Speaking with DairyReporter.com at FIE 2013 in Frankfurt, Laura Enbom, export manager for value added ingredients at Valio, said that industry interest in the category is increasing alongside growing consumer awareness about lactose intolerance, the genetic inability to digest lactose sugars found in milk.
Finland-based Valio has been active in the low-lactose and lactose-free dairy category for decades. Many dairy processors are just now beginning to follow the company's lead, Enbom claimed.
“Many other dairies back in the day were thinking that low-lactose isn’t something they should go into because it gives a message to people that there is something wrong with milk,” she said. “But we saw it the other way around.”
“It has proved to be very successful, and now over 10% of our company’s turnover actually comes from the lactose-free products.”
“They probably see more opportunities now there because consumers are demanding these kinds of products,” said Enbom.
Most people in Asia are lactose-intolerant
Looking ahead, Enbom pinpointed emerging markets, particularly in Asia, as significant growth opportunities for the lactose-free dairy category.
“We think that as awareness grows in, for example, Asia and South America, there will be a much bigger market because most people in Asia are actually lactose-intolerant – they just don’t know it yet because they haven’t been consuming much dairy,” she said.
“But awareness is starting to increase there because the Western diet becoming more and more common.”
She added that the company is also working to spread awareness about lactose-intolerance.
“We have done a lot of research, so we also have a lot of knowledge – but not just about the products, also the nutritional side of it,” she said. “We try to communicate that as much as we can.”
“Pioneer in lactose-free”
Valio first "saw an opportunity" in low-lactose dairy in the 1970s, and in the last 10 years has developed a totally lactose-free line. It claims to be the first company worldwide to launched a lactose-free milk product "with the real taste of milk."
Its lactose-free dairy range now includes more than 100 products, including milk, yogurt, and milk powder, which are endorsed by former Liverpool and Finland footballer, Sami Hyypiä, and Joel Pohjanpalo, who has been dubbed the ‘new Jari Litmanen’.
“We are a pioneer in lactose-free dairy on a global scale,” said Enbom. “We were the first ones in this specific area – over 30 years ago – so we are not new to this.”
“We started in specific area because we saw an opportunity, not just a problem,” Enbom added.