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To reverse the US trend of moving away from dairy consumption, the industry sector developed educational tools to enlighten consumers about dairy’s health benefits. Concurrently, a research team set out to find out if these “learning” measures were useful and found they increased consumer spending and consumption of cheese, ice cream, milk and yogurt by more than 20%.

“Some consumers also have a misperception that dairy products are not as healthy as plant-based products. Hundreds of peer-reviewed scientific literature is available to the contrary. Some consumers also have a misperception that dairy products are not sustainable. At least 75% of what cows eat cannot be consumed by humans — they are great recyclers — and the dairy industry has been working towards net zero,” Stephanie Clark, Ph.D., Iowa State University and lead investigator of the study, tells Nutrition Insight.

“Unfortunately, the dairy industry has not been as innovative with messaging as the plant-based industry.”

While many US citizens consume dairy and dairy foods have grown in popularity, conventional milk consumption has significantly declined since the 1960s. The dairy sector tried to reach consumers through informational infographics, advertisements and social media.

The researchers conducted the study in three phases — a screening survey, nominal focus groups and a follow-up survey with voluntary adult participants. In the first phase, 4,542 adults completed the survey, which consisted of 15 questions.

“We set out to educate those who consume an inadequate amount of dairy — less than three servings of dairy a day, according to The Dietary Guidelines for Americans — about various topics related to dairy nutrition, test their retention of information and if increasing their knowledge around dairy motivates purchasing and consumption of dairy products,” she says.

Power of focus groups
The JDS Communications study, published by the American Dairy Science Association and Elsevier, demonstrates that attending nominal focus groups significantly and positively affected dairy product purchasing and consumption between the pre-survey and the one-month follow-up survey.

“Dairy contributes 13 essential nutrients to the human diet at “good” to “excellent” levels (at least 10% of the daily value we need). These nutrients are essential because our bodies need them from food (we cannot get them any other way). They do not need to be added to dairy products (they are natural components) and they are highly bioavailable (our bodies can utilize the nutrients—they don’t simply pass through us),” says Clark.

“After the initial screening survey was closed, we funneled out a group of 195 participants for the nominal focus groups based on their interest in participating, lack of any food allergies and the fact that they were reporting consuming less than three servings of dairy per day,” Clark explained.

Four target infographics educated the research participants about food labels and dairy concepts, such as nutrition facts panels, lactose maldigestion, nine essential nutrients, prebiotics and probiotics.The researchers recommend further studies into the long-term effects of dairy education on the diet.

During the nominal focus groups phase, facilitators administered a pre-survey, followed by an infographics lesson and an ice cream acceptability test. Participants tasted three samples of ice cream while facilitators explained the nutritional facts and ingredient statements of each. Particular attention was given to the differences in lactose and added sugar.

“This was a key message since lactose is a natural component of dairy products (not an added sugar), the majority of the world’s population (~85%) can comfortably consume lactose so it should not be removed from the diet of most people, and lactose is consumed by healthy (probiotic) lactic acid bacteria, so it is a prebiotic,” Clark notes.

“Unlike traditional focus groups, where data are collected from interacting panelists, our goal with the nominal format was to deliver educational information to the participants efficiently,” Clark says.

Meanwhile, the market for dairy proteins is diversifying and moving into the popular health and wellness categories, such as gut health and functional foods. Consumers and companies increasingly seek offerings that address specific health needs obtained through sustainable practices.

Post-ice cream survey
Participants completed another survey after the ice cream test and another a month later. Overall dairy consumption among the participants rose to eight servings a week, roughly a 35% increase.

The study demonstrates that carefully constructed educational messages on dairy foods’ benefits and nutritional attributes can positively influence consumer behavior, leading to increased purchasing and consumption of dairy foods.

“Average dairy product purchasing increased to 4.4 servings per week, a 26% increase. Average consumption of each dairy product also increased — 23% for cheese, 20% for ice cream, 26% for yogurt and a staggering 53% increase for milk,” says Clark.

“The result for milk consumption was the stand-out in our results, with every focus group seeing milk consumption go up by at least one serving per week.”

Despite the study findings, the participants still need to reach the recommended 21 servings of dairy a week. The researchers stressed the importance of additional research to understand the long-term impacts of education on dairy in the diet or whether improvements to the educational materials or its presentation might enhance their impact.

In addition, the dairy protein market evolves as the ingredients expand beyond the sports nutrition space. Currently, dairy proteins are trending as sought-after ingredients in the holistic health, gut health and functional and fortifying ingredients categories.

Source : Nutrition Insight Mar 01 2024 By Inga de Jong

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