Dairy and Non-Dairy Industry trends: The environment, gut health and the move towards healthy sweetness.

One of the main drivers for change are the consumers themselves, who are by now fully aware of the environmental benefits of making ethical food choices and have begun to rewards manufacturers who take this preference into account. The COVID-19 pandemic has reinforced the importance of ensuring a healthy immune system, and this presents an opportunity for plant-based dairy producers to effectively communicate how they can help to use their products to support immune system health.

Both within the dairy industry and the increasing number of non-dairy alternatives, we see increasing trends towards health and immunological benefits, with environmental concerns being reflected through increasing consumer choices of plant-based products and the re-focusing of the nutritional structures of products through the reinforcing of healthy sugar replacements. This is in contrast to previous efforts, which traditionally focus on fat reduction.

 

Immunologic benefits and Gut Health

Digestive health is increasingly recognised by dietitians and consumers alike as being an integral contributor to overall health and wellbeing. Scientific research has found links between the gut microbiome and many aspects of health, including mental health, skin health and even obesity.

Formulating for functional gut health, by using ingredients such as pro- and prebiotics, fibre and other functional gut health ingredients will resonate with consumers seeking a healthy and balanced digestive system. In Latin America, most launches of dairy products include the fortification of Vitamins and Calcium.

Source: Mintel

 

In addition to these trends, an increasing number of regions are embracing ancient dietary wisdom as a means of boosting immunity levels. As some of the functional claims relating to gut and mood have been backed by scientific findings, ingredients such as ginger and turmeric are on the rise globally.

 

Plant-based alternatives and environment impact.

Consumers of plant-based products are, by nature, informed and aware of environmental issues. This demonstrates the need for brands to clearly communicate their commitment to sustainability, through strategies such as carbon reduction, local sourcing and short supply chains as well as providing eco-friendly packaging.

The proportion of consumers adopting vegan diets remains niche, but consumers are increasingly aware of the environmental and ethical costs of intensive dairy farming. It is interesting that only 21% of non-dairy milk consumers in the US do so because they are consuming fewer animal products (Mintel, 2021). This highlights the importance of environmentally friendly, grass fed dairy production.

Even within the vegan industry, the source of raw materials has become increasingly relevant from an environmental point of view. In this aspect, brands need to tap into the growing popularity of oat, coconut and pea proteins as consumers edge away from more established ingredients such as almond and soy, which are increasingly being questioned owing to their comparatively large environmental footprints.

Source: Mintel

 

Nutrition Structure and the prevalence of Non-Sugar

With government regulation looking to fight obesity in the vast majority of countries, a focus on health, wellness and dietary awareness has grown up, looking to surpass these otherwise basic regulations. While restrictive laws using black seals both for high sugar and high saturated fat products, such as the Chilean Front labelling law or the Mexican Nom. 51, it is interesting to note that consumers themselves are leading trends, as they become aware of serious research highlighting the beneficial effect of specific fats and healthy sugar alternatives, as well as reinforcing the negative effects of a high sugar and fructose diet. This can be seen in the claim trends in North America, where the no-added sugar has become the norm, and the use of fat and cholesterol as ingredient in formulation have declined dramatically.

 

Source: Mintel

This reinforces the importance of the design of ‘360-degree’ health benefits for the nutritional characteristics of products. In this regard, the usage of natural, non-laxative and beneficial ingredients for the development of sweetness – including stevia – is on the rise. As is becoming the norm in all areas, the environmental and responsible sourcing of the sweetening systems – including the carbon and water footprints – have become a key component in the design of foods. Genuinely innovative companies are now using sugar replacement as an opportunity to provide healthy products which provide benefits beyond sweetness and boost the nutritional benefits of products which are well-regarded by consumers, such as yoghurts and other fermented milk products.

Consumer demand is increasingly driving development in this field – even more quickly than the introduction of anti-obesity legislation. With a greater understanding of the importance of gut health, sustainability and ethical choices, producers are seeing the beginning of the greatest shift in consumer trends since the advent of processed food. It is becoming increasingly clear that to seriously compete and for products to be considered desireable, formulation needs to hold sustainability – both environmental and health – as the central tenet of the concept.