Health Focus
By Lori Dahm
The current climate of wellness drives the latest developments in dairy ingredients.
Convenience and health have been the major driving factors within the dairy category over the past year. The result has been twofold: Yogurt continues to benefit from a health halo effect as consumers are embracing yogurt products as inherently good for them. The second result gaining significant momentum is that dairy-based beverages, particularly smoothies, are experiencing a boom.
The ingredients that are making their way into formulations of these types of products are innovative, improved and worth noting. For example, live active cultures and probiotics are finally gaining a foothold in the dairy case as many yogurt products incorporate these bacteria. Also, many of the dairy-based beverages are fortified or otherwise enhanced with vitamins and minerals, or feature an additional protein boost. And the ingredients that are also necessary for functionality in these beverages — such as the stabilizers, gums and texturizers — are being improved to work in tandem with the myriad of ingredients that are now contained in that single-serve smoothie bottle.
Then there is the whole world of whey protein, which may be the promised land for dairy ingredients. Given the cutting-edge research that suggests the veritable health powerhouse that is contained in whey, the potential of whey ingredients is vast and promises to only increase in the near future.
Dairy continues to be a dynamic category that responds to trend fluctuations with promises of health benefits and products that can meet the consumer demand for convenience. And the suppliers and manufacturers to the industry continue to improve ingredients and formulations so that product performance is accelerated to meet consumer expectations.
Whey to Go
The biggest news within the dairy industry might be focused upon whey as an ingredient. Whey’s necessary result as a byproduct of cheese was a bane of the dairy industry until researchers started investigating the benefits of whey itself about a decade ago. The body of research supporting whey’s functionality and health benefits has now reached the level at which whey is starting to emerge into public awareness.
“There is a groundswell in awareness about whey, where we are starting to see articles appear in the popular press and in consumer media here and there, verifying the health benefits that whey offers,” says Bill Haines, industry consultant and former vice president of innovation at Dairy Management Inc., Rosemont, Ill. “Whey has always enjoyed a history of great interest among athletes and body builders for its benefits, and we are starting to see that same interest spill over into the general public. There is no question that whey protein and whey-derived ingredients have finally gotten off the ground.”
As stand-alone products, whey protein has been a part of the body builder’s regime for a long time. Due to the metabolic and muscle-building capacities that whey protein has, now whey ingredients are making a significant showing in energy bar applications as well.
But the biggest area of excitement for whey is in beverages. Whey protein ingredients and whey concentrates are being used to increase the health quotient in beverages at a time when beverages that provide only “empty calories” are coming under fire.
“The real excitement in the use of whey ingredients is in beverages, where we are seeing beverage manufacturers use these ingredients to make refreshing, convenient beverages also healthy. So a juice drink or a soft drink might incorporate a whey ingredient,” Haines says. “This upgrades the nutritional profile of these conventional beverages beyond simply quenching thirst. A lot of this movement stems from the fact that these beverage manufacturers are under pressure to demonstrate that they do have public health and wellness in mind, so they are searching for ways to make convenient products also offer protein or calcium.”
In fact, the category of functional beverages that are dairy-based with nutraceutical ingredients to allow for health claims is an area that will experience significant growth over the next few years. The smoothie-type beverages are one manifestation of this trend, wherein consumers are looking for nutritious beverages that boast health benefits, and the convenience of drinking on the go means that smoothie products find their way into consumer lifestyles easily. Whey ingredients will likely be a big component in the formulation of these products in the future.
“Right now manufacturers are incorporating more whey ingredients into products for their health benefits, although the industry is still being careful about making specific health claims for whey. This is probably a wise caution, because there is still the need to conduct a lot more human clinical work to substantiate the health benefits that are starting to be documented,” Haines says. “The one exception might be the hydrolyzed whey protein and its ability to regulate blood pressure, which is already on a label claim in many products in Europe. This is a sign of what is to come in the world of whey ingredients, with significant human research being conducted in other areas.”
One development in the past year in the world of whey ingredients is that for the first time in decades, there was a global shortage of whey, and the U.S. dry milk ingredient supply was in high export demand. New Zealand, which is a major exporter of milk and the market leader globally, experienced a shortage due to weather conditions. The consequence was a significant upward pressure globally on milk supply, and particularly for whey products in the United States.
“The U.S. is the world leader in the export of whey protein, and the current global demand put pressure on the domestic supply situation because there was no excess production and therefore the domestic supply was much more expensive,” Haines says. “In terms of the long forecast, a lot of the future depends upon global milk production. This has been an unusually tight year.”
One reason that whey ingredients were in such tight supply is that in rapidly growing and developing countries such as China, the demand for milk and milk products is rising. These countries are starting to emulate the milk ingredient scenario within the United States, where historically, dry milk ingredients have been one of the biggest mainstays in the food processing industry.
“We did a survey five or six years ago that showed how extensively dairy ingredients — and in particular dry dairy ingredients — are being used across the board,” Haines says. “In food products, dry milk ingredients were the most commonly used ingredient after salt and sugar on food labels. And I believe we are moving toward whey ingredients being that widely used in food processing today. We are on the cutting edge of a major breakthrough in that whole area.”
Probiotic Proliferation
Of course, big news within the dairy category this past year was in the area of smoothie-type products, which seem to be finally hitting their stride after a few false starts over the years.
For example, back in the day, or more specifically back in 2000, Stonyfield Farm introduced one of the market’s first smoothie-type products as a line called Drinkables, a yogurt-type drink that was conveniently packaged in a single-serve lightweight opaque bottle. But consumers seemed hesitant to embrace the concept of drinking yogurt on the run.
“There have been a lot of launches recently in the area of dairy-based smoothies, or the yogurt smoothies,” says Hilary Hursh, food scientist at Orafti Food Ingredients, Malvern, Pa. “The popularity of these products is propelled by their convenience — smoothies or drinkable yogurts are easy to take on the run and no spoon is required for consumption.”
In the past year, Stonyfield Farm’s renamed Smoothie joined a host of other similar products that are now being fully embraced by consumers, perhaps motivated by the current health craze and the association that yogurt and dairy products have in consumers’ minds as nutritious and naturally good for them. Many of these products feature innovative formulations, including additional protein boosts or live and active cultures or fortification nutrients.
“We are seeing more phosphates used in more complex products where protein stabilization is important for process conditions, including the convenient products like dairy beverages with lower pH,” says Barbara Heidolph, market development manager at Astaris LLC, St. Louis. “Healthy products are becoming more popular, increasing the focus on fortification with elements like calcium, magnesium and potassium.”
One of the biggest areas of growth in the smoothie category is the burgeoning proliferation of probiotic ingredients in these beverages. Over the past six months, several new products have debuted in the market with probiotics, although most label claims are simply “contains live and active cultures.”
The most notable is Dannon’s DanActive, which was initially introduced five years ago as Dannon Actimel, a product that boasts 10 billion live and active cultures. Yoplait’s Nouriche product is another drinkable yogurt with a label claiming live and active cultures. Lifeway Foods, the leading producer of kefir in the United States, has introduced cultured milk smoothies with “probiotic” front and center on the label. And an interesting development is White Wave’s Silk soy smoothie Live! labeled as “a live-cultured smoothie” that contains probiotics with the claim “six live and active cultures.”
The time is at hand for products with probiotic ingredients to become a force in the market, considering the health benefits of these ingredients and the corresponding health interest that consumers are currently demonstrating.
“Changing consumer demographics are changing the dairy industry. We need to understand the needs of the increasing Hispanic and Asian populations, the aging baby boomer and the very large ‘echo boom’ group; each of these segments has different eating habits,” says Cathy Miller, technical applications director at Danisco, New Century, Kan. “For example, Hispanic and Asian populations are very familiar with probiotic cultures. However, one of the largest groups of consumers that should be eating probiotic cultures to promote improved gut health is the baby boomers, who have limited knowledge of these products.”
Although probiotic ingredients might be the most exciting component of the new drinkable yogurts and smoothies that have come on the market in the past year, other ingredients are also essential to the stability of these beverages, such as the gums, stabilizers and texturizing agents.
“Our pectins were developed to protect proteins while maintaining low-medium viscosity in low pH beverages, such as milk/ juice and soy/juice beverages and yogurt beverages,” Miller says.
The reason for the sudden consumer interest in smoothie-type products and drinkable yogurts is likely related to the overall interest in functional beverages — convenient drinks that offer consumers a health element rather than empty calories, since drinks such as soda have come under fire in today’s health-conscious environment. A key ingredient in all of these new dairy-based beverages is the flavoring agents.
“In all of the fortified beverages on the market now — protein enhanced and vitamin and mineral enhanced —consumers are interested in these products because of the added nutrition, but these products can suffer from an off-flavor because of the high level of fortification,” says Dawn Manthei, applications manager for the dairy business unit at Givaudan Inc., St. Louis. “So we provide companies with masking agents or with flavors that blend with that high level of fortification.”
Givaudan suggests fruit flavors to complement fortification systems, or chocolate flavors and masking agents that help create a superior tasting product. A similar burst in flavor interest for fluid milk is another result of the health focus, amplified by the Child Nutrition Act of 2004.
“Dairies and schools have jumped on the opportunity presented by the Child Nutrition Act, and are asking us for new and innovative flavors for fluid milk that will make children want to pick up a bottle of milk rather than a can of soda,” Manthei says. “So flavors like orange cream, cookies and cream, chocolate brownie and cookie flavors in general are very popular for these applications.”
Another dairy beverage category that requires significant flavor assistance is the milk/juice combination beverages. “The beverages that are a blend of milk and juice are becoming very popular, and in these formulations, cost is a factor in delivering great taste. Typically these products consist of a neutral inexpensive juice background paired with milk, like an apple juice or pear juice,” Manthei says. “But the sensory appeal is provided by a flavor ingredient being a driving force, so a strawberry-kiwi taste is actually imparted by a flavor with a relatively low price, so that you can achieve a delicious-tasting product and still be healthy. These types of drinks are slated to be an area of big growth in the near future.”
Yogurt
The health focus is driving continued growth in the yogurt category, and the reduced-carbohydrate craze has had a remaining effect — the newest yogurt products are low-sugar offerings. To replace sugar, the most commonly used sweetener ingredient in yogurt is aspartame.
“The typical fat-free or sugar-free yogurt uses aspartame; most use aspartame and some crystalline fructose for their synergistic effect in yogurt applications,” says Brendan Naulty, vice president of sales and marketing at Ajinomoto Food Ingredients LLC, Chicago. “In years past, these products were targeted toward diabetics who couldn’t tolerate sugar. But now the desire for reduced sugar has gone mainstream, and in the dairy aisle the fat-free yogurt arena with aspartame has become a relatively large category.”
Aspartame has a sugar taste and can enhance fruity flavors, particularly citrus flavors. Now some of these reduced-sugar and reduced-fat yogurts are starting to use Splenda-brand sucralose in their formulation. But the newest development in the land of yogurt is that yogurt products are also starting to be a playground for fortification. “Over the past year, manufacturers are looking for ways to add ‘healthy,’” Heidolph says. “So we are seeing a focus on fortification elements beyond calcium, to include potassium, magnesium and phosphorous, as well as other healthy components like plant sterols and even fiber.”
The Yoplait Healthy Heart yogurt that was introduced this summer is the first yogurt product in the Unites States containing cholesterol-lowering plant sterols. Yoplait Healthy Heart yogurt carries an FDA claim on the label stating that eating two servings of the sterol-containing yogurt a day can help lower cholesterol, which may reduce heart disease risk. The Healthy Heart yogurt line includes 0.4 grams of sterols in each 6-ounce serving of yogurt.
Fiber is the other fortification ingredient making a debut in yogurt products. “Fiber is becoming a buzzword with consumers because of the low carb trend, and because the new dietary guidelines also recommend eating fiber,” Hursh says. “Inulin and oligofructose are being incorporated into a lot of new yogurt products because they function for sugar and fat replacement and they also have prebiotic effects.”
Inulin and oligofructose ingredients work synergistically with high intensity sweeteners in reduced sugar applications, provide textural advantages such as a creamy mouthfeel and can allow for a health label claim because they boost calcium absorption. The fibers also act as prebiotics and increase the activity of the bacteria in yogurt to help the bacteria survive shelf life. “I think because consumers are starting to recognize fiber as something that is beneficial to their diet, more dairy producers are looking at adding soluble fibers to their product,” Hursh says.
Adding healthful ingredients to yogurt and other dairy products is a natural fit because consumers already understand dairy to be healthy and good for them. The most significant ingredient developments in the past year have been in the areas of yogurt and dairy-based beverages, where new ingredients and new formulations are offering consumers a promising package of nutrition and convenience in a format they inherently trust.
“Dairy products are one of the key product categories where consumers see the health benefits. There is focus upon dairy calcium for weight control, calcium for heart health and most recently calcium for cholesterol reduction,” Heidolph says. “The facts demonstrate that dairy has moved far away from being thought of as unhealthy, to being understood as something consumers grew up with, tastes good and is good for you. Penetration of healthy products in dairy shows that there is still much room for growth.”  m
While reading about the demise of the low-carbohydrate food market, we were reminded again how difficult it is to develop innovative new products with staying power. It made us think about the boom, and often the bust, of many convenience and nutrition trends that have driven product development over the past 10 years, including the “low-,” “no-,” “light” and “less” movements.
It is remarkably easy to miss the right product or sell the wrong product. It is becoming evermore important for developers to get into their customers’ heads and think about what they really want. We need to raise our level of awareness of changing trends by constantly asking ourselves, “What aren’t we seeing? What aren’t we hearing?” Reliable ingredient suppliers can help in thinking about the market and developing products that take advantage of emerging opportunities.
There are many new ingredient systems being developed and introduced to meet new market trends. In the culture market, there is an emphasis on flavor development and modification using cultures. New enzymes are being introduced to enhance yields in cheese manufacturing. Flavors are being introduced into the market to capture the growing ethnic tastes, such as spicy citrus and chili chocolate. Also, flavors and spices are emerging in the manufacture of specialty cheese as marketers experiment with new functionalities. Probiotics and prebiotics are being evaluated in a range of new food items, giving consumers new choices in managing their health through diet. The trend toward natural and organic is driving ingredient innovations in cultures, colors and flavors.
Effective partnerships with ingredient suppliers can allow new products to be developed and introduced more quickly. Chr. Hansen believes working closely with customers leads to innovation.
As a leading culture, color and flavor partner, Chr. Hansen proudly sponsors Dairy Field’s 2005 State of the Industry Ingredient Report. We are confident the information will help you develop the innovative products that will take advantage of the market opportunities in the coming year.
David Burrington, Director of Marketing, Dairy
Nachi Adaikalavan, Director of Marketing, Processed Cheese
Chr. Hansen Inc.