Dairy consumers seeking more protein

By Jim Cornall

- Last updated on GMT

Pic: Getty Images/RossHelen
Pic: Getty Images/RossHelen

Related tags Adm Protein Dairy High protein

During the pandemic, consumers have been even more focused on healthier food.

This stretched from foods with immunity claims to high protein. Here, we ask Bastian Hoermann, director of global segment marketing food, at ADM, about high protein and the connection to dairy.

What is motivating consumers to add more protein in their diets? Has this trend impacted the dairy space?

Contemporary consumers want more from their food and beverages, especially since the global pandemic has put a greater emphasis on health and wellness. Recent research shows 65% of global consumers are more conscious of the need to lead a healthy lifestyle because of COVID-191​. Likewise, 76% of global consumers plan to eat and drink more healthily than they have in the past1​.

Shoppers are seeking nutritious, wholesome and delicious offerings that may also support specific health and wellness needs. Protein is widely recognized as a key nutrient in a health-forward diet, and 78% of global consumers associate protein with immune health1​. Dairy offerings are in a great position to play to these trends with convenient high protein offerings.

High-quality proteins and protein blends can help dairy formulators achieve higher protein content in their product offerings while also supporting consumer interest in dietary diversity. Notably, the importance of protein source varies across global markets, with flexitarian consumers in Brazil, the US and China most likely to rank protein type in plant proteins as being very important2​. Moreover, 52% of US flexitarians prefer a mix of two or more plant proteins in alternatives to dairy3​.

Research also shows that consumers have a higher affinity and are willing to pay a premium price for these products3​. These plant protein combinations can be incorporated into both alternative and traditional dairy applications such as yogurt, milk and ice cream.

Are consumers more interested in protein from animal or plant sources? Or is it a mix of both?

ADM research finds that 50% of US consumers are consciously increasing consumption of plant proteins, with 44% of those identifying as flexitarians3​. Pursuing a more plant-rich diet doesn’t necessarily mean people are avoiding animal products altogether. Many flexitarians continue to purchase meat and dairy products. In fact, 56% of global flexitarian consumers are approaching the lifestyle by trying to eat more plant-based foods and beverages while still eating meat and/or dairy products2​. These consumers are trying to add more plant proteins or what they deem as “positives” to their diets.

While reasons for consuming more plant proteins vary by individual, top motivators include individual health and wellness goals as well as concerns about sustainability. For instance, a combination of plant protein sources may achieve nutrient density with similar Protein Digestibility Corrected Amino Acid Scores (PDCAAS) as animal protein sources. Additionally, there is opportunity to mix animal-based and plant-based protins together in single offerings, such as protein shakes and drinks combining whey and plant proteins from soy, wheat, pea or oat.

How can product developers increase protein in dairy offerings? What formulation challenges might arise, and how do you solve them?

Product developers can combine multiple plant proteins to not only increase nutrient density and protein diversity, but also to achieve desired taste and texture in dairy applications. Blending several protein sources is like composing a symphony. Each plant protein has something to offer and putting the right ones together can create a harmonious blend. As an example, many alternative dairy formulators are incorporating pea protein with other popular protein sources like almond, oat and coconut, to bolster protein concentration and to achieve an optimal sensory experience.

While protein blends bring many positive attributes to an application, formulators must also be aware of the potentially challenging aspects in adding more protein to dairy products. For instance, high levels of some protein ingredients may affect a beverage’s viscosity, color, flavor and mouthfeel. Moreover, plant proteins can come with their own unique notes that aren’t always desired and may lessen the impact of added flavors like strawberry or vanilla.

Improving the quality of the protein and incorporating taste modulators and mouthfeel enhancers will help balance flavor and increase richness to achieve an appealing sensory experience. For applications such as yogurt, ice cream and cheese, formulators need to monitor how increased protein might affect production processes and parameters, such as fermentation, freezing, ultra-high-temperature processing and pH-values.

Dairy processors that find the right partner with a vast portfolio of high-quality protein sources and complementary ingredients and also the technical ingenuity and culinary expertise will overcome formulation obstacles with ease and get consumer-preferred products to market faster.

What dairy applications are best suited for added protein?

Dairy beverages, such as milks and drinkable yogurts, as well as whey and plant-based protein shakes and Greek-style yogurts are well suited to protein fortification. Though some plant proteins might have inherent off notes, the right blend of high-quality ingredients improves functionality. For instance, a combination of protein sources can support texture and viscosity in creamy plant-forward dairy smoothies or shakes. Additional protein content can also be achieved in frozen desserts, cream cheese, sweet and savory spreads, mousse and chocolate bars.


1​FMCG Gurus, How Has COVID-19 Changed Consumer Behavior, March 2021

2ADM Outside Voice℠, Global Plant-Based Proteins Consumer Discovery Report, August 2020

3​ADM Outside Voice