By Geri Berdak and Jeff Zachwieja

By 2020, adults age 55 and older will represent 33 percent of the U.S. population. This population is flagged as one that can benefit from higher protein intake, creating a market ripe with opportunities for the dairy sector to create and offer relevant products targeting this group.

Today, some consumers are looking at health and wellness more holistically, which may include managing their weight or enhancing their exercise and sports performance. (See "Powering dairy growth with protein: weight management" and "Powering dairy sales with protein: Sports performance.") Concurrently, baby boomers are embracing health and wellness as a way to maintain independence and live better, instead of simply living longer.

Baby boomers aren’t sitting still; they are out on the golf course, biking with their grandchildren or traveling the world. To keep this active generation on the go, a nutritionally balanced diet higher in protein can help maintain muscle and bone health through the years. Though active older adults recognize the value of protein in their diet, many don’t connect milk, cheese and yogurt with protein.

The Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy® (established under the leadership of America’s dairy farmers) identified healthy aging as an area for tremendous growth in the dairy industry, specifically because Americans over age 51 are currently consuming less than half of the recommended daily intake of dairy each day.3

In addition, an estimated 30 percent of people over age 60, and more than 50 percent of those over age 80, may experience a loss of muscle mass and strength. Fortunately for our industry, with the right education, aging adults can turn to the protein in dairy products as a potential solution for preserving muscle.

Pumping up protein intake

In recent years, we’ve seen baby boomers redefine aging and retirement. Their “golden years” are a time for fulfillment, rather than decline, and most understand that protein is a part of the equation, but they don’t understand that milk, cheese and yogurt are sources of protein. 

Qualitative research demonstrates that people have strong motivations to maintain independence as they age, and many easily connect maintaining strong bones and preventing muscle loss during aging — and the role of protein in doing so — with a goal for independence.

Most consumers, including baby boomers, believe they have control over their future health and that food can improve it. In one study, nearly half of consumers surveyed have changed their diet to avoid or treat health issues.1 For baby boomers, eating healthy foods and beverages is a way to:
• Avoid sickness and disease (67 percent)
• Lose or control weight (65 percent)
• Feel more energetic (56 percent)2

Some experts suggest spacing protein intake throughout the day can optimize how the body uses protein.

Innovating to tap into the healthy aging market

If baby boomers aren’t sitting still, the dairy industry shouldn’t either. To fulfill the needs of this significant consumer segment, we must start innovating now to show the value of protein and other essential nutrients found in milk, cheese and yogurt products.

Protein is a high-priority market opportunity to grow sales, and the Innovation Center and Dairy Research Institute are focused on helping dairy businesses capture their share.

For example, the Dairy Research Institute recently launched its third-annual New Product Competition to generate fresh, innovative ideas on how to meet the needs of the baby boomer consumer. This year’s competition invites college and university students to develop a new dairy or dairy-based product that appeals to the baby boomer population. Through this innovation competition, the Dairy Research Institute is encouraging the product developers of tomorrow to showcase novel ways to use dairy proteins, calcium and other nutrients in products that help meet healthy aging needs.

Plus, the Innovation Center offers resources for marketing departments looking to enhance their communications with the aging population about their options for high-quality protein found in cheese, milk and yogurt. Visit for healthy aging resources and messaging to start this conversation now.


  • The 2009 Health Focus Trends Report (Protein Market Insights Presentation)
  • RRUS 2009 Spring Core, QF06, F07, B01 (online); RRUS TeleCell July 2009, Q25 (phone)
  • Dairy Research Institute, NHANES 2009-2010
  • Paddon-Jones D, et al. Role of Dietary Protein in the Sarcopenia of Aging. Am J Clin Nutr May 2008:87:5;1562S-1566S