A fresh look at whey.

Jerry Dryer
Market Analyst

Whey proteins make a positive contribution relative to numerous contemporary health and wellness issues including, but not limited to: Bone growth, muscle metabolism, body composition, blood pressure, satiety, digestion, and immune response.

Whey proteins are well established as ingredients in countless foods from staples like bread to nouveau cuisine such as nutrition bars. In fact, during 2004 more than 1,500 products using whey ingredients were introduced in the United States.

Beverage manufacturers added about 500 new energy and sports drinks during 2004, but traditional dairy companies weren't among the innovators. There was, and still is, huge growth in the low-calorie and low-carbohydrate beverage category.

Dairy Management Inc., the farmer-funded promotion and research agency, notes, "For dairy processors and beverage manufacturers, these results underscore the on-going opportunity to develop nutritious, functional beverages that leverage the healthy image of milk and dairy ingredients. Such products as whey protein and ultrafiltered (UF) milk, which are naturally lower in carbohydrates, can be useful for the extra protein and nutrition that they bring to items like ready-to-drink (RTD) sports drinks, energy drinks, nutrient-enhanced drinks and fluid meal replacements."

European- and Asian-based dairy processors have been launching an ever-increasing number of whey-based and energy-enhancing beverages for the past several years. In my humble opinion, the opportunity in the U.S. market is ripe for the picking.

Here in the United States, several key developments support my optimism:

  1. The functional food and beverage market is gaining momentum;
  2. research highlighting the health benefits of dairy continues;
  3. carbonated soft drinks are falling out of favor, but consumers are still looking for a refreshing and/or ‘pick-me-up' beverage; and
  4. the updated dietary guidelines now recommend three-not just two-servings of dairy a day.

Witness the solid growth in the refrigerated yogurt drinks category. Last year, sales totaled nearly $400 million; up 20% from 2004. Just a few years ago, you couldn't give ‘drinkable' yogurt away. Witness the interest of PepsiCo and Coca-Cola as they race to bring more "energy" drinks to the table.

Beg, borrow or steal. There are plenty of product ideas and formulations readily available. Make it, pack it and market it or find a co-packer. As a dairy processor, you control some very valuable real estate in the grocery store. Use it or lose it.

Several whey-based products were front and center in Cologne, Germany last fall at the big food show-ANUGA. Among the new products were:

  1. A milk, fruit juice and whey beverage;
  2. an isotonic whey-based sport drink with L-Carnitine;
  3. a whey and tea blend;
  4. a whey-based beverage sweetened with the natural occurring lactose; and 5) a whey-based beverage for weight control.

These are all great ideas and more excellent formulations are just a click away. Check out the Dairy Management Inc. website: www.innovatewithdairy.com.

There is a ready source of a range of excellent whey proteins right here in the U.S. In fact, U.S. manufacturers are premier suppliers to beverage makers and marketers around the world; beverage folks who have figured out the whey to make more money.