as it is an excellent source of protein, isoflavones and phytosterols. (For more information, visit

Results for Women[tm] nutrition shake from EAS Inc., Golden, Colo., is made with whey protein isolate and soy protein isolate.

Just as there are some solely dairy-based nutritional beverages in the marketplace, there are some solely soy-based drinks too.

Snapple a Day meal replacement is a fruit and soy smoothie loaded with 24 vitamins and minerals. Compared to an 11-oz can of Slim-Fast, which contains 220 calories and 3g of fat, an 11.5-oz bottle of Snapple a Day contains 210 calories and no fat. The product targets dieters and consumers wanting healthful on-the-go beverages.

Snapple a Day comes in plastic polypropylene bottles and is sold with other meal replacement beverages at ambient temperature. The company believes that the plastic bottle offers a taste advantage over cans, which many consumers complain contributes a metallic, sometimes medicinal off flavor.

Packaging plays an important role in the dairy-based nutritional beverage sector. Until now, cans have been the preferred choice, as shelflife and quality are best maintained through cans. There's growing interest and increased use of glass and plastic. However, with glass and plastic such as polyethylene terepthlate (PET), both of which are clear, there are issues with chemical and biological reactions, which are accelerated by light. Most likely, the new generation of dairy-based nutritional beverages will come in high-density polyethylene (HDPE) plastic. And now that aseptic processing of low-acid dairy beverages packaged in HDPE bottles has been accepted by FDA, these drinks can be sold right next to the traditional canned nutritional drinks.