SUN VALLEY, Idaho — Protein is popular with today’s consumers, and milk proteins have a lot to offer. But they also face growing competition from plant-based proteins.

A survey done a couple of years ago showed 68% of U.S. consumers want to eat more protein. That protein demand has attracted competition against milk proteins from a flood of investment in plant-based proteins, and new protein ingredients have multiplied, Veronique Lagrange, strategic development director for the American Dairy Products Institute, said during the Idaho Milk Processors Association annual convention.

“The threat continues; it’s not over,” she said.

Plant-based protein makers have been positioning their products as healthier alternatives to milk proteins. And they’re using research conducted on dairy protein showing the benefits to such things as exercise, workout recovery and weight management, she said.

“Today, half of Americans are interested in plant-based proteins,” she said.

Ten years ago, plant-based proteins represented 10% of the protein ingredient market. Now that share is 35%.

With one-third of the milk solids produced in the U.S. used as ingredients, even more in Idaho, there’s a lot at stake, she said.

Last year, the American Dairy Products Institute and more than 50 companies, co-ops and associations joined forces to defend their interests and created the Dairy Protein Messaging Initiative.

The initiative spent six months studying target consumers, protein-seeking millennials, women and "flexitarians." It then developed and tested messages to find out what appealed to those consumers.

What it found is that while those targeted consumers like the term “milk,” they don’t like the term “dairy.” That’s because “dairy-free” has been used so much and brings a negative connotation, she said.

Whey, however, is seen as positive and can attract protein-seekers to that entire category. The industry needs to define whey and casein to consumers, she said.

The research also found that cow images are not helpful. For example, consumers want to eat ribs or burgers, not livestock, she said.

Lastly, the research found it’s important to appeal to consumers’ emotions.

“Consumers are not interested in science. You first have to speak to emotion,” she said.

With the results in hand, the initiative developed messages about milk protein that would appeal to customers, speaking to the benefits of milk-specific protein.

After being exposed to those messages, two-thirds of consumers participating were interested in consuming more milk proteins, she said.

The initiative used the messages that appealed to consumers to create a website to influence consumers’ preference for milk proteins.

The website — www.The — focuses on milk proteins’ ability to fuel strength, energy and a healthy life, explaining all the benefits and positive attributes of protein from milk. That message will also be promoted through advertising, social media and initiative partners.

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