by Cathy Sivak
Ingredient innovations are refined to boost dairy’s inherent healthy profile.
Team consumer health and wellness focus with ongoing dairy ingredient and processing innovation, and the result is a seemingly bottomless well of product possibilities from which to draw.
Dairy product developers continue to design products to deliver broad dietary and general health needs supported by dairy’s inherently good-for-you profile. The latest refinement is the ability to drill deep to create products aimed to address specific medical challenges.
Typical ingredient tactics to support product development include addition, subtraction and cleaner overall equations. For those focused on nutrition addition, this year found ongoing refinements for ingredients such as omega-3s, probiotics and prebiotics, fiber and punched-up protein. For the take-out crowd, ingredient and system innovations helped limit or flat-out replace hot buttons such as sugar, fat and lactose. To pull it all off, authentic flavors and consumer-pleasing textures are increasingly crucial to product development efforts, particularly when served up with a dollop of indulgence.
“There is more interest in health and wellness now than I can remember at any time in the past,” says James Taft, vice president of sales for Congers, N.Y.-based Star Kay White. “Ingredients that offer a ‘health halo’ and offer indulgence but still fit into the requirements of the light category have been a driving force this year.”
Meanwhile, the quest for uncluttered labels as well as the sustainable “green” appeal of the organic and natural segments continues to create opportunities and challenges, particularly when combined with other trends. Jenny Diehl, food scientist at Belcamp, Md.-based TIC Gums, cites continued interest in organic and fiber-fortified product development requests from customers, particularly in the yogurt and smoothie categories. “Dairy companies are driving hard to bring great tasting, healthy products to consumers,” she says.
The science and the drive are present, but several industry insiders note shifts in dairy product development plans and formulations tied directly to the year’s dairy solids global price hikes. “What many processors had on the agenda for product development got put aside as they instead looked for profitability,” explains Jennifer Lindsey, dairy industry manager and gums systems product manager for New Century, Kan.-based Danisco USA. “Formulators didn’t want to sacrifice quality for cost.”
While optimists hoped for a leveling off of global demand by this summer and doomsday predictions called for a much longer range, the truth is somewhere in the middle. Lindsey notes it is more realistic to expect global supply and demand to even out by 2009, at earliest.
In the meantime, ingredient suppliers and formulators will be hard at work to meet further cost-reduction demands from processors, says Peggy Pellichero, senior food technologist and dairy team leader for David Michael & Co., Philadelphia. One of many examples is utilization of flavor to replace or reduce original ingredients, such as utilizing buttermilk flavor to reduce buttermilk powder requirements.
|2,100 new dairy food products were launched in North America between August 2006 and July 2007.|
|The top 10 new product claims:|
|SOURCE: Mintel’s Global New Products Database|
“People are looking for an alternative to swallowing their supplements in capsule form each day,” says Bruce Artman, director of applications development for Martek Biosciences Corp., Columbia, Md. “Dairy foods have a natural aura of being good for you, and are a perfect fit for functional ingredients.”
Health-specific omega-3s are the latest emerging trend. Another example is found in Danisco’s Betaine omega-3, which improves heart health via reduction of homosistine levels in the blood. “It’s all about heart health with Betaine,” Lindsey says, noting Betaine is particularly in demand for yogurt and yogurt-type beverages.
Adding functional ingredients such as omega-3 fatty acid DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and probiotics with reduced- or low-fat varieties to make dairy products healthier is gaining a broad appeal, Artman notes.
While omega-3 has a reputation for possible creation of off-flavors along with potential for negative interactions with co-ingredients such as colors and flavors, technological advances allow dairy processors to increasingly consider omega-3 to fortify products. For instance, to avoid potential for oceanic contaminants that may be present in certain fish or fish oils, Martek derives its new Life’sDHA from the only vegetarian source, microalgae. The sustainable product is created under tightly controlled manufacturing conditions.
Martek’s DHA comes in oil or in microencapsulated powder forms, with new forms in development. Unlike DHA in traditional oil form that require homogenization, spray-dried encapsulated Life’sDHA provides stabilizing matrix that dissolves with simple mixing. Encapsulation provides the DHA with a shield against the external oxidation and transition metal ions such as copper and iron, Artman reports. “All of these formats will increase the convenience for dairy manufacturers to incorporate DHA into their products and improve the shelf life,” he says.
DHA is the key omega-3 for brain and eye development and function, as well as cardiovascular health. It has expanded from the infant formula category to encompass food and beverages for all ages. Ice cream, fluid milk, cheeses and yogurt can (and do) carry DHA; various 2007 U.S. rollouts incorporating Martek’s new Life’sDHA include Breyers Smart! Yogurt launched in July 2007; the Yoplait Kids line for toddlers from General Mills-owned Yoplait USA; and fluid organic and soymilk products including Horizon Organic milk and Silk soymilk from Dean Foods’ WhiteWave Foods division, organic milk from Stremicks Heritage Foods and Odwalla’s Soy Smart line.
But Weight …
Americans are increasingly aware of the need to fight off obesity. The message on dairy product’s ability to help consumers maintain and even lose weight while improving muscle mass is getting out. “There is ample evidence to show that the average consumer is confused about the basics of human health and nutrition.” Taft says.
Renewed interest in calorie-busting no-sugar-added ingredients is expected to create growth area, particularly “given the very high incidence of diabetes and obesity in the American population,” Taft says. “Innovative ways to offer the consumer portion control may actually be the most important factor in the health and wellness category.”
Danisco’s Lindsey agrees: “Portion control continues to be the big thing. … 100 calories per serving seems to be the magic number. We’ve actually created products with fewer calories, and have had processors ask us to increase the calories to hit 100.”
For consumers who need more help to manage their weight, new formulations and products increasingly tap ingredients and formulation variations as new tools to face the challenges and competitors in the weight-loss arena. For instance, DSM rolled out weight-management ingredient Fabuless in 2007. The ingredient — an emulsion of palm and oat oils that promotes satiety, used in products such as cultured dairy drinks — continues to enjoy “significant success throughout the world,” says Rutger van Rooijen, the Delft, Netherlands-based new business development manager of dairy ingredients for DSM Food Specialties.
Fat-replacement ingredients with pleasing sensory attributes such as mouthfeel are a key area for dairy innovation in the year ahead, van Rooijen adds, adding that DSM plans to unveil a “unique fat replacer” for dairy products in the coming year.
Meanwhile, the ongoing trend by school districts and entire states to ban or severely limit soft drinks on campus has created deeper pressure than parental or school district official concerns about childhood obesity, says Rick Stunek, marketing director at Forbes Chocolate, Broadview Heights, Ohio.
Ongoing tweaking of dietary guidelines that impact participation in school foodservice and vending programs leave a question mark, Stunek says. “Many consumers are concerned about sugar intake, but the school milk nutrition review is in actuality driven by soft drink industry pressure,” he says. “To single out milk to cut calories when cafeterias are serving pizza and french fries seems ridiculous and is just an absolute crime.”
Mandated reformulation may reduce allowable sugar content to as low as 22 grams per serving, a proposition that will be difficult at best to achieve without non-nutritive sweeteners, which are increasingly perceived as undesirable on the label, Stunek says. With use of traditional sugars difficult to formulate a marketable product with 22 grams or less of sugar, the choice is narrowed to sucrose, not currently heavily utilized in formulations because of the cost compared to less-expensive high fructose corn syrup, Stunek says. “But sucrose actually makes the best chocolate milk,” he says. “Instead of using sugar to carry the flavor, you need to use to use sugar to enhance the chocolate. That will get you to where you need to go.”
Depending on the base milk fat level, chocolate milk products can carry sugar counts up to 30 grams per serving. Since the “what” and “when’” on potential guidelines is nebulous, the result is stalled expansion of new flavored milk formulations “Everyone is trying to prepare for every contingency,” Stunek says.
With standards expected by late 2008, Stunek says processors should start to consider their options. Processors already utilizing what Stunek dubs a “decent” amount of cocoa rather than relying on sweetener to carry the load will find 25 grams achievable. “It will be difficult to make a chocolate milk product that’s appealing to kids and also comes in at the 22-gram level,” he says. “To get other flavors to that level will border on impossible, at least without impacting the taste.”
Pro-active processors can ratchet down sugar in steps through careful formulation; an initial goal of 25 grams per serving of chocolate milk is very reasonable, Stunek says. “It’s not a crime to take it down to 25 grams of sugar and 150 calories per serving right away,” he says. “You may very well meet the nutritional standards that are decided on, and if nothing else, you will have made an incremental change to getting the kids used to less sugar. Milk has a great opportunity here, the question is do processors have the foresight and the will to market and position their products where they need to be?”
Processors continue to adapt to bottom line challenges driven by dairy solids prices. “Cost reduction while maintaining quality has bulldozed many formulator plans,” Lindsey says. “Over the next year, the cost reductions will be front and center, and will displace product development. The dairy-solids issue is not going away.”
But processors are investing in ingredients, systems and processes that reduce solids yet maintain quality. The combination of new ingredients and technological innovations has helped by create cost-competitive and diverse products, suppliers agree.
Product developers are reducing the fat content of their products with formulations shifts that utilize 1 or 2 percent milk instead of whole milk. The goal is to reduce not only fat and calories, but also the overall cost, David Michael’s Pellichero says.
Products’ caloric content is being dropped by replacing some sugar with artificial sweeteners, and yet another tactic is to replace trans fats with use of healthy fats such as high oleic oils. “The biggest challenge has been replacing the mouth feel and flavor lost after removing the trans fats from products,” Pellichero says.
Ice cream processors have new opportunities to provide products with the texture of “churned” products that don’t involve major retooling. “The slow-churned ice cream products once could only be accomplished with a significant investment in manufacturing,” TIC’s Diehl explains. “Now, stabilizer companies have been able to develop systems that deliver all the creamy, decadent attributes of slow-churned ice cream for processors who choose not to install new equipment.”
Danisco’s new Grindsted® IcePro stabilizer helps create the texture of a slow-churned type product, without the capital investment, Lindsey says. In addition, Lindsey reports testing shows the initial fresh ice cream texture is maintained longer over the course of the shelf life with IcePro products than through processing with double-churned, cold-extrusion equipment.
With dairy prices so high, some processors are even going outside of the ice cream standards of identity to create frozen desserts with fewer solids, a process that can be aided with IcePro. “The big titans out there are already doing it,” she says.
To help reduce dairy solid costs in cultured products such as sour cream, Lindsey notes Danisco has developed custom stabilizer blends and systems that don’t incorporate dairy solids, yet provide a nice set and keep products within the standard of identity.
Significant growth of the lactose-free dairy segment is highlighted by rising consumer roll-outs supported by ingredient innovation, van Rooijen notes. At DSM, this translates to the company’s new pure lactase enzyme Maxilact LG for milk, yogurt and ice-cream applications. Van Rooijen reports it is designed for high-value, clean-tasting and low-lactose dairy products with improved texture, reduced sugar and easy digestibility.
“Continuous developments in ingredients and processes are vital for dairy’s growing role in trend areas such as health and wellness and the ’free-from’ sector,” van Rooijen says.
Clean and Green
The demand for ingredients from organic and natural sources continues to create opportunities and challenges for dairy and the overall food industry.
“There has been a tremendous interest in organic ingredients,” Pellichero says. “Product developers are working toward having their product 95 to 100 percent organic compliant. The challenge for the dairy industry is to not to keep up, but to catch up.”
An indication is found in the speed from Danisco organic line launch to actual sales and delivery to processors. Processors waited in the wings for Danisco’s February 2007 organic certification, and made purchases by March. “There is a lot of traction and interest in organic,” Lindsey says. “Organics is going to grow. With the organic market, even through milk prices are increasing in that area too, there is more room to deal with it.”
One reason is typical organic product consumers are used to paying higher-than-average-prices and are impacted less by dairy increases, Lindsey notes. Meantime, margins provide some to absorb cost fluctuations through, particularly in light of increased competition from newly-certified organic suppliers and producers. It all adds up to helps the industry gain critical mass and creates cost efficiency.
Sustainability reaches beyond the official “organic” designation. For instance, the source of omega-3’s — fish or vegetarian — is expected to become an important consideration for food producers as consumers become more concerned about not only potential fish contamination and allergies, but also sustainability and environmental issues related to over fishing, Martek’s Artman notes.
Dairy applications are at the forefront of product development that supports consumer demand and the science for products geared toward specific health concerns.
“We see key trends in areas such as low-fat products that do not compromise on taste, mouthfeel or texture, natural flavor modification, low salt, clean label, plus health and wellness,” van Rooijen says.
Authentic flavors and consumer-pleasing textures are increasingly crucial to product development efforts. For instance, in the cheese category, newly developed enzymes are already speeding maturation and improving flavor consistency. “The current growing consumer trend is for authentic-tasting cheese flavors, whilst manufacturers are looking for innovative, cost-saving ways to speed up the cheese ripening process,” van Rooijen says. “The challenge is to meet both objectives.”
To help this goal, DSM introduced a range of new cheese ripening enzymes this year that significantly reduce cheese maturation time and eliminates bitter peptides that can form during maturation.
Dairy product ability to compete the overall food industry is ripening on the basis of healthy attributes, cost-efficiencies or upscale products, but industry insiders note there is a long road ahead.
The news about dark chocolate’s antioxidant benefits has quickly — and happily — been embraced by legions of consumers. On the flavor front, chocolate and exotic variations of chocolate will continue to be of interest, Taft says. “When you factor in the potential heath benefits of chocolate, you have a truly hot trend,” he adds.
But Forbes’ Stunek points to missed dairy opportunity in antioxidant-spiked chocolate milks tied into the research pointing to milk as a great recovery drink it is for athletes. “I hate to sit on the sidelines while the beverage companies make a killing,” he says.
For dairies seeking to emulate outside segments, Taft cites impulse beverages as the best example of a category that has embraced delivery of health and wellness benefits. “Dairy is playing catch-up,” he says, “to the vast proliferation of health oriented foods in the marketplace.”
Cathy Sivak is a freelance journalist and a former editor of Dairy Field.