How can dairy keep its edge?

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How can dairy brands remain relevant faced with criticism of their environmental impact and consumers’ rising interests in alternatives such as plant-based dairy? It is clear that in order to stay relevant in consumers’ lives, dairy brands need to restore their health credentials. One option could be for brands to develop blends of plant-based and dairy milk, as data shows that European consumers would be interested in products that offer the ‘best of both worlds’. Caroline Roux, Global Food & Drink Analyst at Mintel, explains how dairy can keep its edge by focusing on protein quality, new drink formulations and digestive health.

Caroline Roux, Mintel

How can dairy stay in the consumer’s focus? What kind of claims resonate with consumers?
“The health and sustainability credentials of dairy in general, and yogurt in particular, have come under scrutiny with the rise of plant-based dairy. In some of the largest dairy markets, consumption per capita is decreasing. According to Mintel, among French yogurt buyers aged 16 to 24 years old, 36% are actively reducing their consumption of yogurt to stay healthy. And in the UK, 30% of Millennial milk consumers think that dairy farming has a negative impact on the environment.”

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“To stay relevant in consumers’ lives, dairy brands need to restore their health credentials. By tangibly reducing their environmental footprint and improving their sustainability credentials, dairy brands will encourage consumers to reappraise – maybe even reinforce - their health credentials. Indeed, consumers increasingly associate sustainable food with ‘better-for-you’ food”.

What interesting new product launches have you seen recently?
“For the last 3 years, Mintel has been flagging to their clients the opportunity for brands to develop blends of plant-based and dairy milk. Based on our data, we know that European consumers would be interested in products that offer the ‘best of both worlds’. For example, brands can offer the creaminess of dairy milk and the protein benefits associated with nuts. Manufacturers can also leverage the naturally occurring calcium available in cows’ milk in conjunction with the taste of nuts and seeds. Such a blended product has just been launched in the US by Live Real Farms. There will be more of these blends in the years to come.”

Is protein the main health benefit of dairy as seen by consumers?
“No, protein is not the main health benefit of dairy. But it is a compelling one, alongside calcium and ferments. Consumers might be motivated to eat yogurt for its protein content, but they are not necessarily looking for a high content. According to Mintel, 20% of British yogurt eaters claim they consume yogurt to get more protein in their diet, yet they are only marginally more likely to buy high-protein yogurt than standard yogurt.”

“It is worth noting that some consumers, particularly in Italy and France, worry about an excess of protein in their diet, as well as the ingredients that have been added to food/drink products to make them high in protein. In fact, 56% of Italian consumers believe that eating too much protein is bad for their health.”

How do you see the protein trend evolve?
“To stand out in a crowded market, brands will start communicating on protein quality, not quantity. Although education on protein quality will be required to convince consumers, the idea will appeal to those who are not particularly looking to increase their intake of protein but believe that a healthy and balanced diet provides the amount of protein the body needs.”

“The message around protein quality will also appeal to consumers who are eating high-protein food/drink but claim that they do not check protein per serving, most likely because they have limited understanding of the recommended daily allowance.”

Dairy drinks are gaining momentum. Why is there such an interest in this category and what interesting functional ingredients have you seen added to boost interest?
“Calcium and fibre might become the ‘next protein’. Reduced dairy consumption might lead to calcium deficiency, particularly among children and teenagers. According to Mintel, 29% of Irish milk drinkers aged 16-24, for example, drank less milk and more dairy alternatives in the last year for health reasons.”

“To make their products work harder, dairy products can focus on absorption. Some nutrients like vitamin D and lactose help with absorption. Also, adding nutrients that are synergistic would be something worth exploring: for example, adding ingredients that are rich in vitamin C like orange or red pepper extracts to boost absorption.”

What innovations have you seen recently in terms of dairy and digestive health?
“Digestive health matters to consumers. According to Mintel, 68% of UK consumers agree that actively looking after gut health is essential for overall health. Brands are already on the case and the number of patent applications filed annually pertaining to gut health is growing. A number of companies associated with food and drink are also active patent holders.”

“To improve consumers’ digestive health, brands can help them boost their intake with convenient and tasty food and drink. In many countries, fibre intake is below the recommended amount as consumers struggle to incorporate enough fibre-rich foods into their diet. Fibre has started to appear in various categories (e.g. juice, water), which will help raise awareness and interest among consumers”.

What are your predictions for the F&B industry over the next 3-5 years?
“The industry is becoming political matter. Consumers are pushing brands to take responsibility on their behalf. Companies are expected to do the right thing and caring about the environment is on the priority list. To regain consumers' trust, large global players are making ambitious commitments to fix the ‘broken food system’. They claim to invest in the future of food, for example by supporting ‘purpose-driven companies that want to deliver better food to more people’".

“The biggest challenge the dairy industry is going to face is to encourage consumers to keep consuming dairy when they hear everywhere that more sustainable and healthy alternatives are available”.

Don’t miss Caroline Roux’s ‘Focus on Protein’ during the Dairy Master Class at the Fi Conference on 3 December at 14:15.