Dairy innovation: claim culture

By Lynda Searby

- Last updated on GMT

EU claims: the number of launches with a digestive health claim continues to increase, research has found
EU claims: the number of launches with a digestive health claim continues to increase, research has found

Related tags: Milk, Europe

Health claims are becoming an ever more prevalent feature in dairy.

Key points

Even though the lack of an approved claim under the EU’s Nutrition and Health Claims Regulation (NHCR) framework precludes the use of the term ‘probiotic’, it isn’t deterring dairy firms from including beneficial bacteria in their formulations.

“It is a hindrance to customers’ marketing, but we are not seeing the death of the category,”​ says Lars Bredmose, senior director for fresh dairy at Chr Hansen.

“In fact, probiotics have recently started to come back, but with more subtle marketing – labelled, for example, as ‘good bacteria’,”​ he adds.

Reflecting the way consumers still appear to be willing to embrace products with gut health claims – whether approved by the EU or not – there is now a clear industry focus on dairy products of all kinds to fulfil specific health needs.

Products marketed with digestive health, high protein, sugar reduction and energy boosting claims are outperforming those without such claims – and it’s a trend that doesn’t look like changing any time soon.

Digestive health claims increase (return to top)

Despite the difficult regulatory environment, recent research shows that the number of launches with a digestive health claim continues to increase, according to Beneo marketing director Thomas Schmidt.

“Companies have been very creative in further promoting digestive health, for example, using ‘live cultures’ instead of ‘probiotics’ or softer claims, such as ‘enjoy while you make your stomach smile’,”​ he says.

This suggests that, thanks to the foundations laid by the likes of Danone and Yakult a few years ago, consumers are still making the link between yogurt and digestive health.

Indeed, according to Mintel, more than half of yogurt consumers across the major European markets associate yogurt and/or yogurt drinks with digestive health benefits.

“It appears that strong associations remain, despite the European Food Safety Authority’s prohibition against probiotic and digestive health claims.

“While consumers might not know specifically what probiotics are or how they work, they do still associate yogurt with digestive health,”​ says Jennifer Zegler, global food and drink analyst at Mintel.

Other gut health ingredients (return to top)

With consumers making this connection between yogurt and digestive health, the way is now paved for other gut health ingredients.

Maria Pavlidou, DSM’s head of communications for human nutrition and health, Europe, the Middle East and Africa, believes that consumers “expect”​ a digestive health benefit from yogurts, but, given the claim restrictions on probiotics, manufacturers will become more creative with their ingredient choices.

“We will see more products containing fibre, which is known for helping digestion,”​ she predicts.

DSM’s OatWell oat beta-glucan is one such ingredient that could be “used nicely”​ in dairy, as it has an EU-approved claim for digestion, Pavlidou adds.

Earlier this year, the EU authorised an article 13.5 health claim submitted by Beneo, Sensus and Cosucra Groupe Warcoing in respect of inulin derived from chicory root fibre.

Beneo says this claim, which relates to chicory fibre’s effect on bowel function, gives dairy manufacturers “a unique opportunity”​ to capitalise on consumer demand for products with a digestive health benefit.

High protein trend (return to top)

Alongside digestive health, high protein is another trend that has been playing out in the dairy space. It started in the US with the rise of Greek yogurt, and is now spreading to Europe, through brands such as Skyr, and Valio’s ProFeel range of protein-enriched dairy products.

“It’s a trend that still has potential in Europe. We are getting a lot of customer requests for high protein yogurt solutions,”​ says Chr Hansen’s Bredmose.

The challenge with producing high protein yogurts, he says, is that the texture becomes “chalky”​, and that his company’s task has been “developing cultures that allow production of high protein yogurt that is very smooth and easy to swallow”​.

Chr Hansen’s SoGreek cultures achieve their high protein levels using separation technology or milk powder fortification, and deliver high probiotic cell counts, high protein, and low fat.

Torben Jensen, category and application manager at Arla Foods Ingredients, predicts that the next growth area for the high protein trend is drinkable yogurts. Historically, this application has been out of bounds, as high protein content goes hand in hand with a thick consistency.

Specialised whey protein (return to top)

Arla, however, has overcome this challenge with a specialised whey protein that can be used in place of milk protein.

“When producing a high protein yogurt, the milk proteins form a strong network when the culture grows, and this results in a very firm texture.

“We have developed a specially treated whey protein that doesn’t produce this gel network. This allows manufacturers to create drinking yogurts with a protein content of up to 10%,”​ explains Jensen.

Valio’s lactose-free milk powders offer another route to raising protein content of yogurts, while at the same time tapping into the growing appetite for lactose-free products.

“Lactose-free milk powders are higher in protein and lower in carbohydrates than regular milk powders but have a similar natural, milky taste.

“They can be used for boosting the protein content of various dairy products and for manufacturing milk-containing products that are very gentle to the stomach,”​ says Laura Enbom, export manager for value added ingredients at the Finnish dairy.

Chr Hansen has also observed growing interest in lactose-free products, and is about to launch a new lactose enzyme, branded Nolafit.

“This enzyme works in low pH conditions to reduce the lactose content of products,”​ says Bredmose.

Sugar-reduction demand (return to top)

While lactose-free is a niche trend, sugar-reduction is something nearly all dairy companies are aiming for.

“Everyone wants less sugar and no added sugar, but sugar replacers have to be natural – no-one wants artificial sweeteners,”​ says Bredmose.

Chr Hansen’s response to this is Acidifix – a range of mild cultures that increase sweetness perception.

“The acidity of the yogurt is ‘fixed’, which makes delicate flavours, such as rose hip and green tea, taste sweeter, so you don’t need as much sugar,”​ Bredmose adds.

Beneo’s Schmidt agrees that sugar reduction is a major trend in dairy.

“As clean-label and natural ingredients are also major trends in this category, it is key to replace the sugar with ingredients from a natural source,”​ he says.

Beneo’s Orafti oligofructose, which can be declared on pack as ‘chicory root fibre’, fits with this trend, Schmidt claims.

He cites sensory studies that show Orafti oligofructose contributes to sweetness, mouthfeel, body and fruit flavour in sugar-reduced fruit yogurt in a similar way to sugar while also helping to reduce total sugars by 20%, and added sugars by 35%.

But while consumers want less sugar, they are also looking for more energy from their dairy products – although not in the calorific sense.

Research studies (return to top)

Reflecting this quest for more health energy, recent consumer research commissioned by Beneo shows that yogurt is one of the main categories considered by consumers to be a good provider of energy.

“Healthy energy can translate into balanced energy, which can be delivered via Beneo’s low glycaemic sugar, Palatinose,”​ says Schmidt.

“Backed by an EU-approved health claim, this disaccharide contributes to a lower blood glucose rise,”​ he adds.

DSM has just involved 7,000 consumers in 10 countries across Europe, the Middle East and Africa, in a piece of research that reveals energy is the second biggest consumer health concern.

“I think this can be addressed in dairy through the enrichment of products with B vitamins, which have an approved health claim for energy,”​ says Pavlidou.

Should dairy manufacturers choose to enhance the appeal of their products through a digestive health, high protein or energy claim, it’s likely the approach will only work if the basics are right. And that means keeping ingredients real.

“People want real food – they don’t want artificial ingredients in there – just milk, culture and sugar,”​ says Bredmose.

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