Weight management solutions

by David Phillips
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It has been more than 40 years since consumers began to embrace lower fat dairy products as a component of a weight management program. Much has changed since the time when skim milk had a blue tint and lower fat ice cream had to be labeled “ice milk.”

While dairy products may be included in conversations about satiety, calcium content and portion control, low fat and fat-free dairy products, especially milk, yogurt, cottage cheese and sour cream, are still the cornerstones of the market’s position as a nutritious food group that may help consumers maintain their waistlines.

Since 2005 there have been 410 new dairy products introduced in the United States that feature a low- or reduced-calorie claim, according to Mintel International Ltd., Chicago. During the same period there were 1,538 new dairy products introduced in the United States making a fat-free or reduced-fat claim.

Fluid milk sales dropped considerably as the economy struggled in 2009, and unit sales of both whole, skim and low-fat milk were down 1% to 2%, according to Information Resources, Inc. (I.R.I.), a Chicago-based market research firm. Low-fat and skim sales slipped a bit less than that of whole milk.

One area that has seen a lot of R.&D. activity in recent years is reformulated milk. Dean Foods Co., Dallas, introduced Over the Moon. It is the latest of many low-fat and fat-free milks in which higher amounts of milk proteins provide a richer flavor and fuller mouthfeel. Other products, including HP Hood’s Simply Smart, usually offer higher calcium contents as well.

Two leading brands of light yogurt manufactured by Yoplait, which is a division of General Mills, Inc., Minneapolis, and The Dannon Co., a subsidiary of Groupe Danone, Paris, continue to build market share. Together they account for nearly 25% of all yogurt sold in the United States, according to I.R.I. The top selling products are fat-free and low-fat, and continue to be highly sought after by consumers looking for a guilt-free snack or indulgence.

In the ice cream section of the frozen-food aisle, it has been years since low-fat meant low flavor. According to I.R.I., the Slow Churned product line, which is sold by Dreyer’s Grand Ice Cream Holdings, Oakland, Calif., a division of Nestle S.A., under the Dreyer’s and Edy’s brands, is now the No. 2 non-private label brand of ice cream in the United States, and last year its sales continued to grow at a rate of about 8% by volume.

Slow Churned, which was introduced several years ago, uses a freezing technology that provides lower fat ice cream with the texture and mouthfeel of a higher fat product. It has become the flagship product line for Dreyer’s.

Branding weight management

The popular line of Slim-Fast products from Unilever United States, Inc., Englewood Cliffs, N.J., is anchored by a dairy-based, nutrient-rich shake made with low-fat milk, and milk protein concentrate. Meal replacers like Slim-Fast and others offer dieters a way to carve hundreds of calories out of their daily intake without feeling hungry and without depriving themselves of essential nutrients. The original Slim-Fast line has been joined by some new products, including high protein products with B complex vitamins, lactose and gluten-free formulas, and Optima, which features ingredients that enhance satiety.

The Ensure products from Abbott Laboratories, Abbott Park, Ill., are intended more for consumers with dietary restrictions and those recovering from illness, but like Slim-Fast they offer a myriad of vitamins and other nutrients in a ready-to-drink, dairy-based beverage.

Recently, the company introduced a line extension called ImmunBalance. Abbott said the “unique blend of prebiotics and antioxidants” is designed to balance digestive-tract health and strengthen the immune system. The Ensure line also includes products with added calcium and a high-protein formula.

Ensure recently introduced a new flavor to its line of ready-to-drink shakes. Rich Dark Chocolate appeals to consumers who are interested in the purported health benefits of cocoa, according to the company. The shakes also come in homemade vanilla butter pecan, strawberries and cream.

Seeking that full sensation

Satiety, the sensation of feeling full or satisfied, has become an important part of the nutrition and obesity paradigm that came into focus during the low-carbohydrate trend a few years back. Satiety may come from a variety of foods, but milk, cheese and other dairy products have a connection to the trend.

According to a survey conducted by the NPD Group, Chicago, for Dairy Management Inc., 67% of consumers said feeling full is important when trying to lose weight. Forty-two per cent of the respondents stated that morning is the most important time to eat or drink something that helps them feel full because they want to make it to lunch without getting off track.

“Plus, more than half of the survey responders indicated that they would expect to pay about 50c more for products fortified with protein to increase satiety,” said Laura Gottschalk, vice-president of U.S. manufacturing and ingredient marketing for DMI. “Such insight is crucial for

manufacturers of breakfast foods and drinks to consider when developing new products.”

Most cheese includes a concentration of the fat from whole milk, along with a concentration

of other components like protein and calcium that may increase the sensation of satiety. Cheese is also excellent for pairing with fruits, nuts, whole grain bread, and green leafy vegetables, products that may contribute to satiety as well as a healthy diet.

Another dairy product that fits into the satiety trend is the yogurt smoothie. Consumers who try smoothies and enjoy them often make them part of their daily routine. With that mind, General Mills has launched Yoplait Frozen Fruit and Yogurt Smoothies. The product combines yogurt with real fruit for a frozen smoothie kit. General Mills said each 110-calorie Yoplait smoothie also contains a full serving of fruit.

Drinkable yogurt also may offer satiety and a large serving of nutrients. Recently Organic Valley, LaFarge, Wis., introduced Live Organic Low fat Yogurt. The new product comes in 32-oz bottles in plain, berry and vanilla flavors. Live Organic Lowfat Yogurt is made with Thrive, the company’s blend of probiotic cultures that are said to boost digestive and immune systems and are beneficial to overall health.

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