Nutrition and misconceptions: key focuses for dairy industry, study finds

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21 Jul 2017 --- A new study from the Journal of Dairy Science suggests that education on nutritional value and correcting misconceptions should be a focus of the dairy industry as it seeks to arrest a decades-long decline in fluid milk consumption. In recent years, fluid milk has struggled significantly for retail sales and per capita consumption has decreased at a rate of 380 ml per year since 1975. However, the results of the journal’s study highlighted the most important values among dairy milk and non-dairy beverage consumers for both milk and non-dairy beverages, which were fat and sugar levels respectively.

To learn more about what affects consumer decisions regarding fluid milk purchases, researchers from North Carolina State University used surveys, conjoint analysis and means-end-chain analysis to find out the underlying values among dairy milk and non-dairy beverage consumers.

Dairy milk consumers reported a preference for 2 percent or 1 percent fat, and almost 70 percent of dairy milk sales in 2014 were reduced or fat-free milk. On the other hand, non-dairy consumers preferred plant beverages that had been naturally sweetened or had no added sugar. When it came to the most desirable plant-derived beverage, almond beverage came out on top, representing more than 65 percent of non-dairy beverages sold in 2014. Protein was appealing for both milk and non-dairy beverages, with higher utility scores recorded for higher levels of protein content.

The findings come at an interesting time for the dairy industry. Sales of fluid milk decreased 3.8 percent between 2011 and 2014, but the amount of non-dairy, plant-based beverages sold increased by 30 percent between 2010 and 2015.

The study was the first to directly look at values held by consumers and what influence those attitudes have on milk purchases. To look at this, a survey was completed by 999 primary shoppers between 25 and 70 years of age, 78 percent female and 22 percent male, who reported purchasing dairy milk, non-dairy beverage or both at least two to three times per month.

Findings show that the majority of consumers – 87.8 percent – did not follow a specific diet, and 88.4 percent did not claim to be lactose intolerant. Twenty-seven percent purchased one or both beverages more than once a week, 47 percent purchased one or both beverages once a week, and 25 percent purchased one or both beverages two to three times per month.

“We found that consumers choose milk based on habit or because they like the flavor. Milk that is appealing in flavor could convince nondairy beverage drinkers to consume more dairy milk; likewise, lactose-free milk or milk from grass-fed cows might also be appealing,” lead author Kara McCarthy says. “By further focusing consumer education on trust building as well as nutrition, farm practice and animal welfare, the appeal of dairy milk could be broadened.”

The results of this study may mean that the dairy industry can now more effectively market and position milk while also dispelling any misconceptions people may have.

The benefits of milk products have made the news recently, as fermented milk product kefir has proven itself to be an excellent post-workout drink for cancer patients. Its nutritional properties reduce the risk of upsetting the stomach, according to another study published in the Journal of Dairy Science.

Meanwhile, the health benefits of consuming dairy products may not stop with the products themselves, say researchers at Teagasc, Ireland’s Agriculture and Food Development Authority. Their research suggests that those who consume a balance of all dairy foods also express strong motivations to engage in healthy dietary behaviors.

Lactalis’ Pronativ is a good example of a dairy product with high nutritional value that can also offer a performance boost, according to a video interview with Nicholas Fierle from Lactalis. The ingredient can find application in a number of products, including chocolate drinks and energy bars.

by Paul Creasy

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