Arla has launched liquid milk containing 50% extra protein

Arla has launched liquid milk containing 50% extra protein

The dairy category has been one of the hotspots for protein-focused NPD in recent quarters, as manufacturers look to tap into rising demand for foods packed with the nutrient. Dean Best looks at the products launched and what else could be on the horizon.

Data in the industry indicates dairy is behind only snacks as the category that has seen the biggest wave of new products launched touting protein attributes. Mintel has published figures that claim dairy accounted for 19% of the launches of 'high protein' food and drink products worldwide between 2012 and 2014. Only snacks, representing 23% of new products, was ahead of dairy.

Of course, much of the activity has been within the yoghurt segment. That has perhaps been most evident in the US, where demand for protein-packed products has been a key factor in the boom in Greek yoghurt in the market.

Yoghurt manufacturers, more used to marketing at women, who have traditionally dominated consumption, have sought to capitalise on the growing interest among mainstream male consumers through product development and good old-fashioned marketing.

"In the US, beginning in 2013, we started to promote our Oikos brand as a protein alternative, although this is not the exclusive focus of the brand in the US," a spokesperson for Danone's US arm says. "A focus on the protein content of our Greek yogurt is one way to further attract men in the US to enjoy yoghurt every day."

In the US, Danone has run ads in men's magazines and, in the last fortnight, the French food group has run a TV ad for its Danio yoghurt brand in the UK aimed squarely at men (without a woman in sight).

In the US, Danone may have had an eye on a new brand launched in 2012 that claimed to be the first Greek yoghurt developed for men. Powerful Yogurt, set up by former Alpina executive Carlos Ramirez, has since launched a range of protein bars and is about to roll out a line of protein drinks.

And a number of industry watchers believe it is the protein dairy drinks segment that could be the next burgeoning area for product development.

"One of the hot spots for the future is likely to be high protein dairy drinks that provide protein for weight management or function as meal replacements," Tom Vierhile, innovation insights director at Datamonitor Consumer, says. "This sector is still in its infancy, and it appears there is a lot of interest in products like [Hormel Foods'] Muscle Milk and new competitors in this space. Smoothies are another sector likely to prosper in the future thanks to rising interest in protein as well as efforts to consume more fruits and vegetables."

In Europe, there have been launches from the likes of Arla Foods, with its Arla Extra Protein Vanilla Milk Drink, which has 50% more protein than standard milk. Arla, Vierhile says, recommends the milk be consumed just after exercise.

In Japan, Meiji Co. has rolled out its Meiji Sports Milk Functional Milk Drink that contains 1.8 times more milk protein than normal milk. 

Looking at the UK market, David Faulkner, global food and drink analyst at Mintel, says there have already been signs in the UK of increased innovation in the dairy drinks segment.

"Protein has failed to make the same inroads into the dairy drinks category, with only a small number of niche producers looking to tap into interest in this area. There has, however, been a glut of innovation in the first half of 2014, signalling that the segment may be about to better take advantage of milk's inherent and fashionable health benefits. Many have been targeted at sports performance, though more lifestyle-orientated benefits are also being adopted to appeal to a wider audience," Faulkner says.

Faulkner points to the launch of the Upbeat dairy drink brand in the UK by Volac unit The Good Whey Co., which the analyst says is one of a number of drinks promoting the benefit of satiety when consuming the product.

And protein is an attribute being promoted on the rising number of breakfast drink products to hit the market. This summer in the US, Post Holdings rolled out its Goodness-To-Go breakfast shakes, which contain 15g of protein. Kellogg's To Go breakfast shakes, launched in 2013, include 10g of protein.

Faulkner argues more breakfast drinks should be touting their protein content. "Such innovations are expected to continue to grow given that 53% of UK consumers agree that dairy-based drinks with added protein or oats make a good breakfast. However, more of these brands should be prominently highlighting their protein content, particularly given growing understanding of the importance of protein in the morning," he said.

Yoghurt makers have still been demonstrating continued innovation in the protein space - and ingredients like oats are being increasingly used.

"The latest trend in yoghurt and protein enhancement is the addition of ingredients like oats and seeds like chia to help bolster health claims and add more potential appeal to consumers," Vierhile says. "The latter has become a recent favourite, and helps both yoghurt products and yoghurt drinks ramp up the protein content without relying exclusively on dairy proteins. Chia also adds texture and may also help signal to the consumer that a product may be less processed and better for you by virtue of the use of this ancient grain."

Vierhile highlights the recent launch of products including Chobani Greek Yogurt Oats, which the company described as a "a cup of protein-, grain- and fibre-packed nourishment for those looking to start their day off right".

The Datamonitor Consumer analysts believes the prospects for protein-enriched products in the dairy sector remain strong. "The outlook for protein going forward remains positive," he says. "Dairy producers are likely to become increasingly aggressive in promoting the relatively high protein content of dairy products relative to other foods."