Consumer interest in protein could drive sales of high-protein milks

Consumer interest in protein could drive sales of high-protein milks

For a product that has endured more than half a century of consumption declines in the US market alone, fluid milk is behaving surprisingly energetically these days. A flurry of innovation in new cow's milk products may at last have the potential to revitalise a sector that has been in the doldrums for decades.

Sexy Got Milk ad campaigns aside, it's been a long time since it was 'cool' to drink milk. Consumption of fluid milk in the US has been declining since the 1940s, and each successive generation is consuming less fluid milk. In fact, the share of adolescents and adults that did not drink milk on a given day rose from 41% in 1977-78 to 54% in 2007-08, according to the Economic Research Service (ERS) of the US Department of Agriculture. Even milk aficionados are cutting back. The share of consumers that drank milk three or more times per day dropped from 13% in 1977-78 to just 4% in 2007-08, says the ERS.

But, it's too soon to be counting milk out. Surging consumer interest in functional foods has handed fluid milk a script to reinvent itself. Introductions of nutrient-enhanced fluid milks including protein- and calcium-added variants have picked up, and milk is angling to cash in on the craze toward protein-enhanced foods. Significantly, younger consumers are almost twice as likely as older consumers to try to increase protein consumption. According to Datamonitor Consumer's 2013 Global Consumer Survey, 34% of global consumers in the 15-24 age group said they were trying to consume as much protein as possible versus just 17% in the 65 and older age group.

That could be good news to launches like Arla Extra Protein Vanilla Milk Drink, new in Sweden with 50% more protein than standard milk to help build muscle mass. Arla Foods recommends the milk be consumed just after exercise, heralded as a "good time to stock up on protein". Japan's Meiji Co. is even more explicit about linking fluid milk with fitness, launching its Meiji Sports Milk Functional Milk Drink to its domestic consumers that could be impressed by the fact it contains 1.8 times more milk protein than normal milk. And in the US, Lucerne Foods recently introduced Lucerne Protein Plus Dairy Beverage, with 30% more protein and 30% less sugar than traditional milk. 

As attractive as protein may be in milk, it can sometimes cause digestion issues. New Zealand-based A2 Milk notes that, in the UK, one in five consumers struggle to digest cows' milk. It maintains that is primarily due to the types of protein contained in milk, rather than lactose levels. A2 Milk recently moved into the UK market and is now eyeing the US market for its signature product containing the A2 type of protein - not the A1 protein that dominates in milk produced in Europe and is linked with stomach discomfort.

Calcium has always been the nutritional ace in the hole for milk, but there is always room for improvement. New in Vietnam, Meadow Fresh Calci Max New Zealand Milk is said to be high in calcium and protein. On the same page is PT Greenfields Indonesia with its new Greenfields High Calcium Skimmed Milk, recently launched in Singapore.

More intriguing is new Arla Wellness Female Milk, an Arla Foods launch from Sweden aimed at female consumers as it contains high levels of three nutrients of specific interest to women. Female Milk is said to have twice the folic acid, calcium and vitamin D of 'regular' milk. Interestingly, the product may be heated without losing any of its health properties.

Other 'better for you' fluid milks go even further beyond traditional offerings. In Ireland, Glanbia's Avonmore Heart Active Milk is said to be "proven to reduce cholesterol". Made with added plant sterols, Heart Active claims to reduce blood cholesterol levels by 7-10%, assuming one drinks two to three glasses of milk every day for two to three weeks. And, while it does not make any explicit claims about heart health, Oishi Oaties Milk from the Philippines blends milk with finely-ground oats to deliver the equivalent of one serving of oatmeal.

Another dynamic changing the demand for milk is purity concerns. The use of hormones to raise milk production is driving consumers to milks that do not follow this practice. Organic milk is winning big as part of this move, with organic milk now accounting for 7.5% of all milk sales in the US, says Wisconsin-based Organic Valley. Grass-fed milk is also gaining a foothold, with launches like Ja! Naturlich Hay Milk from Austria, sourced from cows fed a diet of grass or hay.

But, other types of milk could re-define the argument. Camel milk is familiar to consumers in the Middle East, but is unknown to most living outside of that part of the world. That could begin to change with Desert Farms Camel Milk, which comes from small herds of American camels and is new in the US. Camel milk naturally contains 50% less fat and saturated fat than American cows' milk, so there is a health case for camel milk. And, camel milk is also rich in protein, calcium and vitamin B1, with an 8oz glass providing 70% of the daily value of the latter.

Nutrition alone won't grab kids, especially young children, which is where flavour innovation comes in. Flavoured milk today is expanding well beyond chocolate milk to variants like Jellybean and Easter Egg Nog, both new to US consumers from Prairie Farms Dairy. Milk can even play the refreshment game, with Meiji Watermelon Flavored Milk giving Japanese consumers a new way to both cool down and enjoy the goodness of milk.

Add all of these developments up, and the future is looking much brighter than the past for fluid milk.