Today's consumers are demanding beverages that have the wholesome nutrition and fresh flavor of milk.

Q: What are the formulating options for manufacturing dairy beverages?

A: Today's consumers are demanding beverages that have the wholesome nutrition and fresh flavor of milk. Such drinks are often classified as milk- or dairy-based beverages, with the term milk defined in the Code of Federal Regulations.

Dairy-based beverage encompasses traditional flavored milk, which today comes in flavors other than chocolate and strawberry. Some exciting new offerings include "Cookies & Cream" and "Vanilla Milkshake." There are also coffee with milk or cream drinks, as well as drinkable yogurt and fruit combinations. There are even dairy-based beverages made with dairy ingredients such as nonfat dry milk and other dry milk-derived ingredients. Some of these drinks are slightly carbonated, giving the product some "kick."

Manufacturers are trying to satisfy consumer demands, and as a result, beverage cases and aisles across the country are exploding with a variety of convenient grab-and-go packages containing flavorful and refreshing dairy-based beverages.

Portability is a necessity, as most consumers lead on-the-go lifestyles. Consumers also like the convenience of purchasing multi-packs of single-serve beverages, as multi-packs are a great way to keep drinks on hand in the home refrigerator. However, the problem with multi-packs of dairy-based beverages has traditionally been shelflife. Thanks to new processing and packaging technologies, manufacturers are able to extend the shelflife of milk beverages, and still maintain the quality and fresh flavor that consumers have come to expect from dairy-based beverages.

This is important because today's consumers do look at code dates. They expect their dairy-based beverages to deliver fresh flavor up to that date. A 2003 HealthFocus report notes that 68% of consumers regard a fresh claim as extremely/very important, and nine out of 10 shoppers always/usually read the "sell-by" and "use-by" dates.

Lengthy code dates are not only important to consumers, but to all players in the dairy supply chain. This is because as the U.S. dairy industry consolidates, fewer manufacturing plants with longer distribution channels are becoming the norm.

New extended shelflife (ESL) technologies help increase the marketing appeal of all types of dairy-based beverages. Such technologies enable efficient production and distribution of branded dairy-based beverages with unique packaging and flavors.

The first attempts to extend the shelflife of dairy-based beverages came with higher-heat shorter time (HHST) pasteurization, which produces product with 12 to 20 days of refrigerated shelflife. Newer processes produce milk with 30 to 65 days of refrigerated shelflife. Such products are manufactured using a combination of treatments that minimize the number of spoilage organisms capable of reproducing under refrigerated conditions.

The National Center for Food Safety & Technology recently developed a bulletin with guidelines for producing ultra-pasteurized extended shelflife dairy products (UP-ESL). Such products are described as being processed for