Dale Farm on the ball with sports drink
Yvette Shapiro gets the low-down from Dale Farm's Stephen Cameron on its new range of protein-enriched milk aimed at sports enthusiasts
Low fat? Low carb? Low-sugar? Protein-rich? As diet debates rage back and forth between doctors, scientists and celebrity chefs, food companies find themselves under pressure to answer consumer demand with new 'healthy' products.
Northern Ireland diary giant Dale Farm occupies a huge space in supermarket chill cabinets and household fridges with a range of well-known traditional brands including Dale Farm, Spelga, Dromona, Rowan Glen and Loseley. And now it's moving into a new space, with protein-enriched milk aimed at a younger and more active customer.
Protein Milk is Dale Farm's first step into sports nutrition. Commercial director Stephen Cameron said it was a natural move for the company.
"When we develop products we look at consumer trends and we're seeing a move towards a better, healthier diet and a consequent move away from sugary drinks. We feel that it will attract a younger milk consumer which is positive because, historically, we have seen lower levels of milk consumption by young people.
"Protein Milk has 50% more natural milk protein and it will be attractive to the active consumer, but it's not just for people who go to the gym. It's recommended that a sedentary man needs 56g of protein per day, and a litre of Protein Milk has 50g, so it's also aimed at consumers who are generally seeking a healthier lifestyle and diet."
The product is currently on sale in local supermarkets but the next step is a full UK launch, said Stephen.
"Retailers are seeing the trends through their own data and we've had a very positive response locally. We're targeting the UK market and we're currently talking to a number of retailers there. There's a lot of potential with the product. The next step will be to develop a high protein yoghurt, that's a natural extension of the range."
The debate over sugar content in food - particularly in low-fat products - has prompted Dale Farm to react.
"We've done a lot of work with our yoghurts to reduce sugar, particularly in the 0% fat range. And our new Spelga Little Treasures yoghurt, aimed at children, has no added sugar."
Stephen said the company's focus on extending its product range was helping to support its suppliers, many of whom are struggling to maintain their farm businesses because of low milk prices.
"We're still in a very difficult market situation," said Stephen.
"We're seeing an increasing milk supply across Europe and prices are at a very low level. Unless there's a reduction in the milk supply, this will continue to be the case.
"Part of what we're doing by growing our product range is to add more value to the already excellent quality milk that our farmers produce. That will help to reduce exposure to global pressures."