In Response: Dairy Makeover

October 6, 2010

The dairy industry, it seems, is suffering from an image crisis. The perception of liquid milk has changed in recent years. Instead of the healthiest drink of all, consumers have come to see milk as a drink laden with harmful fats and carbohydrates.

The dairy industry, it seems, is suffering from an image crisis. The perception of liquid milk has changed in recent years. Instead of the healthiest drink of all, consumers have come to see milk as a drink laden with harmful fats and carbohydrates. Current campaigns featuring celebrities may be gaining ground in repositioning milk as a cool choice of drink, but it will take more to revive real confidence in dairy products.

The market has also become increasingly competitive with the emergence of dairy alternatives, as well as supplements and functional foods promising health benefits. To successfully compete in this arena, dairy organizations need to revolutionize the way they work and add value at every milestone of the new-product development process.

There’s also hope in the form of innovation. Technologies are available to identify and isolate the healthy ingredients in milk and make them available for other food, such as cereal, drinks, and supplements. Combining product innovation with technological advancements is key to keeping up with consumers’ increasing need for foods with health benefits-and to securing the long-term growth and survival of the industry.

Added Value for Human Health
A significant trend within the dairy industry has been adding value to milk products. Initially, this was achieved by taste differentiation and product-range extensions. More recently, enriching foods using healthy components from milk has become a key focus for the market.

As well as formulating foods that are better for you, there is the opportunity to find nutritional solutions in milk products to some of the world’s most pressing health issues-early infant development, obesity, diabetes, immunity/infection, and heart health. The dairy industry can make a significant contribution to improving global morbidity and mortality rates, as well as have a substantial impact on health insurance costs. Through nutritional research, the functional food and beverages industries should innovate to improve wellness and quality of life. Moreover, they should communicate those benefits to consumers.

Innovate to Succeed
By applying knowledge from other trades to dairy, the industry will achieve a new dynamic. Techniques such as cellomics are streamlining dairy research and significantly increasing the depth of understanding about nutrition and its effect on individual cells. Developed from the pharmaceutical industry, cellomics, or high-content analysis (HCA), enables a systematic and intelligent approach to leverage existing knowledge and directing the development of new, healthy ingredients from milk. A number of diverse research tools, including protein chemistry, enzyme hydrolysis, fermentation, microbiology, and bioinformatics, are also being used to systematically analyze foods.

Gather Knowledge
Taking time to fully understand dairy ingredients-how they work, what the specific active components are, how they react to certain food matrices and environmental conditions-will pay dividends. After all, there’s no point in spending valuable R&D time (and budget) if the bioactive effects of your ingredient are unworkable or are masked in a real-life situation. Consumers won’t see the health benefits, and your product will have a very limited shelf life, with untold harm done to your brand, too. By truly understanding the functionality of milk, the industry can bring benefits to other products.

Make Your Claim
We strongly believe that health claims start with the consumer’s need and also understanding which benefits are meaningful and attractive. Of course, these claims need to be backed by good science. This needs to stem from a robust, bottom-up approach to innovation, from the design of initial research and clinical trial protocols to the phrasing of claim statements.

Taking this on board means the food innovation process will become more predictable, ensuring less ambiguity and opportunities for criticism from regulatory bodies and providing a pathway to more-robust health claims in the future. High-quality human dietary intervention studies should be used as a matter of course to fully substantiate health claims.