Within dairy, the various sub-sectors of cheese, desserts, yogurt, cream, fats and spreads have all felt this impact in order to keep up with such trends. At stake for the dairy companies is the potential to increase market growth within their specified sector with the objective to maximise sales, rate of sale, penetration and distribution within their particular product range. The UK Dairy market is worth over £3.3 billion and as such the trend for low calorie products has a large impact.
There is now a very strong range of low fat alternatives available to full fat dairy products in almost all dairy categories and many lower-fat dairy products contain the same level of micro-nutrients as the full fat version. Sometimes manufacturers will alter a functional ingredient such as a prebiotic, probiotic or other ingredient, but by and large the low calorie category follows the rules of the full fat alternative.
The largest segment in added value dairy is cheese with a UK basket spend of £2.7 billion. The growth in ‘healthier’ cheese has been at 33% reduced fat cheese rather than 50% (half fat) cheese or 3% (low fat) cheese. A few brands have attempted to combine cheese with a functional ingredient but the nature of cheese, being essentially concentrated milk in block form, is such that it is an awkward carrier of a functional payload.
With the increasing consumer interest in healthier foods, the past 10 years has seen the reduced fat cheese option (33% fat reduced) turn into one of the fastest growing areas of the UK market. According to Nielsen this segment is worth £70 million and is growing at a rate of 11% year on year.
Looking forward, given the growth of 33% fat reduced cheese it is difficult to envisage a stage whereby the low fat (3% fat cheese) segment has the same appeal to consumers. Driving the half fat (50%) category could well be possible, but the low fat segment looks set to be of minority interest for the foreseeable future. However, even with 3% fat reduced cheese, the issue remains salt. Tesco cheese Category Buyer Manager David Chamberlain said: “It’s important we give shoppers healthier alternatives to their favourite cheeses and while we have plenty of choice on our shelves there has never been one that offers both reduced fat and salt.”
The core issue is that any move away from salt will require another active ingredient to perform the same function in the cheese making process. Potassium offers a similar functional role to salt, however it is far from clear that this is a step forward from a health perspective.
Yogurt producers have arguably been among the most successful developers of low calorie dairy, with UK sales of £1.4 billion. The issue is the trade off between sugar and fat and between artificial sweeteners and sugar. For many years aspartame was the sweetener of choice before Sucralose obtained its EU public health license. Since then other sweeteners such at Stevia have come onto the market with the result that within yogurts there is little consensus in terms of what is the best sweetener to use as they all play a different role in terms of their interaction with texture, mouth-feel and flavour.
From a consumer perspective, many of the low calorie yogurts offer very little trade off when compared to the full fat alternative. It is the fact that the consumer is given a ready, low calorie alternative that accounts for the success of the category. However, the classic yogurt trade off to reduce the fat in the product is to increase the amount of sugar in the product to achieve a ‘low fat’ health position. However, public health increasingly focuses on the role of sugar in yogurts as a negative.
Ice-cream and desserts
Low calorie ice-cream has mirrored the growth seen in yogurts with a range of artificial sweeteners enabling frozen ice- creams to deliver the texture of full fat ice-cream with only a fraction of the calories.
Desserts have struggled with low calorie as a platform with even fruit and jelly bases, whilst low in fat, being high in sugar. However, within this there have been specific propositions such as mousses and custards that have used artificial sweeteners to achieve the flavour benefits while reducing calories. However desserts, in common with cream, have been the area where low calorie dairy has struggled to gain mass appeal.
Within liquid milk, the largest of all the dairy markets by volume and value, it is really only skimmed and semi skimmed milk that qualifies and the growth of semi skimmed milk’s popularity is testament to the ability of consumers to make a healthier trade off when presented with products that are very close to the taste and function of the full fat alternative.
‘Better for you’ rather than low calorie?
Looking forward, the areas of dairy where low calorie products are likely to increase the most are in yogurts and ice cream, with cheese and liquid milk more likely to see growth in the ‘better for you’ segments rather than low calorie. Within desserts and cream, it is hard currently to envisage low calorie products taking a materially larger share of these categories.