Evolution Fresh smoothies
Manufacturers focused on adding protein to new product formulations.

KANSAS CITY — Dairy-derived ingredients are nutritious and functional components of many recently introduced “non-milk” beverages. The ingredients contribute essential nutrients, including protein, the macronutrient today’s consumers cannot seem to get enough of in their daily diet.

Inclusion of dairy, however, means bringing one of the eight major allergens into the beverage and requires the beverage’s label to acknowledge its presence. When it comes to declaring the addition of dairy, for some marketers, the statement “contains: dairy” adds value to the product, creating a point of differentiation in the increasingly complex beverage segment. That is because having dairy ingredients listed on an ingredient legend transfers all of milk’s wholesomeness and health-promoting attributes to the beverage.

This benefit is embraced by Atkins Nutritionals Inc., Denver, with its new Atkins Lift Protein Drinks. Available in three flavors — berry, lemon and orange — each 16.9-oz bottle contains 90 to 100 calories, depending on flavor, along with no sugar and 20 grams of protein from whey protein isolate (W.P.I.).

The company recently introduced the clear beverages in conjunction with a line of low-carbohydrate high-protein bars. Both are targeted to fitness enthusiasts, not the brand’s typical target audience of the weight loss community, and merchandised in the sports nutrition aisle. This is a first for Atkins.

PowerBar, a brand of Post Holdings, Inc., St. Louis, is extending its sport nutrition know-how into the ready-to-drink (R.-T.-D.) beverage category. Gluten-free PowerBar Protein Shake is described as being fueled by protein, as it contains the company’s proprietary protein blend of milk protein concentrate (M.P.C.), calcium caseinate and whey protein concentrate (W.P.C.). Sold in 14-oz plastic shelf-stable bottles, the beverage comes in chocolate and vanilla flavors with a single bottle containing 160 calories and 30 grams of protein.

MET-Rx, Ronkonkoma, N.Y., is rolling out a new athlete-inspired beverage: MET-Rx Ultra Recovery High Protein Milk Shake. Available in chocolate and vanilla flavors, the post-workout protein shake has ultra-filtered milk as its No. 1 ingredient, enabling the beverage to claim it is “made with real milk.” It gets a protein boost from the addition of milk protein isolate (M.P.I.), to deliver 30 grams of protein in every 11-oz shelf-stable bottle.

‘Milk’ without the milk

In the sports nutrition category, an R.-T.-D. beverage brand that continues to evolve, either in response to federal regulators having concerns with label claims, or by choice, through formulation innovation, is Muscle Milk. Issues with the brand from CytoSport Inc., Walnut Creek, Calif., a business unit of Hormel Foods Corp., Austin, Minn., began in 2009, when Nestle USA, Glendale, Calif., filed a petition with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to revoke Muscle Milk’s trademark for being “deceptively misdescriptive,” as the product does not actually contain milk. But it does contain dairy ingredients. It always has and continues to make dairy ingredients a prominent ingredient.

Muscle Milk
While Muscle Milk's core beverage line contains whey proteins, it is considered non-dairy because the lactose and fat have been filtered from those proteins.

Nestle’s position was that as a global player in the milk category, it believes in the nutritional benefits of milk. The company was quoted in The New York Times as saying, “Consumers looking at Muscle Milk, marketed as a ‘Nutritional Shake,’ are likely to be misled into believing they are purchasing a flavored or supplemented milk product, when, in fact, they are purchasing a water-based product that contains no milk.”

While Muscle Milk’s core beverage line contains whey proteins, it is considered non-dairy because the lactose and fat have been filtered from those proteins. After the Nestle filing, Muscle Milk agreed to disclose, prominently and directly below the product name on the front panel of the label, that the product “contains no milk.”

This approach appeased the Federal Trade Commission, but not the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which found that the disclaimer itself may mislead consumers with milk allergies, as the product contains ingredients derived from milk. Since, Muscle Milk once again has changed its front label panels. The company now describes the products as “non-dairy,” verbiage placed directly adjacent to the brand with the word “brand” next to the words Muscle Milk to clearly communicate this is not a milk beverage. Also on the front panel is the phrase “contains no milk/includes milk proteins.”

The company now is growing the brand with two new product concepts, one that now may be called dairy. Muscle Milk Protein Smoothie Yogurt Shakes are made with Greek-style yogurt, and this is prominently displayed on the front label, void of any non-dairy, no milk jargon.

The shelf-stable shakes are available in 16-oz plastic bottles in four varieties, including blueberry, mango tangerine, peach and strawberry banana, and contain 25 grams of protein from the added yogurt, M.P.C. and W.P.C. Because the beverage is heat treated after culturing, the cultures are no longer live and active. These details are stated on product labels.

The company also is introducing Muscle Milk Coffee House Protein Shakes, which feature coffee as the primary ingredient. Each 11-oz shelf-stable prisma box delivers 120 mg of caffeine, similar to a cup of coffee. The serving also contains 20 grams of protein from M.P.I.

“Innovation is essential to our company,” said Greg Longstreet, president and chief executive officer of CytoSport. “We recognize that everyone’s protein needs are different, and we must provide products that complement today’s lifestyles.”

Beyond coffee’s jolt

The R.-T.-D. coffee segment historically has been focused on the energy jolt. Today, the segment continues to evolve to meet consumer preferences and needs. Similar to the Muscle Milk coffee line, new Trusource Protein Java from Optimum Nutrition, Aurora, Ill., also emphasizes protein content. Each 8-oz can of the R.-T.-D. iced coffee beverage contains 16 grams of protein from ultra-filtered nonfat milk and reduced-fat milk. Using real brewed coffee gives each serving 70 mg of caffeine.

Protein is not always the added bonus. For example, at Grass Fed Coffee, Los Angeles, it’s about the nutrients found in butter coming from grass-fed cows. After 14 months of research and development, and 17 prototypes, the company is ready to bring the product to market. Available in 8-oz cans, the beverage is described as “premium butter coffee cold brewed, the evolution of energy.” The first three ingredients are: water, coffee extract and butter. Specifically, the beverage uses butter imported from Germany. It is said to contain healthy fats, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.

La Colombe Coffee Roasters, Philadelphia, recently introduced La Colombe Draft Latte, which allows on-the-go consumers to enjoy the full taste and texture of a true iced latte, complete with a frothy layer of silky foam. Made with grass-fed milk and cold-pressed espresso, what sets this product apart from other R.-T.-D. lattes is the special pressurized 9-oz can that froths the ingredients when opened, according to the company.

Juicing the protein category

Coffee is not the only beverage being cold pressed and mixed with dairy these days. So is fruit.

With innovation always a top priority at Evolution Fresh, a refrigerated juice brand of Seattle-based Starbucks Corp., the research and development team is continuously seeking out emerging juice trends and consumer insights for inspiration. Most recently, they discovered a need to develop new juices that provide specific benefits.


PowerBar protein shakes
PowerBar is extending its sport nutrition know-how into the ready-to-drink beverage category.

“We looked at the latest trends in juicing and nutrition to understand that consumers are seeking more sources of protein and new options for hydration,” said Mark Ninomiya, product manager with Evolution Fresh. “With the popularity of smoothies, juice is a natural place to get protein. We created two new flavor variations on our Protein Power line.”

The Evolution Fresh Protein Power line is the only cold-pressed juices to deliver an excellent source of protein. Protein Power Greens focuses on green vegetable juices, including cucumber, spinach, romaine lettuce and kale, while Protein Power Berry is all about sweet and tart strawberries and raspberry juices. Both juice blends are combined with W.P.C. to produce a creamy smoothie that provides 14 grams of protein per 8-oz serving.

For some beverage companies, the emphasis is on the dairy ingredient component. For Wisconsin Specialty Protein L.L.C., Reedsburg, Wis., it’s always been about the whey. Back in the late 2000s, the company launched tera’swhey whey protein powders, which were developed to provide artisan cheesemakers an outlet for specialty whey.

A few years ago, the company began working with The Wisconsin Center for Dairy Research (C.D.R.) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, to develop a R.-T.-D. concept. Launched at the end of 2015, the shelf-stable 12-oz plastic bottles provide 26 grams of protein all from whey that originated from milk from grass-fed Wisconsin cows. The product made its debut in Fair Trade Certified dark chocolate cocoa and bourbon vanilla flavors.

Like other whey protein beverages in the market, tera’swhey is made by reconstituting whey powders, but the company uses its own whey powders, which are less stable under harsh processing conditions. This presents stability issues during ultra-high temperature pasteurization and aspetic filling.

“It’s difficult, and there’s a reason no one else is creating these R.-T.-D. beverages using whey,” said Blaine Hicks, manager of research and development at Wisconsin Specialty Protein. “Still, we wanted to be on the leading edge of the curve and C.D.R. provided that technical support.

“tera’swhey is all about the clean label,” Mr. Hicks said. “At one time, protein drinks contained a lot of gums and artificial flavors, but we came along and wanted to do it cleaner and better. We know this is something consumers want.”

The commitment to quality is controlled by the company, as they source their own whey and operate their own packaging line. They believe that this allows them to keep a close eye on supply while preserving the quality of the product.

Specialty dairy ingredients used in beverages

Such traditional dairy products as milk, cream, yogurt and even butter, as well as dried versions of the foods, may be used in beverage formulations. However, it’s the specialty dairy ingredients segment that is driving innovation in the value-added beverage sector. The ingredients have their origins in either fluid milk or in whey, the liquid stream that remains after milk gets curded into cheese.

Here are the most common specialty dairy ingredients used in beverages. Suppliers typically offer proprietary versions, which differentiate in terms of nutrition or functionality.


Infant formula
Alpha-lactalbumin, when added to infant formula, creates a protein profile more similar to human milk.

• Alpha-lactalbumin: a fraction of whey protein associated with various metabolic functions. Added to infant formula, it creates a protein profile more similar to human milk.

• Hydrolyzed whey: a type of whey protein that has been processed to isolate the protein, resulting in an ingredient that is 90% to 95% whey protein. The process renders the protein easier for the body to absorb, which makes hydrolyzed whey a frequent addition to post-exercise/recovery beverages.

• Lactoferrin: a fraction of whey protein associated with many health-promoting functions, including boosting immune response, supporting healthy gut microflora and assisting in the uptake of iron.

• Milk permeate: a byproduct of milk protein concentrate production formed after ultrafiltration of milk to extract protein and fat. It is characterized by a clean, slightly salty taste and uniform particle size and consists of lactose, water, vitamins and minerals.

• Milk protein concentrate (M.P.C.): any type of concentrated milk product containing 40% to 90% milk protein. It contains casein, whey proteins and bioactive proteins in the same ratio found in milk. As the protein content of M.P.C. increases, the lactose levels decrease. A high-protein low-lactose ratio makes M.P.C. ideal for protein-fortified beverages.

• Milk protein isolate (M.P.I.): the substance obtained by partial removal of non-protein constituents (lactose and minerals) from skim milk so that the finished dry product contains 90% or more protein by weight. It contains casein, whey proteins and bioactive proteins in the same ratio found in milk. M.P.I. contains very little fat (typically less than 3%), carbohydrates or lactose and has a very high amino acid composition making it ideal for meal replacement beverages.

• Whey protein concentrate: any type of concentrated whey powder containing less than 90% whey protein. The rest of the concentration is fat, lactose and minerals.

• Whey protein isolate: any type of concentrated whey powder containing 90% or more whey protein. The rest of the concentration is fat, lactose and minerals.