Increasing Awareness of the Health Benefits of Dairy Products

This article originally appeared in the November/December 2013 print issue of Food Manufacturing.

Despite strong interest in protein and the health and wellness benefits it provides, mainstream consumers still have a low awareness of dairy foods and ingredients as a good source of quality protein. New protein quality assessment methods will help increase awareness of the value of milk proteins at a time of high consumer and market interest.

Consumer and market demands

Both scientific and consumer research indicate three market areas with significant growth potential for products that leverage dairy’s natural protein power. These trends, as identified by the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy, include the following:

Weight management

By 2020, three out of four Americans will be overweight; and currently, the same proportion of the U.S. population is concerned about their weight. Although exercise and total dietary consumption play a major role in weight management, dietary proteins, particularly those sourced from dairy, can help maintain a healthy body composition.

Food and beverage products that promote or enhance satiety continue to draw the attention of consumers, with nearly 75 percent of shoppers interested in foods that help keep them feeling fuller for longer. In consumer research conducted by the dairy industry, dairy products were viewed by consumers as reasonably satiating — not as filling as meat, pasta, fruit and nuts, but on a par with oatmeal and soup, and more filling than snacks such as cookies and potato chips.This offers an interesting opportunity for dairy proteins in weight management applications.

Sports performance

There is increased awareness of the link between leading an active lifestyle and continued good health; 2.7 million more Americans are exercising now than in 2003, clocking up more than 1 billion hours of exercise each year. With a more active lifestyle typically comes a greater focus on the nutritional needs of the body. No longer the sole domain of body builders and professional athletes, 36 percent of those who exercise say they seek out products that contain protein in order to help build and maintain strong, healthy muscles. Dairy protein has huge potential in this area as a naturally derived, label-friendly ingredient for food and beverages.

Healthy aging

The ‘baby boomer’ generation is redefining aging and retirement; by 2020, active adults over 55 years old will represent 33 percent of the U.S. population, and 66 percent of the income. While this demographic understands the role of protein in a healthy lifestyle, and the benefits of including it in their daily diet, they are still eating well below the recommended daily intake, consuming less than half of the recommended amount. This protein ‘gap’ can lead to loss of muscle mass, or sarcopenia. As people age they have a strong motivation to keep their independence and they see this as being achieved through maintaining strong bones and muscle strength. Dairy protein from leading suppliers such as Glanbia Nutritionals is particularly suited to protein fortification in user-friendly formats like yogurts or bars.

Quality protein

The potential for dairy protein is great. Public awareness and education programs will help consumers fully understand the health benefits that a simple dietary addition of dairy protein can bring. With numerous sources of protein available on the market, it can be challenging for consumers to know the ‘best’ protein source for them. Recent work by the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture organization aims to address this. It recommends a new assessment method that scores proteins based on the bioavailability of amino acids. Its Digestible Indispensable Amino Acid Score (DIAAS) highlights the difference in quality between plant-based proteins and dairy proteins. It also emphasizes that, as a rich source of essential amino acids, dairy proteins complement other proteins.

As further research supports the benefits of dairy proteins for age-related muscle loss, sports performance and satiety for weight management, the case for dairy as a quality protein source continues to gain strength.

The future

With the backing of scientific research and growing consumer trends, dairy proteins provide food manufacturers with an opportunity to use a trusted, natural nutritional source to develop products that shoppers want, and that help provide the health benefits that consumers now demand. As the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy continues to work with the industry to grow consumer acceptance of dairy as a protein source, demand for products powered by dairy’s protein content is set to increase year on year, further adding to their market potential.

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