Focusing on sugar reduction

For many consumers, fat enhances the appeal of flavored milk, which is why Prairie Farms’ premium chocolate milk is doing so well. Increasingly, milkfat is also no longer viewed as the heart-unhealthy enemy.

“With new research coming out about saturated fat, dairy is well positioned and we have a strong nutritional case for returning low-fat white and flavored milk back into the school meal program,” Ms. Anderson-Wise said.

Klaus Haslinger, sales director-Americas, DSM Food Specialties, South Bend, Ind., said, “Fat makes flavored milk delicious. Sweeteners and flavors no longer need to do all the work when there’s some fat in the formulation.”

This is why reducing added sugars is one of the leading trends in better-for-you flavored milk.
Promised Land pumpkin spice flavored milk
Pumpkin spice isn't just a flavor for lattes, muffins or beer.

“Historically, reducing added sugar in a dairy product such as chocolate milk was a real challenge, as the protein and fat content inherent in the milk suppress sweetness perception,” said Wade Schmelzer, principal scientist, Cargill, Wayzata, Minn.

There are a variety of ingredient systems that may assist with sugar reduction in flavored milk. They almost always include a high-intensity sweeteners and a bulking agent.

There are alternatives, however. For example, Sensient Flavors, Hoffman Estates, Ill., offers a natural sweet boost technology to enhance flavor, allowing for up to a 50% reduction in added sugar.

“We use a proprietary extraction process to manufacture this ingredient, which is labeled simply ‘natural flavor,’” said Alan Owen, director of marketing-sweet flavors. “In taste tests, a 50%-reduced sugar flavored milk with the flavor boost was found to be comparable to the full sugar version.”

Agropur Ingredients, La Crosse, Wis., uses patented technology to isolate what it describes as three-dimension milk fractions that provide creaminess without fat. The technology concentrates milk’s essential flavor molecules and enables formulators to enhance reduced-fat, sodium and sugar formulations in order to maintain desirable flavor, richness and textural properties. The concentrate also is designed to counteract the metallic taste associated with some non-nutritive sweeteners.

“Not only does it bring out creamy, milky notes, it accents other flavor profiles such as cocoa in chocolate beverages,” said Corrie Drellack, marketing and communications. “This dairy ingredient has also been shown to assist with lowering the amount of added sugar in flavored milk.”

The Wisconsin Center For Dairy Research, Madison, Wis., conducted a taste test comparing two school-compliant flavored milks, a control (sample A) and one made with Agropur Ingredients’ flavoring technology (sample B). Participants were asked to identify the sample they would like to see in schools. More than half of the participants indicated sample B as the preferred sample to be served.

An opportunity also exists to use chicory root fiber to assist with fat, sugar and calorie reduction in flavored milk, as well as increase the product’s nutritional profile.

“Chicory root fiber is declared on ingredient statements as fiber, making it a clean label ingredient,” said Carl Volz, president, Sensus America Inc., Lawrenceville, N.J. “It has fat-mimicking properties that not only help reduce fat but also assist with mouthfeel and viscosity. It can directly replace sugar, corn syrup or other sweeteners, with reduction benefits experienced at use levels of 2% to 5%. When high-intensity sweeteners are part of the formulation, this inulin fiber helps mask off flavors, even those associated with stevia.”

Thom King, president, Steviva Ingredients, Portland, Ore., said, “We have had success with a proprietary combination of steviol compounds, crystalline fructose and inulin fiber. The resulting sweetness curve resembles high-fructose corn syrup or a blend of sucrose and fructose, meaning that it’s well rounded and lacks sharp peaks. There is absolutely no aftertaste, and the final product has a mouthfeel and flavor profile identical to flavored milk sweetened with sugar.”

Mr. Schmelzer said, “Just a few years ago, only a 25% reduction in sugar was feasible with traditional stevia sweeteners. Since, we have introduced a new generation of stevia products with improved sweetness and flavor dynamics, making it possible to produce a great-tasting, no-sugar-added chocolate milk.

“Depending on the chocolate flavor profile and its interplay with sweetness, we can leverage natural flavors to round out the sensory experience. Equally important, we use ingredients like hydrocolloids and starches to recreate the body of a full-sugar chocolate milk.”

The most recent sweetener to enter the marketplace is allulose, an almost no-calorie sugar monosaccharide that exists in nature. The ingredient provides the mouthfeel of table sugar, along with about 70% of its sweetness.

“Allulose helps reduce sugar use in flavored milk, and when doing so, also lowers calorie content,” said Yuma Tani, deputy manager of research and development, Matsutani, Itami, Japan. “It tastes like sugar and does not have the drawbacks of long-lasting aftertaste and synthetic or chemical perception.”

Nutritional enhancement invites consumers back to the milk category, said Diane Hnat, senior technical marketing manager, DSM Nutritional Products, Parsippany, N.J.

“We have been getting many requests to develop flavored milk prototypes with extra protein and fiber, as well as omega-3 ingredients and B-vitamins,” she said. “We can prepare customized blends of micro-nutrients and macro-ingredients for all types of flavored milk beverages.”

DSM provides a number of nutrient solutions that help support the positioning of chocolate milk as a refuel and recovery drink.

“To start, vitamin D helps to support muscle function and strength,” said Todd Sitkowski, senior marketing manager. “Vitamin E, an antioxidant vitamin, helps prevent free radical damage during exercise. B-complex vitamins help support energy production.”

Such addition of functional benefits seems to be a large area of growth in the flavored milk category.

“This is consistent with how consumers are generally looking for more from their food,” said Emily Ross, beverages account manager with Agropur Ingredients. “They are looking for great taste as well as satiety and indulgence when seeking out nutrient-dense foods. This is opening up new avenues for brands to innovate with milk-plus types of products.

“Care needs to be taken in the marketing of these value-added milk products. Consumers have been told for many years that regular milk is balanced, healthy and good for you; there can be confusion when products are positioned as ‘a better milk’ as opposed to ‘milk plus added benefits.’”

For example, HP Hood, Lynn-field, Mass., is in the process of rolling out such a value-added milk product branded MilkWise, which is described as a “milk beverage” because it does fit the standard of identity for fluid milk. MilkWise is a proprietary blend of water, low-fat milk, sugar and other ingredients.

There are two flavored options — vanilla and reduced-sugar vanilla — with formulations designed to optimize taste while delivering lower sugar, fewer calories and more calcium than traditional dairy milk.

Fairlife L.L.C., Chicago, a partnership between Select Milk Producers Inc., Artesia, N.M., and The Coca-Cola Co., Atlanta, currently markets Yup! flavored milk in the Southeast U.S. By early 2016, the shelf-stable 14-oz bottles will be available nationally through the Coca-Cola distribution network.

Yup! low-fat milk comes in three flavors — chocolate, strawberry and vanilla — and has a lower sugar content (18 grams per 8 oz) than many flavored milks through the use of a sweetener combination that includes sugar, acesulfame potassium and sucralose. Added lactase enzyme makes the milk lactose free. The lactase also assists with sweetening, as it breaks down lactose into its constituent monosaccharides, glucose and galactose, which are sweeter than lactose.

Flavored milk is riding the coattails of the protein trend, with each oz of milk naturally providing 1 gram of protein. Ingredient technology enables formulators to add extra protein.

“Milk powder ingredients such as milk protein concentrate, nonfat dry milk and whey, along with the proper hydrocolloid blend, enable the development of high-protein flavored milks, many of which are being marketed as refuel and performance beverages,” said Donna Klockeman, senior principal food scientist, TIC Gums, White Marsh, Md. Hydrocolloids also assist with adding back mouthfeel to lower-sugar products and they keep cocoa in suspension in chocolate milk.

“With chocolate milk growing in popularity as a sports drink, we feel that our 1% low-fat flavored milks are well positioned to gain favor with active individuals,” said Tom Matun, president, True Dairy Flavors, Hudson, Ohio. “Part of our strategy is to develop a national brand by licensing our flavors to other processors.” The six flavors are: banana cream, black cherry, Blue Moon, cotton candy, grape and orange Dreamsicle. More are in the works.

“All of our flavors were developed for use with a minimal amount of added sugar, only 10 grams,” Mr. Matun said. “We believe it’s important for our labels to be as clean as possible, so the formulations contain no artificial sweeteners, no high-fructose corn syrup and no artificial colors.” Five of the six flavors are made with only natural flavors and are labeled as all-natural.

“Millennials want new and unique flavors and variation will be vital to growth in the flavored milk category,” Ms. Leinenbach said. “We don’t see chocolate milk moving from the top spot in flavored milk any time soon, but we’ll continue to make our mark by offering new and fabulous flavors for all seasons, including variations of chocolate milk.”

Ms. Anderson-Wise agreed that there’s a lot of opportunity with flavored milk for both children and adults.

“With the overall decline in fluid milk consumption, flavored milk could help turn the tide and, more importantly, be a way for children and adults to get the essential nutrients they need in their diets,” she said.