US dairy ingredients powering Mena food & beverage innovation - GulfToday

US dairy ingredients powering Mena food & beverage innovation

US-Dairy

The US Dairy Pavilion at Gulfood in Dubai.

Business Bureau, Gulf Today

With rising affluence and a young population with evolving dietary habits, the Mena region has shown continued growth and appetite for dairy, confectionery and bakery applications. The region will account for as much as 24% of world dairy imports in 2027. Exports of US dairy products to the Middle East, Egypt and Morocco totalled 4,357 metric tons (MT) for the month of January 2019, said Nina Halal, Director, USDEC Middle East & North Africa.

As consumers’ interest in health and wellness foods continues to climb, delivering nourishing products that are simultaneously delicious, enjoyable and convenient will continue to be both a challenge and an opportunity for food and beverage formulators around the world. Beyond nutrition, consumers are looking for their products to check other boxes such as being made from sustainably produced sources and providing memorable experiences and global flavors.

Nina said, “Regional food and beverage manufacturers have an opportunity to take advantage of the benefits US dairy ingredients offer as a solution to capitalise on these market trends, catering to the nutritional needs and taste preferences of the Middle East’s expanding base of health-conscious consumers. As oil-rich nations in the region pursue economic diversification strategies to reduce heavy reliance on oil revenues, many businesses and entrepreneurs in the region are looking at this space as an attractive, alternative growth opportunity. This also strategically aligns with strengthening government efforts in the region to combat rising incidence of obesity, diabetes, and other chronic diseases.”

Other factors include continued foodservice growth and retail expansion—a number of restaurants and major international hotel chains are setting shop in the region, which in turn is pushing suppliers on innovation and product diversification in the health and wellness category.

She further explained that, “Dairy ingredients from the United States not only offer supply security, but they uniquely address formulator needs to meet consumer demand for sustainably produced, nutritious, functional and versatile ingredients for use in food and beverage products.”

New food and beverages using whey protein and permeate have been growing in the last decade, and show no signs of slowing down. According to data from Innova Market Insights, 2017 saw a record number of new product introductions with both whey protein and permeate around the world. Regional numbers indicate great growth potential, as only 3.5 per cent and 2.9 per cent of those new products respectively came from the Middle East and Africa.

While sports nutrition was the No. 1 usage segment, the same Innova data showed that more than half of new whey protein product launches were in other categories—meals from breakfast options such as oatmeal to pizza with fortified crus, and snacks from popcorn to protein-coated almonds.

She commented, “US dairy proteins’ neutral flavor profile complements the flavors of other ingredients so they are at home in any cuisine including Middle Eastern and more. This creates exciting opportunities for innovation in the better-for-you space by offering things like protein-fortified indulgent, sweet or savory applications.”

Offering the advantages of convenience and portability to today’s busy consumers, ready-to-drink (RTD) beverages also provide an opportunity to incorporate innovative and exciting, functional ingredients and packaging technologies. Dairy proteins are often the preferred source for RTD protein beverages because of their excellent nutritional qualities, mild flavor, ease of digestibility and unique functionality in beverage systems.

Permeate, also known as dairy product solids, is an advantageous ingredient solution offering the benefits of flavor extension as well as sodium and cost reduction. Produced through the removal of protein and other solids from milk or whey, permeate can be used in a range of formulations including bakery, confectionery, snacks, soup, prepared meals and more.

Talking about the evolving needs of the region’s dairy demand, she said, “Beyond supplying these ingredients, the US dairy industry is meeting the evolving needs of the region’s dairy demand by establishing partnerships with key retailers, high-end foodservice entities, culinary institutes and universities.”

“We’ve made a strategic effort to drive innovation in the region including sponsoring student competitions at Cairo University and Ain Shams University in Cairo and Alexandria University in Alexandria to inspire the next generation of Egyptian food and beverages. The students combined US dairy ingredients with local flavors to create new and exciting snack and beverage applications”, she said.

The US dairy community is committed to engagement and visibility in the Mena region for both cheese and ingredients to benefit the region’s vibrant business success.