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Originally Published NO January/February 2010
As the new year begins, so do New Year's resolutions and the pledges of many to improve their diets. To help consumers make healthier food choices, every five years the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Department of Health and Human Services jointly issue their Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA). The new version of the DGA, last updated in 2005, is expected to be released later this year.
The DGA provides Americans with authoritative advice about dietary habits that can promote health and reduce risk of major chronic diseases. The guidelines can also help to drive and position product innovation, as manufacturers develop new foods and beverages to help consumers meet updated guidelines.
The 2005-released DGA recommends specific daily servings of nutrient-rich foods within the five main food groups-fruits, vegetables, grains, meat and beans, and milk.1 These recommendations are based on caloric levels, age, and gender.1 Specifically for the dairy food group, the current DGA recommends three daily servings of fat-free/low-fat milk or equivalent milk products. And, as recent studies show, in their search for functional food products, consumers may be only happy to comply with this recommendation.
According to a May 2008 Mintel report, U.S. consumer interest in functional foods increased by 63% from 2002 to 2007. Dairy foods represent 75% of total functional food sales in the United States.2 In fact, consumers consider dairy foods as a top functional food, according to the International Food Information Council's (IFIC) 2009 Food and Health Survey.3,4 What does this mean? As consumers continue to purchase more functional foods, dairy products may be an area of particular interest.
"Consumers already see dairy as a highly nutritious product, and thus, adding functional ingredients to an already healthy product is an easy transition," says James Layne, vice president of strategic initiatives at Dairy Management Inc. (DMI; Rosemont, IL). "They are receptive to adding functional ingredients to dairy products like milk and yogurt and are learning more about the additional health benefits that may be provided. This is, in practical terms, the next best step for product innovation."
The IFIC report revealed that taste, price, and healthfulness are the top three factors currently driving food-purchase decisions.4 Consumers can benefit from the nutrients found in dairy, and the addition of functional ingredients-keeping an eye on taste, price, and healthfulness-may help brands to create new products that keep them competitive.
Many companies and manufacturers are working to develop or enhance products so that they are nutritious and appealing to consumers. Shamrock Farms Dairy, a family-owned and -operated dairy in Phoenix, worked closely with DMI to develop and launch a new protein-fortified milk.
"The product has been well received by consumers and our trade customers, with sales exceeding our expectations," says Sandy Kelly, director of marketing at Shamrock Farms. "In fact, not only have we more than doubled our original volume projections, the product has brought incremental users to the category and opened up new channels of trade."
To meet consumer demand, the company has expanded the line to include strawberry and vanilla flavors, in addition to its chocolate flavor.
Kelly adds, "Developing products that are fortified with added nutrients may benefit not only manufacturers with a potential increase in sales, but also, such products may be what consumers are looking for when choosing healthy foods and beverages."
Adding Functional Ingredients
Food and beverage manufacturers have begun to add functional ingredients such as probiotics and omega-3 fatty acids to a variety of yogurts, cottage cheese, and low-fat flavored milks to help improve their nutritional value. These products not only provide additional health benefits but also may be counted as one daily serving of a fat-free/low-fat dairy product, to help consumers reach the current three servings per day recommended by the DGA.
Probiotics have been defined by the World Health Organization and the Food Agriculture Organization as "live microorganisms, which when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host."5 Research has shown that certain strains of probiotics may be beneficial to digestive health.5
Fermented dairy products such as yogurt appear to provide an ideal environment for these bacteria, with the cold storage temperature of dairy products appearing to help the bacteria remain stable.5 A dairy product like yogurt may also help protect bacteria by acting as a buffer against stomach acid.5
Omega-3 fatty acids such as docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) are other functional ingredients being added to dairy products such as milk, yogurt, and various cheeses. Omega-3 DHA and EPA are associated with heart health.6
Another growing area of consumer interest is foods or components of foods that may be associated with maintaining healthy brain function.2 Research suggests that omega-3 DHA may help support brain health.7 With the consumer interest and supporting research increasing for the association between DHA and brain health, expect this to be a fast-emerging area in the functional food market.2
Dairy's Nutrient-Rich Package
Because consumers already associate dairy products with health benefits, fat-free/low-fat milk or equivalent milk products, recommended by DGA1, may be an ideal vehicle for delivering functional ingredients.
Dairy products contain nine essential nutrients (calcium; potassium; phosphorus; protein; vitamins A, D, and B12; riboflavin; and niacin, niacin equivalents). Dairy foods also supply four of the seven nutrients reported by the 2005 DGA to be limited in the diet of the U.S. population-calcium, potassium, magnesium, and vitamin A.1 Dairy products provide approximately 65% to 83% of calcium to the diet.8 Vitamin D–fortified milk is the major provider of vitamin D in the American diet.9 Studies show that dairy foods, when consumed as part of a healthy diet, improve overall diet quality and may help to reduce the risk of osteoporosis10-13, hypertension14-20, obesity21-25, colon cancer26-29, and metabolic syndrome22, 30-34-a cluster of conditions that can lead to heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
Consumers already correlate dairy with health and nutrient benefits. Manufacturers can maximize the value of dairy products by incorporating functional ingredients and promoting their products to consumers as a way to help meet recommended daily servings of a specific food group, nutrient, or vitamin.
View article references online at www.NutritionalOutlook.com/1001/dairy
Amy Peca is a nutritional science student at Pennsylvania State University. Susan Zaripheh, PhD, is director of nutrition research, science and innovation group, for Dairy Management Inc. (DMI; Rosemont, IL). Gregory D. Miller, PhD, is executive vice president of research, regulatory, and scientific affairs for DMI. Miller is also executive vice president of science and research for the National Dairy Council and a Master of the American College of Nutrition.