Capitalizing on Functional: Unique Opportunities for Dairy & Plant-based

Across generations, lifestyles have drastically changed from ten or even just five years ago.

Everyone is out and about, travelling, or just struggling to find any extra time in their days. The days of sitting down to three square meals are gone.

Dealing with this means people are demanding more from their food, not just in terms of convenience.

Between snacks becoming meals and a move to smaller portions in general, consumers need to get the most out of their purchases, especially when it comes to quality and nutrition.

They are searching for products that give them a pick-up when they need it without weighing them down.


Yet, while this appears to be a near-universal trend, addressing it requires anything but a one-size-fits-all solution.

Instead, allowing shoppers to customize choices to fit their specific situational needs might prove to be the best path forward.

As one of the driving forces behind the move towards “food as medicine” and the mainstream adoption of functional food and beverages, developers are looking for ways to answer the call.

Doing so puts both dairy and plant-based companies in unique positions to capitalize on this trend, each for their own unique reasons.

Dairy – An Original Functional Food


For developers looking to get aboard the functional food and beverage train, dairy products are the perfect place to start.

Though many might have debated the healthfulness of certain dairy products in the pre-keto and “fat will make you fat” days, they are having a renaissance.

While most never questioned the abundance of calcium and vitamin D, these foods and beverages are becoming standouts for their natural functionality.

For starters, milk-derived proteins like whey and casein are literally the gold standards for measuring the bioavailability of other proteins. This has made them the go-to source for sports nutrition and high-protein foods.

With the quality and quantity of their probiotics, cultured offerings like yoghurt and kefir continue to dominate the gut health space.

Proven over time

Dairy’s unique advantage for functional development is that these claims have been proven and verified many times over the years. Not to mention that regulatory issues have largely been ironed out for these products and claims across most international markets.

In addition to strong consumer confidence in nutritional call-outs, a long development history also means that many taste challenges have already been conquered in the dairy space, particularly with protein.

This allows developers to limit the variables of their formulations and focus on addressing the specific issues that added functional ingredients might present.

Combining this with the widespread familiarity with dairy can help these products enter the functional food and beverage market more quickly and easily.

Plant-based – A Natural Fit for Functional

Plant-based offerings have garnered considerable attention in recent years and continue to carve out larger sections of the market.

However, the places where dairy excels tend to be more significant hurdles for plant-based development.

For example, though great strides continue to be made in improving plant-derived proteins, they still aren’t at the same level as dairy proteins. Moreover, each protein, whether pea, nut, fava, etc., creates its own unique taste and texture hurdles to overcome.

Adding additional ingredients like ashwagandha or nootropic mushrooms can interact with other ingredients, negatively affecting taste perception and palatability.

Still, plant-based provides several exciting avenues for companies to take advantage of.


“I get why people love dairy, but for the 44% of Americans like me who are lactose intolerant (I know the irony of working for a dairy flavors company), those products just aren’t a viable option,” says Jessa Friedrich, Edlong’s Director of Marketing.

She continues, “Delicious and indulgent plant-based products are game-changers for those with dairy allergies or sensitivities. Not to mention the wide variety of phytonutrients and micronutrients these foods can offer, that dairy doesn’t.”

The other important consideration is that many of these functional ingredients are themselves plant-derived or vegan, allowing you to maintain both claims and the added health benefits.

They also allow you to attract more people to the plant-based fold if you can get your messaging and your taste right.

Regardless of where you start, achieving taste parity or even better than the original standard products will ultimately determine the success of your functional products.

If a consumer is given the option of two similar products and one is functional, they will probably choose that. If it works and doesn’t sacrifice taste, you’ve got a winner.

Starting your next functional food or beverage project off right starts with finding the right partner.

As industry leaders for decades in both dairy and dairy-type flavours, we are ready to help you give your consumers food that delivers more in both function and flavour.

About the Author: Anne Marie Butler, Global Director of Strategy and Innovation

I help food stakeholders from startups to CPGs solve complex flavor problems and accelerate innovation within the food space. Through my 15+ years of experience, I’ve gained skills as a food technologist, thought partner, and leader. My clients and team appreciate my collaborative, humanistic approach to problem solving. In an increasingly tech-centric world, I think that human connection is the source of innovation. Through my work, I’ve realized how important it is to be more proactive about inviting stakeholders into conversations around flavor innovation. I’m not working alone, and I don’t want to be thinking alone either.

Topics: Dairy flavorsFunctional FoodsPlant-Based
Resource Type: Article
Resource Region: EULATAMUS


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