The whey of the future

Written by Marjie Knust
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As a whole, Americans are increasing their protein intake. According to the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy, Americans are eating 14 percent more protein than they did 30 years ago, and more than 50 percent of consumers say they are trying to get more protein in their diets vs. a year ago. Part of the increased focus on protein could stem from more adults who are trying to reduce the amount of meat they eat and looking for additional sources of protein.

Dairy products like cheese, yogurt, milk and other dairybased beverages offer a natural source of protein that, until now, consumers haven’t always been aware of.

“What we’ve found in our research was there was a real lack of awareness by consumers that dairy contained protein,” says Marlene Schmidt, vice president of dairy health and wellness at the National Dairy Council. “We wanted to see how we could get the message out that dairy is an excellent source of protein.”

Through the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy, dairy processors from the ingredients, milk, cheese and yogurt business sectors have formed a Protein Task Force charged with developing tools and messages for the industry to use to spread the knowledge that dairy products contain protein along with other essential nutrients.

“Dairy has an inherent protein message we can deliver,” says Ted Sowle, assistant vice president of consumer brands for DFA’s Global Dairy Products Group (GDPG). “For the first time, we are putting a protein message on the front of packages for some of our cheese lines.”

By communicating the amount of protein in a stick of string cheese on the front of the package, consumers may be prone to buy more of these snacks rather than nuts or other products that are already known for their protein levels, Sowle says.

“It’s amazing who is talking about the importance of protein,” he says. “I was at my daughter’s soccer practice the other day and heard two parents talking about wanting to add more protein to their diets. Protein isn’t just a buzzword for body builders any more. When soccer moms are talking about wanting to find more protein in their diets, you know it has mainstreamed.”

In addition to calling out the natural protein content of cheese, DFA’s consumer brands group is also developing new products that take advantage of the popularity of whey protein by combining it with other popular beverage categories.

The type of protein found in dairy products comes not just from whey, but also from casein, which, like whey, can be extracted from fluid milk and is used as an ingredient in products like nutritional beverages such as DFA’s Sport Shake.

“If you break the protein down in raw milk, you have 20 percent whey and 80 percent casein,” Piercy says. “Those proteins are designed for the way our bodies work. It makes sense because milk was designed by nature to be the ultimate mammal food.”

Lacerte says he utilizes casein protein as well as whey protein in his diet.

“I’ll use casein protein at night because it’s slower digesting,” he says. “You’re not eating for 10 hours or so, so you want something that’s going to take longer to digest.”