Does Soy Have an Advantage Over Dairy?

Both soy and dairy beverage types are selling briskly based on what they offer consumers. But does one have a leg up on the other?

By Lee Stiffler-Meyer

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Milk, known for its bone-building calcium and concentrated protein, has been important to both formulators and families for decades. More recently, it's been lauded for its high blood pressure-lowering properties and possible role in weight maintenance. Some research supports low-fat dairy's role in lowering blood pressure, but the weight link is still disputed among researchers.

Taking the promising evidence for weight loss, and solid evidence for osteoporosis prevention, the dairy industry launched its 3 A Day campaign promoting three servings daily of low-fat dairy products. This was backed in 2005 by the revised U.S.D.A. Dietary Guidelines, raising from two to three the number of recommended servings of low-fat dairy.

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Processors in Europe, Mexico and other countries have already begun merging soy and dairy in beverages for casual consumption.

"These recommendations came shortly after the Surgeon General's Report on Osteoporosis," says Stephanie Smith, communications director for the Western Dairy Council (www.wdairycouncil.com), Thornton, Colo. "It wasn't just an association with weight loss -- dairy consumption is not a magic bullet -- you also have to be following a reduced-calorie diet that's healthy and well-balanced."

Controversy aside, consumers appear to be enjoying more dairy. In a 2005 survey conducted by Dairy Management Inc. (www.dairyinfo.com), Rosemont, Ill. (DMI), consumers reported the top reasons for drinking milk include health and taste. More than half of respondents say they drink milk for the calcium and vitamin D, that milk "satisfies" them and "simply tastes good."

Naturally Healthy

From 1992-2004 soy foods sales increased from $300 million to $3.9 billion. According to the United Soybean Board (www.unitedsoybean.org), St. Louis, 2006 Consumer Attitudes Report, 30 percent of Americans consume soy foods or soy beverages once a month or more.

Eighty-two percent of consumers perceive soy as healthy. Enriched with many of the same vitamins and minerals found in dairy milk, and offering the same cholesterol-lowering properties, soymilk can hold its own next to dairy milk.

A major distinction between the nutrients found in soymilk compared to dairy milk is the isoflavones -- compounds which in hundreds of studies have shown abilities to help reduce risk of a number of diseases, especially heart disease and cancer. Although the research has been less definitive, isoflavones also have shown potential to ease some symptoms associated with menopause.

Advances in technology hold promise for dairy proteins, specifically casein and whey, as value-added food ingredients. For example, DMV offers a wide variety of milk protein ingredients in different forms such as spray-dried skim milk.

The taste of soy-based beverages and foods are improving thanks to ingredient makers such as Oskaloosa, Iowa-based SoyLink (www.soylink.net). Through unique processing technology, SoyLink has the ability to deflavor soybeans and mill them to small particle sizes so producers of soy beverages can use the whole soybean to make products, decreasing waste. The company's proprietary powders are organic (both OCIA and JAS) and strict kosher-certified (Chai-K).

"Our dairy proteins alone or in combination with our soy tend to go into adult and infant nutrition products rather than traditional soy-based foods because a lot of the  traditional soy-based product manufacturers wish to maintain a dairy-free status," Sarah Mulvihill, commercial director at Kerry Proteins & Nutritionals (www.kerrydairy.com), Waukesha, Wis. "Yet there are a number of nutritional bar and nutritional beverage products using a mix of our soy and dairy proteins," Mulvihill adds. "There are also quite a few in development with our customers. Nutritional bars from the start have tended to use a mix of proteins for optimal flavor and texture, as well as shelf life. A lot of the traditional dairy based nutritional beverages are now incorporating soy also, so we are seeing more requests for combinations of both. The requests seem to come more from the dairy based-product developers than the soy based-product developers."

Kerry produces growth hormone- and antibiotic-free ultrafiltered milk proteins and derivatives in Ireland. "These ingredients are exceptionally clean tasting and have lower viscosity some other dairy protein sources," notes Mulvihill. "By combining them with our naturally processed soy ingredients, we're able to produce excellent quality beverages with lower viscosity, light mouthfeel and high protein content, as well as other key functional attributes such as high calcium. I believe there will be a lot more such combination products on the market in the near future."

The Urge to Merge

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Dreamerz Foods Inc. uses a combination of soy and dairy ingredients in its "better sleep" beverages.

For a while, it looked as if dairy and soy would butt heads for years to come. Dairy interests protested soy beverages using the word "milk," while soy interests took issue with attempts to relegate soy milk to the "alternative" fringe. But a merging of the two beverage types is already underway in some corners.

Blending soy and dairy creates many challenges for food processors. "There are several issues at stake here when talking about blending soy and dairy," says Nancy Chapman at Soy Foods Assn. of North America. "These issues are concerns regarding allergenic reactions, flavor, consistency, mouth-feel, etc."

Some producers are marketing   and capitalizing   on the benefits of both soy and dairy via products containing both. Beyond the beverage category, Yoplait introduced Bioplait yogurt to the French market in 2005 with help of soy protein supplier Solae Co. (www.solae.com), St. Louis. The product, however, was dropped at the end of 2006.

London-based Unilever's Slim-fast line of weight-loss beverages are one common product mixing the two components in some of its offerings. And The Alpura Group, one of the top dairy producers in Mexico, markets a shelf-stable, "multiactive" milk beverage containing a combination of Solae soy protein and dairy proteins. The product is lactose- and cholesterol-free, and enriched with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and omega-3. It is positioned for balanced nutrition targeting consumers who want to include soy in their diet. Another south-of-the-border product that combines soy with dairy is Multilac from Peru, an evaporated milk product with added soy compounds.

One new beverage capitalizing on the benefits of a soy-dairy mix comes from Dreamerz Foods Inc. (www.dreamerzfoods.com), San Francisco. The aseptic-packaged flavored milks are marketed as calming drinks to help promote better sleep, and are enriched with the natural sleep-regulating hormone, melatonin.

Consumer preference and improved ingredient technologies will most likely pave the way for new products in both soy and dairy categories. Given the strong health benefits of each and the existing variety of products in both categories, the previous conflict between dairy and soy might just have been the start of a beautiful friendship.

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