Guest article

Nutritional dairy beverages

The category of nutritional beverages is growing with a variety of products for different needs. Pic:©iStock/AntonioGuillem

Nutritional beverage (Nutri-Bev) is a new example of product crossover between the dairy and food & beverage industries.

Ice cream was a dairy product, however today it is more a confectionery product, and another example is the crossover in butter and margarine, resulting in new dairy blends categories.

Ready-to-drink nutritional beverages combine healthy and functional dairy protein ingredients with beverage fruit and flavors etc. There is a growing potential for new value-added categories including dairy and non-dairy proteins and a wide range of flavor ingredients to satisfy consumers’ thirst for functional, health & wellness beverages, combined with indulgence characteristics.

Both the dairy and beverage industry (non-alcoholic) are increasingly focusing on nutritional beverage categories and this article looks at new growth opportunities and industry co-creation as a means for disruptive innovation of new attractive Nutri-Bev categories.

Nutri-Bev categories and formulations

The potential composition or formulation of Nutri-Bev categories is enormous, however the two-main dairy based categories consist of high acid (cultured) products, e.g. yoghurt, and low-acid dairy-protein-based beverages.

Each category can be divided in series of subcategories, for example infants, children, adults, seniors and sports drinks. Other product categories can be according to fruit, flavors, tea/coffee, cereals, vegetables and particulates etc. Also, the basic formulation can vary significantly:

  • Milk and/or vegetable fat, from low to high content
  • Milk with adjusted casein or whey protein content
  • Pure whey protein or fractions, or pure casein; reduced or fortified
  • Combined whey and soy proteins and/or other vegetable proteins
  • Animal proteins; insects like crickets and mealworms (future options)
  • Lactose free: No, or low lactose content (lactose intolerance)
  • Reduced salt and/or increased calcium content (senior beverage)

Carbonation can add another dimension to the taste, promoted by specific starter cultures, or CO2 gas dispersion prior to packaging. Also, a wide range of starter cultures, e.g. probiotics, can form the basis for other healthy categories.

Processing and packaging

The processing of Nutri-Bev combines raw material (liquid and or powder) handling and preprocessing, recipe formulation, possibly functionalization and mixing & blending, followed by flavor ingredient dosing prior to thermal treatment.

Prior to filling, sterile carbonation or dosing, of for example, enzymes, might take place. Depending on categories and types of Nutri-Bev, the processing might be fairly complex, e.g. for products with particulates.

Optimal processing balances cost efficiency with optimal yield and ingredient function, as well as protection of vital components like vitamins, and overall quality and food safety.

For dairy protein fractionation/concentration and lactose-free products, membrane filtration is a key technology. For efficient mixing or functionalization; e.g. microparticulation of whey proteins to add an additional dimension of functionality and creamy mouthfeel, cavitation technology has proven to be ideal.

Due to ambient storage, in particular for low-acid products, UHT is the dominant thermal technology and new UHT innovations combine high kill rate with gentle treatment and excellent taste.

New alternatives like High Pressure Processing (HPP) and Pulsed Electric Fields (PFF) processing are entering the market.

Several ingredients and process technology providers do have significant experience across dairy, food and beverage formulations and processing. Supported by their innovation centers, they can be important partners in creation of the most optimal formulation and processing of new Nutri-Bev categories.

Choice of packaging design, material and size is an important part of Nutri-Bev, impacting marketing that appeals to the various consumer segments, from modern young consumers to sports and senior consumers.

Co-creation of value and growth

Successful disruptive innovation of Nutri-Bev categories requires a substantial knowledge of markets, formulation, processing and marketing.

A new industry trend is to collaborate across the value chain to foster a strong specialist platform for disruptive innovation.

Key stakeholders for co-creation of new Nutri-Bev products and processes adding value and growth to engaged dairy and beverage producers includes:

  • Dairy/Beverage technology specialists
  • Ingredients providers specialists
  • Process equipment/technology providers specialists
  • Marketing specialists

OCon ApS is a consultancy in Denmark run by Bent Oestergaard

With 40 years of experience in the global dairy, food & beverage industry, OCon ApS offers consultancy services with process and product innovation advisory; strategic business development; B2B marketing and communication; facilitation processes for value creation; and board membership & advisory support.

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