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Are you ready for dairy’s new drink frontier?

My Take: A study done by the dairy checkoff shows big opportunities in workout and heart-healthy drinks.

Chris Torres

December 5, 2023

4 Min Read
Fitness concept image of a splash of milk in form of muscle man
DAIRY GOOD: Dairy Management Inc., which is funded by checkoff dollars, recently completed a project to identify how consumers drink and eat, and where dairy has an opportunity to expand or fill a product gap. One growth area for dairy, “grow and perform,” focuses on the right foods to recover from a workout and has a market size of $59 billion. But 41% of consumers surveyed said they were dissatisfied with current choices on the market. anusorn nakdee/Getty Images

Where are the biggest opportunities for dairy? Think workout drinks, chocolate milk with plant sterols, ice cream with probiotics and sparkling beverages with whey.

Sounds yummy, right? Well, I personally don’t mind ice cream with probiotics, but sparkling beverages with whey? Chocolate milk with plant sterols? I’ve never had those before, but they don’t sound too appetizing.

Get ready, though. These drinks, or something like them, could unleash a new frontier of dairy products that, according to the leaders of the dairy checkoff, will meet consumers where they are and where they might be going.

Dairy Management Inc., which is funded by checkoff dollars, recently completed a project to identify how consumers drink and eat, and where dairy has an opportunity to expand or fill a product gap.

Marla Buerk, executive vice president of global innovation at DMI, says the checkoff worked with the company ZS, described as a leader in health and wellness research, on the project. Along with looking at industry reports, product claims, patents and more, the checkoff and ZS performed an online survey of 12,000 consumers.

Judy Keenan, innovation consultant at DMI, says they were able to identify “demand” moments, defined as occasions when consumers choose specific foods and beverages. These included eating or drinking as “fill-up fuel,” for healthy heart and weight, to recover faster from a workout, or for better health and well-being.

They then went further, identifying four priority areas for more research and to see where dairy could have the biggest impact and opportunities.

“We didn’t just consider the size of each demand moment, but also the growth potential, consumer dissatisfaction with existing options and dairy’s ability to deliver relevant solutions,” Keenan says.

One of those areas, identified as “grow and perform,” focuses on the right foods to recover from a workout and has a market size of $59 billion. But 41% of consumers surveyed said they were dissatisfied with current choices on the market. The top foods identified to address this segment were milk, whole eggs, protein bars, nutritional shakes and rice.

“Milk actually delivers these benefits better than any other food or drink," Keenan says. “Specifically, for helping build muscle, promoting growth and development, and keeping bones strong.”

But there is a lot of room for growth. She pointed to an energy drink that is currently on the market, Good Sport, which is made from ultrafiltered milk and contains lots of protein but is served clear and comes in various flavors such as fruit punch and citrus.

A second category, healthy heart and weight, focuses on food and beverages that promote good heart health and weight. It has a market size of $55 billion, but 44% consumer dissatisfaction with current choices.

An example of a dairy drink that could help fill the gap is Marigold HL, a dark chocolate milk with plant sterols that is made in Malaysia and Singapore. Plant sterols, also known as phytosterols, are natural compounds found in plants that can lower cholesterol levels to avoid heart attack or stroke.

A third category, system supercharge, focuses on food and beverages designed to manage gut health. This category has a market size of $26 billion, but 46% of consumers are dissatisfied with current market choices. Proasis, currently available in Spain, is an example of a product that could work in this space, Keenan says, as it contains live probiotics and 30 grams of protein per pint.

The fourth category, mental and emotional health and well-being, focuses on foods and beverages to help stay focused and productive. This is a $15 billion segment, with 44% consumer dissatisfaction with current choices. An example of a dairy drink that could fit this segment is Super Frau, a whey-based sparkling beverage that provides a natural energy boost packed with B12 vitamins.

Courtesy of Super Frau - Bright and colorful drink cans against a white background as one can is being poured into a clear cup

So, now that the research is done, what’s next? Speaking at the recent Grow NY summit, Buerk said the next steps are to find ways to market these dairy products and to get dairy entrepreneurs to think about developing products that could work in these spaces.

We’ll see what the future holds. As for me, I’ll stick with milk. My 5-year-old probably drinks about a half-gallon of milk a day, and I’m not lying! Of course, it must be flavored with some Hershey’s chocolate syrup — I’m not happy with the amount of sugar that has — but it is milk. So, I’d like to think I’m doing my part to keep our great dairy farmers in business.

About the Author(s)

Chris Torres

Editor, American Agriculturist

Chris Torres, editor of American Agriculturist, previously worked at Lancaster Farming, where he started in 2006 as a staff writer and later became regional editor. Torres is a seven-time winner of the Keystone Press Awards, handed out by the Pennsylvania Press Association, and he is a Pennsylvania State University graduate.

Torres says he wants American Agriculturist to be farmers' "go-to product, continuing the legacy and high standard (former American Agriculturist editor) John Vogel has set." Torres succeeds Vogel, who retired after 47 years with Farm Progress and its related publications.

"The news business is a challenging job," Torres says. "It makes you think outside your small box, and you have to formulate what the reader wants to see from the overall product. It's rewarding to see a nice product in the end."

Torres' family is based in Lebanon County, Pa. His wife grew up on a small farm in Berks County, Pa., where they raised corn, soybeans, feeder cattle and more. Torres and his wife are parents to three young boys.

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