The dairy sector is currently considered one of the top 3 most innovative sectors in Europe. Between 2022 and 2029, the dairy desserts market (1,2) is expected to grow at a rate of 4.27%. The global frozen desserts sub-sector will exceed that, at a CAGR of 5.5%, during the forecast period up until 2026 (3).

Amongst the drivers for growth are an increased consideration of allergies, intolerance, and the uptake of plant-based diets (4). For example, lactose-free ice cream has an expanding presence in the freezer cabinets alongside the growing portfolio of healthier premium dessert products, the holy grail of permissible indulgence. These innovations provide consumers with the right balance of sensory qualities using texture modifiers, crystallization inhibitors, and natural flavours.

These healthier nutritional profiles, through reduced sugar and fat offerings using key functional ingredients such as emulsion stabilizers, also go the extra mile by enhancing nutrient density through protein enrichment. The availability of plant-based and non-dairy offerings is also adding a new dimension and helps formulators create dairy product solutions without compromising taste, texture, or label simplicity.

Reduced-fat dairy solutions

The smoothness and creaminess, usually because of the fat content, are key components of indulgent texture and mouthfeel. Certain ingredients have natural properties, such as water and fat binding, and essentially mimic the texture and meltaway characteristics of fat, so will significantly help replace fat in dairy products. Derived from natural sources, such as potato and maize, these ingredients can also help with that all-important clean label positioning.

Another great option for enhancing the mouthfeel of fat-reduced dairy products is the use of soluble fibre such as fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS). The range of prebiotic fibres is no longer limited to inulin, with alternatives from cane or beet sugar becoming available. Galacto-oligosaccharides, (GOS), derived from milk, is also available for dairy products where ‘vegan’ status is unimportant.

These sweet-tasting soluble fibres are also effective in sugar reduction and can be used alongside intense sweeteners such as stevia, sucralose, or Polyols such as Erythritol. The use of soluble fibres has the added benefit of providing additional fibre to the product, as well as prebiotic properties. Depending on addition rates, nutrition and health claims relating to fibre content and prebiotic benefits could be used, depending on the region.

A bowl of granola, strawberries, raspberries, and coconut with a dallop of plant-based cream on topA bowl of granola, strawberries, raspberries, and coconut with a dallop of plant-based cream on top
Reuseable glass bottles of plant-based milk on a table with nutsReuseable glass bottles of plant-based milk on a table with nuts

Dairy-free and dairy alternatives

There is also an opportunity to widen the appeal of indulgent products by looking at the free-from possibilities, such as the dairy components which can be exchanged for "vegan" alternatives, or removing certain allergens by considering other protein sources such as oats, pulses, and wheat.

As an alternative to dairy, more and more consumers are seeking plant-based beverages, shakes, and desserts that are high in protein, minimally processed, pure, and natural, and also taste great.

In its recent creative culinary demo, Univar Solutions Food Ingredients demonstrated how careful selection and reparation of the right ingredients can be effective in developing range. The Flex Forward suite of ingredients comprises texturisers, proteins, and modified starches to build back the structural and technical functionality. Flavours, colours, and taste modulators boost the sensory experiences, and prebiotic fibres and enzymes ensure that other aspects of nutrition are addressed.

The focus of these ingredients goes right to the heart of the technical challenges by taking on milk in the plant-based beverage market and ice creams and sweet-dairy desserts. These ingredients can also be successfully applied in some of the more challenging products, such as spreadable cheese. These solutions should not be considered in isolation in terms of developing vegan products, but their functionality should be embraced for implementing healthy eating reformulation strategies.

The power of enzymes in milk and dairy products

Enzymes can unlock the nutritional potential and functionality of milk and optimise the performance and profile of dairy products. Enzymes are typically classified as a processing aid, so are not required to be included in the ingredient declaration, keeping that all-important label clean!

Sugar is increasingly recognised as being the most significant contributory factor in diet-related disease and so reducing sugar in dairy formulations is important. In other product categories, sugar reduction typically results in an expanded ingredient declaration as taste, texture etc. are replaced and rebuilt. The application of enzymes, namely Lactase, can break-down the milk sugar (lactose) into components with greater sweetness, allowing lower in-use levels, and so reducing sugar.

Enzymes can also be used to convert the lactose to GOS, a soluble fibre, which can enable fibre and prebiotic claims. These are innovations that can be employed in milk, yoghurts, and ice creams as well as other dairy-based desserts. Lactase breaks down the lactose into glucose and galactose; the end result is a low lactose product, making it more accessible to the estimated 68% of the world's population which suffer from Lactose malabsorption (5).

Sports nutrition products, such as those high in protein, appeal to a much wider consumer base to help improve energy levels and help keep active. Whey protein hydrolysates are a great ingredient to incorporate into beverages but often come with technical challenges which might limit their application. The right enzymes can again be employed to address the functionality issues of shelf stability and taste profile. The secret is to know the solution exists and who to ask.

But it's not just about the nutritional profile. Desserts need to be indulgent, and a stronger protein network within a yoghurt increases its viscosity. The perception of creaminess and luxury also can be enabled through the selection of the right enzyme treatment.

When it comes to dairy products, whether ready-to-drink (RTD) beverages or luxury desserts, don't overlook enzymes and the benefits they can unlock.

Bagels on a cutting board with plant-based cream-cheeseBagels on a cutting board with plant-based cream-cheese

Making the right choice with a dairy ingredients + innovations partner

Dairy products are under considerable pressure to provide indulgent products with improved nutritional profiles, which isn't always straightforward. But, across the wide range of dairy products, there is a significant opportunity to rise to the challenge of improving their nutritional profile. Careful selection of the right ingredients, with the right partner, certainly has to be the most positive step any producer can make.


2. Global Dairy Desserts Market – Industry Trends and Forecast to 2029
3. Frozen desserts market - growth, trends, covid-19 impact, and forecasts (2022 – 2027).
4. All the food claims and benefits you need to keep dairy consumers healthier, and happier Novonesis Dairy E-book
5. Storhaug CL, Fosse SK, Fadnes LT. Country, regional, and global estimates for lactose malabsorption in adults: a systematic review and meta-analysis. The Lancet. Gastroenterology & Hepatology. 2017;2(10):738–746.