What have been some of the recent drivers behind changing consumer eating patterns?
“Consumers have been faced with a lot of uncertainty over the past few years. First it was the pandemic and now, in 2023, it is the economic downturn and the rising cost of living. All of this uncertainty has seen consumers reluctant to give up products they deem to be essential. At the same time, consumers have been seeking out small moments and indulgences that provide escapism.
“Health and wellness had been a growing trend before the pandemic, but consumers are now making more of a commitment to long-term health and wellbeing. Consumers have a considered focus on prevention over cure. Concerns about the environment also continue to be strong and are also linked to a holistic mindset that links the subject of sustainability and health.”
How has this impacted the consumption of protein in particular?
“Protein is an ingredient that has a positive health halo and is considered positively by consumers. Furthermore, there is a strong desire for protein to be available in everyday food and drinks, not just specialised foods. This trend has driven sports products to become much more mainstream. Sports beverages and sports bars are more readily available in supermarkets. In addition, many more products now carry protein claims.
“There has also been a growth in alternative protein sources, especially plant-based proteins. There are many more plant-based sports nutrition products available on the market today.”
What challenges have formulators faced in meeting these evolving demands?
“Demand for protein rich foods has driven demand for protein at a manufacturing level. As with any product, when demand increases the price is likely to increase.
“Production of high-protein products with excellent texture and taste can be very challenging as different protein sources perform differently during the manufacturing process. The functionality of protein is very important, and understanding which types of protein will perform best is critical.”
A key message you are bringing to Vitafoods is that not all proteins are equal. What do you mean by this?
“When it comes to protein, it is important to consider both the quality and quantity. The main determinate for nutritional quality of protein is the amount of essential amino acids (EAAs) present in a dietary protein, and the digestibility of these. Protein Digestibility Corrected Amino Acid Score (PDCAAS) is a widely used assay for evaluating protein quality. EAAs cannot be synthesised by the body and therefore, need to be consumed through the diet.
“Dairy protein is considered a ‘complete’ protein source containing all the essential amino acids vital for human health. Dairy protein receives a PDCAAS of 100.”
What about whey protein in particular?
“Whey protein has long been recognised as an outstanding protein source because of its high protein quality. Whey protein has relatively high essential amino acid and leucine levels compared with other proteins, and undergoes rapid digestion and absorption after ingestion.
“Leucine is a key essential amino acid and [branched-chain amino acid] BCAA in stimulating muscle protein synthesis. Leucine acts like a molecular switch that turns on the manufacturing of muscle in the body. Promiko WPI is naturally high in leucine, containing 10 g per 100 g of powder compared to pea protein and soy protein which both contain less than 6 g/100 g. This means WPI can provide a high dose of protein and leucine in a relatively small serving.”
What innovations will you highlight at Vitafoods 2023?
“Tailoring protein ingredients to meet particular functional needs is essential - while also maintaining a clean-label. An example of this is the process that Tirlán uses to produce whey protein isolate. This is a clean, chemical-free process that allows the concentration of protein while producing a very functional ingredient.
“Cross flow microfiltration (CFM) has been a key innovation in the development of whey protein isolate. Over the years, this process has been further developed and refined, and it is key to the creation of high-quality whey protein isolate. By producing WPI in this way, we ensure no chemicals are used in the process, so keeping the final product chemical-free. The valuable bioactive components such as [glycomacropeptides] GMP and ß-lactoglobulin remain intact.”
How else can you help food and beverage manufacturers to meet consumer demands?
“We offer a range of protein and nutritional powders to match the ever-changing demands of the food and nutrition industry and its consumers. Our bespoke range is available in a wide portfolio to suit all needs. This includes functional dairy proteins for use in everyday foods as well as nutritional dairy proteins for use in clinical, medical and sports nutritional products. We also have a range of infant-formula grade powders.”
“We are also the largest buyer of Irish oats, which are sourced from Irish family farms. Oats are an excellent source of nutrition, as they naturally contain between 11-13 % protein. In addition, they are high in soluble fibres, especially β-Glucans which can help to reduce and lower cholesterol. They are low in sugar, salt and saturated fat, and contain a range of minerals such as calcium, iron, magnesium and zinc.
“Oats are one of the most promising raw materials for the preparation of functional plant-based food. Our extensive range of oat flakes and flours can be used in a range of solutions and applications to deliver great-tasting, highly functional and nutritious products.”
What future dairy developments will you highlight?
“Finding uses for different streams is also an important consideration. Whey, once a by-product of cheese manufacture used for feeding pigs, is a classic example – it is now used as an extremely functional product and is highly valued for its nutritional profile across a range of sectors, especially sports nutrition.
“Tirlán led the technological developments around the process for manufacturing WPI over 30 years ago. We continue to innovate in this space, balancing circular sustainability with health and functionality. In 2021 we opened a new EUR 15 million state of the art innovation centre, with pilot plant, prototyping and applications capability at our Ballyragget site.
“We have also recently invested significantly in a Customer Experience centre in our new Collaborative Hub in Kilkenny. This is a space that will allow us bring our ingredients and solutions to life and co create with our customers.”
Dr Eve Mulcahy is Category Manager – Proteins at Tirlán (formerly Glanbia Ireland)
She graduated from UCC with a BSc in Food Science in 2010 and a PhD in Food Science in 2016. She is passionate about food innovation and bringing new products to the market. Her presentation at Vitafoods 2023 is entitled ‘Which whey: meeting functional and nutritional needs as protein goes mainstream’.