While dairy has maintained a strong presence throughout the history of human diets, its nearly universal appeal in the modern world was not inevitable. Milk—and dairy products in general—have only maintained their consumer appeal through a constant cycle of innovation in line with market demands.
Even today, we are discussing a radically different dairy landscape than the one that existed 30 years ago. Dairy, a product that was once predominantly centered around Europe and North America, has seen massive growth in production and consumption across the world, especially in Latin America and Asia. It has also seen a transformation in how it is perceived, reinventing itself as a health food to target contemporary consumer concerns and evolving to encompass plant-based milk products that extend the market “beyond the cow.”
This traditionally dynamic marketplace has only been made livelier by the COVID-19 pandemic, accelerating trends that were already underway and introducing new challenges to processors.
All of these changes and the “new normal” of the last two years during the pandemic have highlighted the need for novel and advanced testing and analysis technologies. Equipped with these, processors can adapt and seize new opportunities presented by this ever-evolving marketplace.
In this article, we will break down five key trends currently affecting the dairy industry and explore how, backed by robust testing technologies, dairy processors can best capitalize on these trends.
1. Plant-Based Products
A growing number of people, predominantly in Europe and North America, are identifying as vegan or attempting to reduce animal product consumption. This intensifying demand, paired with the novel formulation technologies that allow processors to better simulate the taste and feel of dairy products, has led to plant-based milk products commanding a growing market share.
As with any novel product, safety and quality assurance should be at the top of the agenda for any processor. While ensuring safety in all milk products is critical, it introduces some distinct challenges for plant-based offerings.
For example, plant-based milk products tend to hold more suspended particles than their animal counterparts, which can lead to processing difficulties in instrumentation originally designed for animal-based products. Plant qualities such as stickiness can lead to processing disruption and an increased need for maintenance. The suspended solids also cause issues in characterizing these products when using certain analytical techniques. The nature of these formulations means that the density of the products is not always clear, making it difficult to judge which products are fit to be used in specific instrumentation.
When analyzing a plant-based sample, we can apply what we know in traditional dairy products, where formulations higher than 30% solids require near-infrared instrumentation. Therefore, in solid-rich plant-based milk products, near-infrared is usually best suited. Alternatively, in those lower than 15% total solids, Fourier transform infrared (FTIR) liquid analyzers can test samples in less than 30 seconds and with lower than 1% coefficient of variation (CV). Furthermore, diode array-based instrumentation, which can fit directly across a belt or pipeline, can provide rapid spectra of a product sample within six seconds. And for high-detail analysis, Fourier transform near-infrared (FT-NIR) can separate wavelengths in the near-infrared range within 30 seconds.
This is an area that is rapidly growing in response to market demands, with many instrument manufacturers beginning to roll out calibrations specific to plant-based milk products.
2. Dairy Industry Testing Is Traveling Upstream
Across the broader dairy industry, testing technologies are being applied further upstream in the supply chain by processors. With more stringent global food regulations, a growing clean-label product demand, and rising competition between brands, processors are requiring or intensifying early stage and raw ingredient testing in order to have more control of product quality.