Protein Powered Solutions for Beverage Innovations

Wednesday, September 8th, 2021

When it comes to developing successful beverages, quenching consumers’ thirsts is just the start. The pandemic has contributed to a shift in consumer behaviour, increasing focus on health and nutrition while also reinforcing a desire for enjoyable, comforting options. 

Martin Teo, Technical Director—Food Applications at the U.S. Dairy Export Council (USDEC) in Singapore, shares his perspectives on protein beverage innovation opportunities along with new product ideas that can win with consumers.

“If health benefits drive purchase motivation, taste is what seals the deal,” says Teo. “With the health and wellness beverage category projected to exceed a 5 percent compound annual growth rate in Asia through 2025, formulators have a bright opportunity to innovate protein beverages that deliver on nutritional desires and delight with adventurous tastes and textures.” 

Refreshing, Local Flavours 

While sports drinks and protein smoothies are common applications, Teo believes there is untapped potential to expand protein beverages beyond sports enthusiasts to more mainstream consumers. Reflecting on his visits to the United States where protein beverages are more common, Teo envisions a future in Southeast Asia where supermarket shelves are similarly stocked with a wide selection, from protein waters and juice drinks to protein-infused iced coffees and more. 

Glocalisation is the key to making his vision a reality. Regional beverage manufacturers revealed to USDEC that Southeast Asian consumers prefer beverages that aren’t as thick as Western products and feature local tastes and flavours (i.e., beyond the common choices of vanilla, chocolate or strawberry). 

Armed with these consumer insights and the latest industry trends, USDEC collaborated with Singapore’s Food Innovation and Resource Centre to develop regionally friendly, ready-to-drink protein beverages for various ages. 

“We focused on incorporating flavours that are naturally refreshing in hot, tropical climates to help broaden appeal,” says Teo. 

Prototypes included a honey ginger milky protein beverage made with U.S. milk protein. With the right combination of ginger and honey, it makes a soothing bedtime drink. The team also created a sparkling honey lemon protein water aimed at younger consumers as a replacement for carbonated soda drinks. Another example is a dessert beverage—pomelo flavoured protein water—that packs a fun bite of nata de coco with also added Vitamin C and zinc. All three beverages contain about 20g of protein per serving. 

Selecting The Right Protein 

Understanding the various attributes of a growing range of protein sources, as well as their different functional properties (heat and pH stability, water holding capacity, etc.) is critical to formulating beverages. The key to balancing nutrition without compromising on sensory experience or visual appearance? 

“U.S. whey and milk proteins,” says Teo. “Dairy proteins have a neutral taste profile that reduces the need for flavour maskers. Beyond winning taste and high-quality nutrition, the functionality of U.S. whey and milk proteins allow them to work wonderfully in a wide range of beverage applications.” 

Beverage Strategies for Active Ageing

The ageing population is a global demographic trend impacting the food and beverage sector, and one Teo predicts will drive significant growth opportunities, particularly for Southeast Asia given the region’s rapidly greying society.

He explained that healthy beverages can address unique nutritional needs of the entire spectrum—not just of seniors, but also as a way for health-conscious younger and middle-aged adults to invest in their health today to remain fit, active and independent in their golden years. 

“Not only do many older adults not consume enough protein, but they’re also not properly hydrating,” says Teo. “U.S. dairy protein-fortified beverages, such as the protein waters we developed deliver quality protein critical to help protect against age-related muscle loss, while conveniently addressing hydration needs at the same time.”

Innovation across varying eating occasions and at different protein levels is paramount to satisfy consumers’ health and lifestyle needs. This drive for further dairy protein product development extends beyond meal replacement shake beverages that tend to be most closely associated with healthy ageing today. 

“Formulators can boost the healthy ageing appeal of beverages by reducing sugar and calories, utilizing fewer preservatives and fortification with fibre or other functional ingredients in addition to quality dairy proteins,” Teo added.  

Optimising Packaging

While taste and nutrition are integral to success, beverages must also be optimised in how they are marketed. Beyond being aesthetically pleasing, packaging design should also consider portion size, portability, simple and convenient bottle/cap closures alongside clear and easily visible labelling. These are important especially when launching a new product. Illustrating key characteristics and features of the product such as protein content and ingredient origin can elevate consumer interest and willingness to purchase. 

“We designed packaging mock-ups for several U.S. dairy protein beverage prototypes to demonstrate advantageous ways to appeal to Southeast Asian consumers of different age groups and lifestyles,” says Teo. “We welcome food and beverage manufacturers to reach out to us to further explore these prototypes as well as for inspiration and technical support on using U.S. dairy ingredients, which are both body and planet-friendly.”


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