Previously, functional dairy drinks tended to provide digestive and immune support benefits, but they’re now offering a much wider range of benefits to enhance consumers’ lifestyles. Many of these dairy drinks contain whey protein ingredients.
There’s a good reason for this. Whey protein has a superior nutritional quality than any other form of protein. More and more clinical documentation is emerging showing that it offers higher muscle building potential compared with other forms of protein. In addition, several recent studies support the health benefits of whey protein in terms of addressing metabolic syndrome and cardiovascular diseases.
One of the key trends in functional dairy drinks right now is the emergence of sports nutrition as a mass market category. It has evolved from being a niche bodybuilding-focused market to become a mainstream category that resonates with general consumers who are interested in maintaining a healthy diet and active lifestyle. As a result, sales of drinks containing high-percentage content whey proteins such as WPC 80, whey protein isolates and whey protein hydrolysates, are in strong growth right now.
Demand for effective weight management is another major driver for functional dairy drinks. With or without approved health claims, protein has a reputation for efficacy in this category, which is underpinned by the many studies that have shown that a high-protein diet is far superior in terms of maintaining a healthy bodyweight.
Protein has always been included in the meal replacement shakes used in weight loss plans, but now we’re seeing good growth in functional dairy drinks containing protein that offer consumers a weight management solution designed to fit into a normal, healthy diet.
Functional dairy drinks that promote healthy ageing are also on many people’s radar at the moment, fuelled by worldwide growth in ageing populations made up of active seniors who want to stay that way.
Naturalness is another big trend across the whole food and beverage market, including the functional dairy drinks category. Natural functional ingredients like whey protein are perceived as healthy by consumers in most markets around the world.
Consumers of all ages and backgrounds are increasingly seeking out products that can help them maintain a healthy diet and an active lifestyle. In particular, they recognise the benefits of including whey protein in their diets to achieve this. It means, for example, that beverages containing whey protein are no longer the preserve of hardcore sports enthusiasts.
A clear sign that consumer knowledge and understanding have developed in this direction is that most manufacturers marketing functional dairy drinks with protein now usually state not just the protein content of their product on the label, but also the source of the protein. This is because they know consumers want the benefits of high quality protein.
Highly significant for this trend is a report just published by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), which has backed a new method for determining the quality of dietary proteins. The FAO has said it recommends that the more accurate Digestible Indispensable Amino Acids Score (DIAAS) should replace the previous PDCAAS test.
Fractionation of whey proteins now allows us to create high-protein, low viscosity solutions, which has traditionally been a big challenge in dairy beverages. In the past, drinks with a high protein content have tended to become thick and grainy, but experts at Arla Foods Ingredients’ application centre in Denmark have worked out how to address this, so that creating functional dairy drinks with high protein content and great taste and texture are now a reality.
The obesity crisis has prompted many dairy drink manufacturers to reformulate their products, concentrating on cutting down fat and sugars in their beverages. However, the challenge when doing this is to ensure consumers still enjoy these products, otherwise they will simply stop buying them. To help with this, Arla Foods Ingredients’ has developed Nutrilac CH-4560, a breakthrough ingredient containing fractionated and modified whey particles that simulate fat in low-fat solutions in dairy beverages.
Other recent ingredient launches for functional dairy drinks by Arla Foods Ingredients include
However, whey protein is, by its nature, sensitive to heat, so one of our next challenges is to create more whey ingredient solutions that are heat-resistant and can be used in a wider range of UHT products. We are working on this right now in our application centre and making excellent progress, as highlighted by the launch of Lacprodan DI-7017.
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