60-second interview: Stephen Cobbe, R&D director, dairy, Kerry

Formulating with dairy: More protein, less sugar, a cleaner label

By Elaine Watson contact

- Last updated on GMT

60-second interview: Stephen Cobbe, R&D director, dairy, Kerry
Less sugar, more protein, a cleaner label, savory flavors, and new formats from farmer’s cheese bars to ambient moon cheese… What’s keeping dairy formulators busy these days? FoodNavigator-USA caught up with Stephen Cobbe, R&D director, dairy, at Kerry to find out…

What new trends are you monitoring personally in dairy?

I think ambient dairy is definitely an area that could get quite interesting… you see these products such as moon cheese​ that I am keeping an eye on, although we’re focusing on refrigerated and frozen dairy at Kerry right now.

Has the savory trend in dairy got legs?

Yes. In yogurt we’re seeing some interesting requests for savory flavor profiles, chipotle type profiles or ginger or spice, heat, as well as more botanicals and things like lavender as well. Culinary awareness with social media is growing and there is more openness out there to try different things.

In cottage cheese, we see the usual fruit flavors but we are also seeing more requests around savory.

What’s new in cheese?

We’ve done quite a bit of work with cottage cheese – which some people see as the next Greek yogurt – it’s high protein and low in sugar and it’s pretty clean flavored and neutral and you can work with a lot of different flavor components.

You can also play around with the texture quite a lot as well – you can get smoother more homogeneous type textures rather than just a curdled type product.

What’s keeping formulators busy in the ice cream aisle?

Right now you’ve got demands for more protein and less sugar, and natural flavors can help to mitigate the taste and mouthfeel impact of that. Some of the products out there that are using a lot of milk protein concentrate can taste a bit chalky and the ​[taste of the] erythritol can come through quite prominently, which is not great.

What don’t consumers want to see on ice cream labels?

Some manufacturers don’t like seeing gums on the label, which can really help with texture and reducing ice crystal formation in formulations with less fat and sugar. Some premium brands just have more fat ​[so they don’t need gums] and some are also adding chicory root fiber ​[to replace fat and sugar].

Some people also don’t want to see mono- and diglycerides ​[emulsifiers which will yield a more stable foam structure, with smoother body and texture] on the label, so we’ve worked to help balance that loss of aeration with natural flavors. They can deliver upfront creaminess and mouthfeel and round out the profile at the back end so you don’t get bitter or cooked after notes.

What trends are you seeing in the flavored milk segment?

Sugar reduction is a big trend in dairy at the moment, but if you reduce added sugar it impacts taste, texture, mouthfeel, functionality, and shelf life.

A 240ml serving of chocolate milk might have around 26g of sugar in it on average, some of which is naturally occurring (from lactose, or milk sugar). If you want to reduce that down by around 30% to about 18g, you’ll obviously see a reduction in sweetness and your cocoa notes will become more prominent as well so you need to compensate for that bitterness.

Then your solids have also dropped so that changes the texture and the mouthfeel and you’re going to have to compensate for that too. Also, you don’t want to cocoa to settle at the bottom, so there are a lot of challenges.

We work with Kerry’s taste sense natural flavor solutions that help to round out the profile of chocolate milks from a sensory perspective and bring out the sweetness that’s there, and we can also work with products from our textures and stabilizers business.

In many formulations, manufacturers might already be using starches and gums, so you might just have to alter the ratios a bit to compensate for the lack of sugar or re-evaluate the properties of the ingredients you’re using.

Usually the brief is to keep the ingredients list the same although if customers have set very aggressive sugar reduction targets, we may have to work with things like stevia or monkfruit if they want to go below 18g or take out all of the added sugar altogether, which would take you down to about 12g sugar ​[which is naturally occurring in the milk].

What’s new in yogurts?

Sugar reduction and protein enhancement are both key trends.

There’s also the clean label trend. Again, some customers don’t want to use gums and hydrocolloids or starches, but a lot depends on the cultures they are using the production process. We are also seeing more requests for natural extracts as opposed to natural flavors on the label.

If you reduce sugar you can get more of the cultured notes, or other off notes coming through, but we’ve been able to achieve a 30% reduction using our taste sense range of natural flavors. 

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