Harness Localisation To Unleash Innovation

Wednesday, July 8th, 2020

As we navigate the impact of COVID-19 on the food and beverage industry, the APFI team spoke with Martin Teo, Technical Director of Food Applications at the U.S. Dairy Export Council (USDEC) in Singapore, regarding dairy ingredient product trends and the unforeseen opportunity of the pandemic: a chance to further harness innovation.

“It may feel like the world the way we knew it was put on hold, but we don’t have to be stagnant,” says Teo. He believes companies can make the most of these trying times to focus on innovation and product development. “Moments of creativity often come during periods of change, and that’s true for USDEC, as shifting manufacturer and consumer needs come to the forefront.”

With a view to the future, the organisation is helping Southeast Asian food and beverage manufacturers pair research and trends with regionally friendly dairy ingredient opportunities—putting a spotlight on nutrition, wellness and convenience.


Rising To A New Reality

People are shopping and eating differently. They’re cooking at home or getting food delivered more often, and there’s an increased focus on healthy eating.

Consumer demand for protein was driving new product development around the world before the pandemic, and Teo anticipates it will gain strength in Asia in the months and years ahead. A 2019 USDEC survey found that consumers rate protein as a highly important part of their diet, scoring 4.3 in Thailand and 4.2 in Singapore on a 5-point scale.  Another 2019 consumer survey by Innova Market Insights found that 86 percent of Indonesian respondents indicated protein content influenced their purchasing decisions.

“While protein is found in a variety of animal and plant foods, there is a wide variation in nutritional quality,” says Teo. “Dairy proteins stand out as an easily digestible, high quality, complete protein source, containing all of the essential amino acids and powerful nutrition for healthy, active lifestyles.”

It’s not just gym goers who are looking to fill protein gaps. Protein enthusiasts also include parents concerned about their children’s development, weight-conscious adults, as well as older adults and seniors striving for healthy ageing.

“Consumers can easily increase protein intake throughout the day by adding whey protein to things like salad dressing or fried rice dishes. Applying this mind-set—innovating with nutritional dairy protein ingredients—creates opportunities for food manufacturers to develop easy-to-prepare home-cooked meals, but also for food service and home delivery channels.”

Before COVID-19, demands of society had people on the go. While staying at home might have more people inclined to snack between main meals, Teo predicts even when things return to a semblance of normalcy, people will continue to seek easy, convenient snacks.

“Providing healthier snack options with added protein that are suitable for any time of day is a sweet spot of opportunity,” says Teo. “Consumers are craving enjoyment now more than ever, offering bright prospects to go beyond the traditional protein bar or favourite comfort food, and provide nutrition without sacrificing taste or indulgence. An exciting way to do that—while appealing to a wider consumer base—is developing dairy protein snacks in different formats and flavours.”


Sparking Creativity Through Support

While social distancing measures have limited face-to-face meetings, USDEC continues to engage with customers, providing virtual trainings on how companies can localise and adapt popular dairy protein products tailored to Southeast Asian preferences.

“We’re using technology to stay connected with end users to better understand and respond to their needs. From market demand/supply information to new product ideas and even technical support, we remain a steadfast resource for the region.”

USDEC continues to develop regionally friendly prototypes that showcase multisensory experiences and bring to life new concepts that fulfil demand for good taste and good health. U.S. dairy protein’s neutral flavour profile lends well to versatile usage in flavoured products and cuisines, with the added value of clean labels.

Beyond dairy protein products, another ingredient in the spotlight is permeate. It boasts advantages of cost-savings, flavour enhancement and an ability to reduce sodium while maintaining consumer acceptable flavour. Dairy protein and permeate ingredients also complement plant-based ingredients, multiplying the benefits.

“For example, combining whey protein, beetroot and ginger provides both protein and antioxidants. The possibilities are limitless.”

But even with experimentation, there are two non-negotiables: quality and taste.

“Flavour is king,” says Teo, who has found that taste preferences can be specific to country or region. “In testing of popular protein shakes for example, some consumers will tell us the texture is too thick, even if they like the flavour, so ensuring local adaptation is key.”


Coming Out Ahead

Just like any good pairing, these products can’t be served alone. Education is also on the menu. USDEC’s survey found that consumers are unsure of the ideal daily protein intake quantity and differences in protein quality.  Further awareness-building is important to raise understanding of the benefits U.S. Dairy provides that are friendly for the body and the planet.

“We’re providing a diverse range of nutritious, functional and versatile products, trusted technical expertise, bold innovation and a commitment to sustainability across the global supply chain. Customers in Asia can rest assured that when they are ready to take action on their innovation plans, U.S. dairy suppliers and their diverse product portfolio of dairy ingredients will be there.”

We echo their sentiments—use this time to tap into creativity and fill an innovation pipeline so you’re one step closer to coming out ahead of the competition.



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