Thursday, May 9, 2019

Strong Inside: That’s Milk Protein!

Photo source: USDEC

The Dairy Protein Messaging Initiative (DPMI) was introduced to the industry at the ADPI/ABI Annual Conference held May 5 to 7, 2019, in Chicago. The DPMI includes creating a conversation about protein in order to fuel shoppers with science-supported knowledge so they can make their own protein decisions. It’s a positive, consumer-insight driven messaging program that was formed by the American Dairy Products Institute (ADPI), Elmhurst, Ill., about a year ago. Today 52 suppliers, associations, trade publications and others in the supply chain are supporting the effort. It is important to note that ADPI, nor the campaign receives dairy industry “check off dollars” from dairy producers.

This campaign fills a void. It is designed to reach younger consumers, flexitarians and women, many of whom may be less loyal to dairy but do want to increase their protein intake. It will, ideally, reposition milk-based proteins for increased impact and sustained growth. 

The DPMI is a positive messaging program based on facts that I believe today’s smart shoppers will embrace and respond. They are smarter than we think.

Quick sidebar. I ran into an old friend last week at Target. Her 10-year-old daughter, after hearing me explain my profession to her mom, proudly shared that her school debate team argued for the benefits of—hold onto to your seats—low-fat chocolate milk in schools. I kid you not!

Later that day at a Kentucky Derby soiree, once again, I described my profession and the field of food science to some party goers. A Baby Boomer male went off on Impossible Burger and how it was fake and he was scared to eat all the chemicals in it.

My point: consumers read and want information to make their own decisions. They start at an early age. And many respect and appreciate the nutrition provided by animal products.

The DPMI is designed to brand milk proteins, positioning whey and casein as The Strong Inside, unique from plant and other protein sources. Much of it is based on Protein Seekers Insight research from FoodMinds, a division of Padilla, a food and nutrition communications and consulting company. The firm’s almost year-long analysis of multiple data sources, including protein conversations in social media showed that “plant” references dominate, with animal protein references mostly about “meat” rather than “dairy.”

This suggests that there’s a void in the conversation. And when there’s a void, it’s important that it get filled with truth from reliable sources, as others may take it upon themselves to fill that void with fiction.

The research also found that when “dairy” was mentioned in these protein conversations, it was mostly in reference to intolerances or avoidances. There were many favorable protein conversations centered around specific “milk proteins,” namely whey, followed by isolate, casein, whey concentrate and milk protein concentrate. Plant protein mentions, on the other hand, tend to get lumped together as simply “plant protein,” rather than a discussion of individual plant sources. (See graph.)

This data suggests that there are likely consumers who purchase foods and beverages formulated with specific milk proteins but don’t even know they come from dairy. These folks do exist. I once wrote about a person I met who believed whey came from a whey plant, not the bricks and mortar type!

“Dairy product producers haven’t done much to respond to the threat of alternative proteins and I am pleased we are now taking on that challenge as an industry,” says Ron Hayes, marketing manager, Idaho Milk Products, a DPMI supporter. “I have seen some great collaborative effort working on this initiative. There is so much good we can say about the benefits of people consuming products with dairy proteins and that makes our message an easy one to support. Providing some myth-busting, science-based evidence in favor of dairy proteins is something the general public really needs to see.”

Grant Prentice, director of strategic insights as FoodMinds, explains, “Consumers are selecting foods based on the quality and purity of the protein ingredients. Our research showed they have a strong desire to make informed choices.”

They need the information. They need to be educated about protein quality. The need to fill this knowledge gap is why dairy ingredient companies have put their support and dollars behind the DPMI campaign.

“Consumers want to make their own choices,” Jason Stemm, vice president at Padilla, affirms. “We need to give them the information to help them make their own choice.”

The Protein Seekers Insight research showed that there was a big opportunity for an all-industry milk protein campaign to inform consumers that the quality of what’s inside is what really matters. It’s not just the grams of protein listed on the packaging. And that’s how “Milk Protein – The Strong Inside” came to be.

“There are three primary buckets to categorize protein seekers,” says Prentice. “More than half (55%) seek out protein because of fitness goals.”

The other two groups embrace protein for its satiating properties or because of a lifestyle-diets they follow. (See graph.) It is paramount that the fitness group gets the message about milk proteins being the stronger proteins.

When testing The Strong Inside campaign with Protein Seekers, interest in consuming more milk proteins increased. Intent to eat more milk proteins came primarily from those who already eat milk proteins but previously had no plans to eat more or less. With this new knowledge on milk protein quality, they now had plans to consume more milk protein. What’s important to note is that their perception and intent of use of plant proteins was relatively unchanged. This is why it’s so important that the milk protein conversation be a positive one. It is not, and cannot be “us” versus “them.”

“We tested messaging against plant proteins, and it did not perform well,” says Stemm. “In fact, our research showed that saying anything negative about plant proteins could result in consumer backlash against milk proteins.”

Veronique Lagrange, director of strategy and business development at ADPI, says, “Plant-based diets are marketed as better-for-you, better for the planet. Ironically, populations with primarily plant-based diets are often malnourished or suffer from deficiencies. The demand for quality animal proteins is booming in emerging economies. Yet, we see a resurgence of vegetarianism in the U.S.”

This is why it is paramount that this be an informative campaign. The science does the talking. 

“The dairy industry has spent the past 20-plus years investing in nutrition research to document the benefits of whey and milk-based proteins,” says Lagrange. “Overall, we estimate that nearly 85% of the studies documenting the benefits of proteins were conducted with milk-based proteins, with only a handful of studies conducted with pea or rice protein.”

Unfortunately, many plant protein companies currently use the milk protein science as if it applied to any protein. This is wrong. All proteins are not created equal. It’s time to share the data and emphasize the unique value of milk proteins.

“I want to stress that our goal in this campaign is not to malign plant-based products or agriculture,” says Blake Anderson, president and CEO of ADPI. “Our campaign will remain positive at all times, yet will seek to refute myths and misconceptions that exist. Milk-based proteins have many desirable attributes, and we will build on this strong platform.”

The Strong Inside campaign, funded through DPMI, is targeted to Protein Seekers who are open to milk products, which is estimated to be about 40% of the adult population. These consumers make purchase decisions based on high-protein food characteristics. More than half (57%) purchase both whole foods and fortified foods, those that may be formulated with milk proteins. This group needs to be educated about the quality of milk proteins to make sure they seek out foods fortified with the “strong inside.” The others (43%) mainly seek out whole food sources of protein. This group may benefit from a better understanding of the naturalness of milk proteins and how they are simply isolated and purified from milk. (See graph.)

“One of the critical pieces to this initiative is sharing what we find with our customers,” says Hayes. “That way, they can focus additional attention on formulating products using dairy proteins.” Did you know that many plant protein products are currently mislabeled and wrongly marketed for their protein content? Products that carry a “good source of protein” claim must provide more than 10% of the Daily Value of protein per serving, while those making an “excellent source of protein” claim must contain more than 20% of the Daily Value. That does not simply translate to 5 grams and 10 grams of protein per serving. It’s 5 grams and 10 grams of “high-quality” protein.

That’s because the Percent Daily Value for protein is determined using the Protein Digestibility Corrected Amino Acid Score (PDCAAS), which is an adjustment for the quality of the protein. It is based on the types and amounts of amino acids in the food as well as the overall digestibility. The PDCAAS values range from 0.0 to 1.0, where values are truncated to a maximum score of 1.00, which cows milk, casein, whey, eggs and soy protein all possess. Most plant protein sources have much lower values. Thus, a yogurt containing 10 grams of milk protein may make an “excellent source of protein” claim. A cultured vegan product with 10 grams of protein from peas and nuts most likely only qualifies for a “good source of protein” claim, and when doing so, should not flag 10 grams of protein per serving, as this is misleading. Further, when making or implying any protein content claim, FDA requires the inclusion of the Percent Daily Value. This substantiates the protein claim. Just check how many plant protein products do not state the Percent Daily Value.

It’s a void, an illegal one at that. Milk proteins have nothing to hide. It’s time to get the message out that “strong is more than grams” and consumers need “more strong in their life.”


  1. Great information! Thanks Donna!

  2. It's good to see a positive and constructive affirmation of milk protein. Thanks Donna!