By Geri Berdak and Jeff Zachwieja, Dairy Research Institute

Consumers once defined “healthy” as the “absence of sickness.” However, in today’s world “healthy” is thought of more and more as the “presence of wellness.” It’s evident that views of food, nutrition and snacking are evolving as people realize a nutritious diet and exercise are key to weight management and an active lifestyle.

As part of a health-conscious diet, many consumers perceive protein to be center stage as they strive to manage their weight and maintain a healthy lifestyle.

For the dairy industry, the connection of protein to consumers’ needs for weight management can’t be ignored. When combined with its other essential nutrients, delicious taste and convenience, the natural protein found in milk, cheese, yogurt and other dairy-based products lends itself to food options that can help consumers increase their protein intake throughout the day.

By engaging with consumers about how milk, cheese and yogurt, which are natural sources of high-quality protein, can be part of their weight management plan and providing in-market solutions to meet their needs, the industry can leverage current consumer attitudes and health trends for a sizable business opportunity.

Weight management to be healthy, not hungry

More than half of Americans see health as a status symbol, and 86 percent connect food and good health. Consumers’ quest for longevity, healthy weight and a heightened awareness of the long-term impact of their choices continues to grow. In fact, three in four Americans are concerned about their weight.

But, managing weight isn’t easy. Consumers’ acceptance of rigid diets has fallen steadily over the years as they want to eat right and be healthy — but not be hungry between meals and snacks. That’s where protein comes in. From helping curb hunger to preserving lean muscle, diets higher in protein can offer a helpful solution.

While the largest amount of protein consumed daily by Americans is at dinner, incorporating milk, cheese and yogurt into breakfast and snack occasions is a natural solution for higher-protein diets that may lead to satiety and possible weight management benefits.

In fact, there is science to back this up. Consuming more protein over the course of the day may increase feelings of being satisfied longer between meals and help in weight management. It also may help maintain muscle during weight loss if a person also is on a reduced-calorie diet.

Satiating foods to combat overeating

Spacing protein intake throughout the day also fits within emerging trends. Research shows that 30 percent of consumers eat more frequent, smaller meals versus the conventional three meals per day.3 For the dairy industry, the “mini-meal” mentality opens the door and provides strong grounds for product innovations for healthy snacking. Small, portable items such as low-fat yogurt, cheeses and yogurt-based smoothies can be especially attractive to the weight-watching consumer who aims for moderation and balance between meals.

Satiety-enhancing products, including milk, cheese and yogurt, are piquing health-conscious consumers’ attention in the quest to avoid overeating and maintain a healthy diet. Nearly 75 percent of shoppers are interested in foods that help keep them feeling fuller longer.4 Calorie for calorie, protein can help accomplish this more than carbohydrates or fat.5

In a quantitative survey on satiety, consumers indicated they want to feel full for a variety of reasons, including:
• Reducing cravings for unhealthy snacks
• Helping consume less overall
• Increasing feelings of satisfaction and contentment

In fact, research from the Innovation Center for U.S Dairy shows that consumers rate dairy products as reasonably satiating, on par with oatmeal and soup. And dairy foods are some of the most efficient and affordable sources of nutrition.

Companies that don’t quickly take advantage of this consumer trend and evolve their marketing from simply indicating protein content to touting the quality of the protein or the power of the product’s full nutrient package will be left behind — potentially missing out on major incremental sales.

The Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy, founded by the leadership of dairy farmers, offers a variety of tools on, including messaging support and white papers to help dairy fully realize its protein potential.

3Snacking: Identifying a World of Opportunities for Dairy, Dairy Management white paper; 2010.
4Euromonitor Packaged Facts; Mintel GPD; The 2009 Health Focus Trends Report.
5(IOM reference — see WP key messages doc).