Lobby group wooing region with whey ingredients

US dairy targets SE Asia in protein charm offensive

By Richard Whitehead

- Last updated on GMT

Singapore has been setting itself up as a regional hub for food science for more than 10 years. Pic: Getty Images/CharlieTong
Singapore has been setting itself up as a regional hub for food science for more than 10 years. Pic: Getty Images/CharlieTong

Related tags: Southeast asia, Singapore, USDEC

American dairy has been on a charm offensive in Southeast Asia recently, in a bid to persuade more food companies to feature its protein and permeate ingredients in their products.

Though the region has been lagging behind, the US Dairy Export Council believes there are tremendous opportunities to be had for new product development featuring dairy proteins in this part of the world. It is determined to hammer the point home in a bid to market more ingredients from milk powder to whey and milk protein.

According to USDEC data, the proportion of global food and beverage launches featuring a dairy protein claim doubled from 2014 and 2018, to 6.3%. Though Asia is far behind North America and Western Europe, the leaders, in terms of its whey protein launches, it has been witnessing the fastest growth.

Last year, China saw the lion’s share of major Asian product launches relating to whey protein, though Southeast Asia as a regional grouping contributed 4.4% to global launches.

Martin Teo, technical director for food applications at USDEC’s Southeast Asia operation, has been particularly active of late, showing off some interesting product concepts incorporating dairy ingredients that could take off in the region.

Thailand taking off

Teo has identified Thailand as one of its fastest growing markets for high-protein products, with a growing number of whey protein applications in yogurt, beverages and sports nutrition. The country has also seen several protein snacks being launched of late, including protein bars and cookies.

He has also been observing that companies in countries such as Malaysia, Indonesia and The Philippines are becoming increasingly keen on developing their own high-protein products.

The food service sector in this region is playing catch-up on the high-protein diet by offering protein smoothies and booster juices on their menus​,” he said.

With their neutral flavor profile, dairy proteins can be innovated to complement the Asian palette and be incorporated into typically Asian ingredients, such as coconut and dried longans.

Efforts in the innovation of US dairy proteins has also enabled the creation of high-protein products in traditional Asian recipes, like mooncakes, bob-bon, traditional sesame snacks and coconut-based sweets​,” he said.

USDEC prototypes

At a trade show in Thailand last month, USDEC showed off a “prototype​” chewy sweet as part of several Southeast Asia-friendly snack-on-the-go concepts that the industry promoter hopes will catch on among customers in the region.

The high-protein spicy mango chew contains whey protein isolate, and was developed in partnership with Singapore Polytechnic’s Food Innovation and Resource Centre (FIRC).

The sweet “exemplifies the endless possibilities that US dairy proteins possess in fulfilling Southeast Asia’s consumers’ preferences for delicious, nutritious and convenient ways to optimize their protein intake throughout the day​,” USDEC said as it demoed the confectionery at Fi Asia last month.

The high-protein spicy mango chewy has a surprisingly complementary sweet, sour and spicy combination, offering consumers excitingly new flavor discoveries, in addition to providing a quality protein boost​,” said Teo.

It was developed to be a prototype to inspire end-users to think beyond common flavors and be creative in their product innovation with US dairy proteins. It is also one of many product ideas demonstrating that US dairy ingredients possess the versatility to be successfully added into Asian-style protein-fortified snacks and foods​,” he added.

The partnership between USDEC and Singapore Polytechnic began last May. It allows the dairy lobby group and American dairy suppliers to work with FIRC to deepen their regional knowledge and develop new products for the Southeast Asian market that suit specific local tastes.

Singapore hub

Singapore has been setting itself up as a regional hub for food science over the last decade or so, as part of the government’s economic goal to establish the country as a global center for food and nutrition R&D.

FIRC is a joint venture between Singapore Polytechnic and Enterprise Singapore, a statutory board under the Ministry of Trade and Industry, and was formed in 2007 to provide food companies with technical expertise in new product and process development.

This partnership allows US dairy suppliers to be at the forefront of the product development process, become more customer-centric and enhance their level of service​,” said Teo.

Beyond promoting more protein-enriched foods, USDEC has also been raising the idea of developing reduced-salt foods at a time when Southeast Asian countries are battling against rising incidences of hypertension and other lifestyle diseases.

To this end, FIRC has been studying the viability of using US dairy permeate as a beneficial flavor-enhancing ingredient in sodium-reduced savory snacks and seasoning applications.

Targeting Southeast Asian consumers, the research has covered formulation trials and sensory evaluation phases, examining rice and prawn crackers, as well as spicy curry and barbecue seasonings made with permeate. FIRC has so far found that the sodium content of crackers and seasonings could be reduced by 20-40% with the addition of dairy permeate while maintaining a desirable flavor profile.  

Asia is ranked third in terms of new permeate launches, with Malaysia and the Philippines leading this growth in 2018. While not a protein ingredient, permeate can appear on a clean label and has been in the spotlight for its cost-effectiveness, paired with its functional and nutritional qualities.

One good example in the use of permeate is in seasonings for savory snacks such as potato chips and instant noodles, which helps in 25% and more of sodium reduction in the product​,” added Teo.

Related topics: Markets, Emerging Markets, Functional Dairy

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