Demand for protein on the part of consumers continues to be strong. According to the American Dairy Products Institute (ADPI), Elmhurst, Ill., 68% of Americans surveyed in 2017 said they wanted to consume more protein, compared to 50% in 2016.

But the dairy ingredients sector has been adversely impacted by protein-related competitive pressures in recent years — namely, from plant-based alternatives. Adding to the issue is the reality that many of the alternative protein suppliers have focused on communications that connect to consumers emotionally, noted Veronique Lagrange, director, strategy and business development for ADPI. Plant-based diets are being marketed as better for consumers and better for the planet.

“Ironically, populations that have primarily plant-based diets are often malnourished or suffer from deficiencies, and the demand for quality animal proteins is booming in emerging economies,” she said. “Yet we see a resurgence of vegetarianism in the United States. Millennials [and] Gen Z consumers are looking for dairy- and meat-free products, and 38% of consumers eat a meatless meal weekly. This is akin to a perfect storm: Demand for proteins plus demand for plants equals growing demand for plant proteins.”

Blake Anderson, ADPI’s president and CEO, noted that dairy ingredients currently account for an estimated 33-35% of U.S. dairy solids.

“What is at stake is the entire ingredient sector: milk powders, milk protein concentrates, whey products and casein/ates,” he said. “Overall, this is a production in excess of 4 billion pounds [a year].”

To help turn things around in dairy’s favor, ADPI members and leaders in the dairy industry created the Dairy Protein Messaging Initiative (DPMI) in 2018 and began raising funds for a consumer-facing campaign. Thus far, 52 suppliers, associations, trade publications and others are supporting the effort, ADPI noted, including Dairy Foods magazine.

The campaign — which begins this spring — fills a void, said Terry Brockman, president and chief operating officer of Saputo Inc.’s Cheese Division (USA). Saputo is a DPMI cosponsor, along with Agropur and Friesland Campina Ingredients North America.

“Little has been done to promote milk-based proteins to consumers in the past 10 to 15 years,” he noted. “This campaign is designed to reach the younger consumers, flexitarians and women who are perhaps less loyal to dairy, but do seek to increase proteins in their diet. It will, ideally, reposition milk-based proteins for increased impact and sustained growth.”

To assist in campaign-related research and campaign implementation, DPMI contracted Minneapolis-headquartered communications agency Padilla and Padilla’s FoodMinds division. In addition to poring through other research, the agencies pulled more than 600,000 protein-related social media/digital conversations, ADPI said, analyzing the data via a theme-based approach. Some of the notable findings include:

  • Conversations around plant proteins were generally positive, with pea proteins mentioned most often.
  • The term “dairy” is generally associated with negative perceptions such as dairy-free and nondairy.
  • Milk as a term has a desirable “aura,” and whey is the most sought-after individual protein.

The agencies also performed custom market research for DPMI, capitalizing on those findings in the development of the strategic element of the digital campaign, ADPI said. Three unique protein-seeking subsets were identified: Fitness (55%), Satiating Hunger (27%) and Lifestyle (18%).

“There are differences between the various consumer segments we surveyed, and the research validated which messages are likely to appeal to them from an emotional perspective and influence their purchasing decisions,” said Grant Prentice, senior vice president, strategic insights for FoodMinds.

The single message found to work among all three groups was that milk-based proteins deliver strength — physical and mental — and not all proteins are created equal, ADPI said. Based on that reality, DPMI created “The Strong Inside, The Stronger Proteins” campaign, which uses “milk proteins” instead of “dairy proteins” in its communications. The campaign will equally promote milk proteins and whey proteins (which boast a high consumer awareness and are highly valued) under the “Strong Inside” umbrella.

“The message has been tested through primary research involving over 1,500 consumers, and it does resonate with the targeted audience,” said Jason Stemm, vice president, Padilla. “They can envision the benefits of milk-based proteins in the many facets of their everyday life.”

In a May 7 panel discussion during the ADPI/ABI 2019 Annual Joint Conference in Chicago, Stemm said the campaign will rely on social media, digital platforms, influencers and other avenues to connect with consumers.

But the completely industry-funded effort could benefit greatly from the support of additional ADPI members and non-members, panelists from the three cosponsor companies said.

“[Industry members] know the value of these proteins, but we don’t stand up and talk about these ingredients,” said Anand Rao, vice president of research and development of ingredients for Agropur, during the panel discussion.

“We thought it was time to stand up and be counted; we need to lead in a positive way,” he added. “And if you believe in it, it’s time for you to stand up and be counted, too.”

Rudy Dieperink, president and CEO of FrieslandCampina Ingredients North America and a panel participant, said his company opted to join because it believed the messaging would be stronger coming from the industry as a whole — instead of individual companies.

Brockman, also a panel participant, agreed.

“It’s a lot more fun to play offense than defense,” he stressed.