Thursday, August 25, 2016

Probiotics and Lactose Free: Product Attributes Driving Innovation in the Cultured Dairy Products Sector

According to research by Zenith International, there are a number of trends shaping the future of yogurt and related cultured dairy foods. Two key drivers are probiotics and reduced/lower sugar, with the latter including growth in lactose-free formulations.

In the past couple of years, there’s been an industry shift in the marketing of probiotics in dairy products. While some products do identify strain and cite clinical trials that establish a specific benefit, more products are choosing to simply market the inclusion of probiotics, which a growing number of consumers understand to have a positive effect on health and wellness. 

According to an expert consensus document published in the August 2014 issue of Nature entitled “The International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics consensus statement on the scope and appropriate use of the term probiotic,” the simple term “probiotic” is useful and accepted. The panel recommends that any specific claim beyond “contains probiotics” be further substantiated; however, “contains probiotics” is a useful product descriptor providing that the probiotics meet a more grammatically correct definition, as compared to the 2001 definition issued by FAO/WHO. The minor change now defines probiotics as, “live microorganisms that, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host.”

“This definition is inclusive of a broad range of microbes and applications, while capturing the essence of probiotics, which is microbial, viable and with a documented benefit to health,” says Mary Ellen Sanders, a global authority on probiotics and co-author of the consensus document.

Formulating cultured dairy products with probiotics makes sense, as consumers understand that probiotics are good for them. According to the 2012 Food & Health Survey, commissioned by the International Food Information Council Foundation, 14% of consumers surveyed said they were trying to get more probiotics in their diet. In the 2016 edition of the study, this number jumped to 33%, and is expected to continue growing. (See chart.)

Beyond probiotics, there’s a growing global trend to formulating dairy products, most notably fluid milk, to be lactose free. This is a trend that cultured dairy foods marketers need to embrace.

Lactose-free dairy products appeal to lactose-intolerant consumers, those consumers who are unable to breakdown lactose due to the body’s inability to produce any or enough of the enzyme lactase. Lactase is responsible for converting the disaccharide lactose to galactose and glucose, monosaccharides readily absorbed by the body for energy.

Lactose intolerance is thought to be one of the key drivers of dairy consumers switching to alternative dairy products. To keep them in dairy, processors need to offer lactose-free products.

One way to eliminate lactose is filtration technology, which requires capital investment. Another less committal option is to formulate dairy products with the lactase enzyme. The added bonus of including lactase is that processors can often reduce the amount of added sugars and still achieve the same degree of sweetness in lactose-free dairy products. This also allows for more attractive product labels with claims of reduced added sugars.

The use of lactose-free claims has been rising in recent years, according to research by Innova Market Insights. In the past year, the claim was featured on 6.7% of all global dairy introductions, rising to nearly 11% in the U.S. and 8% in the E.U.
Interest in lactose-free dairy products extends beyond clinically diagnosed lactose intolerant consumers. Many consumers are starting to choose lactose-free dairy products to assist with digestion.

Probiotics and lactose free are complementary and make sense for dairy. To read an article I recently wrote for Food Business News entitled “Cultures and enzymes: clean-label workhorses,” link HERE.

Here are some recent global innovations designed to appeal to the health- and wellness-consumer.

The Collective Dairy in New Zealand adds limited-edition Rhubarb ‘n’ Custard to its gourmet probiotic yogurt line made with natural ingredients. It is free from artificial additives and preservative, as well as gluten, and is described as being suitable for vegetarians.

In South Africa, the Lancewood brand offers a range of cottage cheese products—smooth and chunky—that are preservative free and tout the fact that they contain probiotics.

Dannon is rolling out the Activia Fruit Fusion line to the U.S. marketplace. This 1.5% milkfat probiotic yogurt is also fortified with vitamin D. Most U.S. milk processors voluntarily fortify fluid milk with vitamin D. Adding it to yogurt is not common. Dannon is changing that. The layered Activia Fruit Fusion product comes in four varieties. They are: Blueberry & Blackberry, Cherry & Vanilla, Peach & Mango and Strawberry & Raspberry. The yogurt is sold in four packs of 4-ounce cups.

In South Korea, the Yoplait brand, which has historically not touted the inclusion of probiotics or made any digestive health claims, is rolling out a product called Yoplait By Me. Managed and manufactured by Binggrae, the new cup product comes in no-sugar-added plain, as well as sweetened blueberry and peach varieties. An individual serving claims to contain 50 billion Yo Flex Creamy Lactobacillus cultures for intestinal health.

Back in the U.S., noosa is introducing multiple sweet and spicy yogurt combinations. The “sweet heat” combination is an emerging trend and noosa is one of the first to experiment with it in the refrigerated yogurt category. All noosa yogurt is made in small batches on a family farm in Bellvue, Colorado, with all-natural whole milk from happy cows (not treated with rBGH), fresh fruit puree--made using the ripest, juiciest fruits--and infused with a touch of wildflower honey, and probiotics, according to the company. Six varieties rolled out last month. There are five flavors in 8-ounce cups. They are: Bhakti Chai (limited batch), Blackberry Serrano (This flavor rolled out exclusively in noosa’s home state of Colorado in January. Now it’s available nationwide.), Mango Sweet Chili, Pineapple Jalapeno and Raspberry Habanero. The sixth flavor--Mexican Chocolate--comes in four packs of 4-ounce cups. This flavor combines cinnamon, chocolate and a pinch of chili spice.

Probiotics + lactose free = innovation opportunity.

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