Exploring innovation in dairy cultures

25 Jun 2019

The market for dairy cultures is bursting with innovation as the sector responds to growing demand for low sugar, lactose-free, plant-based and probiotic-enriched products.

Among the top five yoghurt markets in Western Europe, four are in decline: France, Spain, the UK, and Italy. Germany bucks the trend, albeit with modest growth, according to figures from Euromonitor International, but consumers are interested in innovative new products in the category, creating a number of fast-growing niches. Overall, demand for yoghurt across Europe has remained flat in recent years.

Exploring innovation in dairy cultures
European yoghurt sales have remained flat, but niche products are on the rise

Stemming from rising consumer demand for authentic ethnic foods and flavours, specific regional yoghurt varieties have gained ground on a global basis. In Europe, Icelandic Skyr is a prominent example, while kefir has become the trendy dairy product of choice in the United States following on from the meteoric success of Greek yoghurt a few years back.

Netherlands-based CSK Food is among those to have developed a range of cultures recently to respond to changing consumer tastes, and says its cultures add character and authenticity to various types of yoghurt, including stirred, set, strained and drinking yoghurts. Its range gives “the possibility to develop signature yogurts with a characteristic taste”, the company says.

Beyond flavours and textures, suppliers have also developed new probiotic cultures in recent years. Despite no approved health claims for probiotic products in Europe, many yoghurt manufacturers (and consumers) have been undeterred, and the European market for probiotics continues to grow.
Suppliers including Dupont Nutrition & Health and Ganeden have positioned probiotics for sports nutrition and weight management, especially as interest has risen for protein-based yoghurt and fermented dairy foods and drinks. Probiotics are also often used to back up ‘easy to digest’ claims in the sports nutrition sector.

In addition, cheese has emerged as a rich area for dairy innovation. Companies like DuPont Nutrition & Biosciences, DSM, CSK Food and Chr Hansen have come out with cultures that respond to shifting textural and flavour preferences, whether that is CSK’s new roasted flavour culture to create more savoury cheese flavours, or Chr Hansen’s cultures for more authentic flavours in cheddar, feta and provolone cheeses.

Ingredient companies with years of experience in the dairy sector now are innovating in the plant milk space too. For instance, Chr Hansen has started supplying yoghurt cultures and probiotic cultures for plant-based yoghurt alternatives, and DuPont Nutrition & Health, under its Danisco brand, supplies a range of cultures for plant-based fermented foods.

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