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Jennifer Grebow is editor-in-chief of Nutritional Outlook.
From overcoming high-protein challenges to delivering lactose-free options, dairy protein suppliers continue to serve the market’s needs.
Dairy protein ingredients are rising to the food and beverage market’s hottest consumer product trends. At June’s Institute of Food Technologists’ (IFT) Annual Meeting and Food Expo, dairy protein suppliers and representatives told Nutritional Outlook that their goal is to ensure that dairy proteins not only provide gold-standard protein nutrition but can overcome formulators’ biggest manufacturing challenges.
Taste and Texture
Although dairy proteins tend to have a good taste and texture profile, formulating challenges arise when developing products with very high levels of protein. These challenges-and the need to overcome them-are here to stay as the high-protein trend only continues to grow especially among everyday consumers. Among mainstream consumers, the sensory experience of these products will continue to be mission critical.
“With the mainstreaming of protein, consumers are very focused not only on the nutritional value but also on the taste and texture of the food products they’re buying. It makes up a significant part of the purchase decision,” said Arron Harford, head of global solutions, sports & active lifestyles, for Fonterra’s NZMP brand (Hamilton, New Zealand), at IFT. Harford said his company continues to focus on developing ingredients with better taste and texture in the broader range of high-protein products consumers are seeking today, including ready-to-drink beverages (RTD) and bars.
At IFT, for instance, NZMP highlighted its SureProtein Crisps. These crunchy, extruded ingredients not only add an additional source of protein to snacks, bar, cereals, and other applications, but can also help to reduce bar hardening-a key challenge when it comes to high-protein bars. At the show, the company featured samples of an “All Whey Crunch Bar” featuring the SureProtein 600 dairy protein crisps as well as SureProtein WPC515 whey protein concentrate and offering 21 g of whey protein overall. “Crisps bring another taste and texture to fortified foods, so it enables our customers to formulate products that appeal to different consumers’ taste preferences and texture preferences.”
At IFT, NZMP also highlighted its innovative solutions for protein beverages. Acidic beverages in particular can be a challenge for dairy proteins. During the show, the company featured a prototype peach-flavored whey protein water containing SureProtein 8855 clear whey protein isolate that enables beverages to remain clear at formulations with a pH below 3.7.
Overall, Harford said, “We’re trying to resolve some of the issues with manufacturing higher-protein foods and beverages. One of the issues that some RTD manufacturers face is when trying to formulate a high-protein whey beverage or a milky whey beverage where typically protein will denature at high concentrations and at high temperatures. NZMP has developed a solution, SureProtein WPC 550 whey protein concentrate, that is heat stable. We can formulate up to 9% protein level in a neutral RTD.” Combinations of different proteins, he added, also help to solve problems.
Harford said his company continues to innovate. “You’re starting to see high-protein pancake mixes and high-protein muffin mixes on the supermarket shelf. You also see more high-protein desserts now.” At IFT, the company showcased a high-protein pudding with 20 g of protein and featuring the company’s milk protein concentrates. The company also distributed bar and beverage prototypes catered to the sports nutrition market, including a Fast Milk Protein chocolate milk containing the company’s SureProtein Fast MPC 4868 milk protein concentrate and designed to provide greater bioavailability of leucin and other branched-chain amino acids in order to support muscle recovery more quickly.
At IFT, Milk Specialties Global (Eden Prairie, MN) combined two major consumer trends-lactose-free dairy and cold-brew coffee-in one hot product prototype.
The cold-brew coffee drink featured the company’s new Zerlac range of high-protein, lactose-free dairy proteins-available in either whey protein isolate (WPI90, for ready-to-mix drinks), milk protein isolate (MPI90, for RTDs), or a bar format-and containing 90% of protein. “These well-rounded ingredients contain all the essential amino acids to help promote muscle and bone health, satisfy hunger, and provide a great-tasting product, all while removing the possibility of consumer discomfort,” the company says.
At IFT, Michael Hiron, vice president of sales, Milk Specialties Global, talked about the growing demand for lactose-free. “Typically when we come to trade shows, we look at what’s trending. At the moment, one of the things that has been top of our customers’ priority list is lactose-free.” He suspects that part of the reason more consumers are asking for lactose-free is because “they feel that it’s clean label.”
Milk Specialties also took into account the very trendy ketogenic and cold-brew movements when creating its IFT beverage prototype, the lactose-free keto cold brew with Zerlac and high-dairy-fat content, containing 21 g of protein.
Hiron pointed out that while trends coming and go-although he notes that the keto diet trend has shown real staying power-consumers who seek lactose-free products will likely continue doing so for the long term. “If someone is lactose intolerant,” he said, “they’re lactose intolerant. For life.”
He continued: “Plant proteins cannot give you the taste, texture, or mouthfeel that dairy proteins do. But if you cannot consume dairy products, then we have to find our way around that.”
Merris Greiber, senior marketing manager for the company, added: “Dairy is approximately 75%-80% of the protein base for any high-protein claim right now. Plant is getting a lot of focus, but dairy-based or animal-based protein is really the core ingredient. People know how to work with it, and they make really, really good products, so we’re able to give them that dairy or the lactose-free claim.”
Also, focusing on the popular high-protein bar market, at IFT, the company also showcased its BARsoft ingredient in a chocolate peanut butter protein bar. BARsoft is a blend of dairy proteins designed to maintain a soft texture in high-protein bars.
Said Hiron: “I think the important thing is that as an ingredient supplier, we’re presenting concepts that are representing trends in the market, and I think our customers have to rely more on us to help them understand what their customers are going to need as well.”
Thinking Outside of the Box
At IFT, the U.S. Dairy Export Council (USDEC; Arlington, VA) did what it does best at the show each year: demonstrate new, unexpected uses for dairy protein ingredients.
“We’re highlighting two different prototypes this year,” said Kristi Mika Saitama, vice president, team lead, Southeast Asia, for USDEC, at the show. “Both of our prototypes reinforce the theme that consumers not only want to care about their health, but they also want to discover new taste, new adventures, and new international flavors. Both of them have an international appeal to them, but are protein-fortified products.”
The first prototype was a calamansi lime-flavored protein gel snack, harkening the “jelly” snacks popular in Southeast Asia. Delivering 13 g of protein, the gel snack contained whey protein isolate. The second prototype was a “protein-powered” curry hummus containing whey permeate as a way to increase the protein in this popular food item.
“Spicing up the widely popular hummus with the power of U.S. dairy ingredients demonstrates how blending dairy proteins with vegetable-based options multiplies the benefits,” USDEC stated in press materials. “The addition of high-quality milk protein doubles the protein content while complementing the flavor and texture. Further kick it up a notch using a zesty curry seasoning-made with U.S. permeate-to make this satisfying snack or spread irresistible to today’s adventure-seeking consumer.”
Saitama said these sample shows that formulators can go beyond just high-protein bars and beverages. Creating more ways for consumers to get high-protein products also serves groups like kids and seniors. For seniors who have trouble swallowing pills, providing easy-to-eat foods infused with protein helps.
Moises Torres-Gonzalez, PhD, director of nutrition research for the National Dairy Council (Rosemont, IL), added: “We’re trying to show different ways to incorporate protein in different food products because we know that consumers are still very interested in that. And also, believe it or not, there’s still the perception that protein is only for physical activity, for sports nutrition. But here, we’re demonstrating that, ‘No, it can be for everyone.’”
Saitama said that data from Innova Market Insights shows that while the global total number of product launches with whey protein set a new record in 2017 (up 6.6% from the year before), the sports nutrition share of those products, while still the number-one usage segment is falling, meaning not that sports nutrition uses are declining, but that the use of whey proteins in other types of products is growing. This is thanks in part to new usage occasions such as higher-protein breakfast items, as well as pizzas with protein-fortified crust or protein-coated almonds.