The dairy industry has a battle on its hands to convince younger consumers about the benefits of milk-based products
The demonisation of dairy produce has gone on too long, according to Dr Marianne Walsh, Senior Nutritionist with the National Dairy Council. The nutritionist pointed to recent research that debunks claims that dairy products are harmful, particularly because of their high saturated-fat content.
Dr Walsh, was speaking at a recent seminar on 'Dairy and the Modern Consumer' which was hosted by the National Dairy Council (NDC) in conjunction with Dairygold, Ornua and Teagasc. The seminar took place on the farm of award winning dairy farmers John and Maria Walsh in Ballylomasna, Ballylooby, Co Tipperary.
Highlighting the negative health impacts of fad diets, Dr Walsh said consumers are becoming more and more curious about their food choices and the diets that they choose to follow. "There has been a steady rise in fad diets and exclusion diets particularly in the last three years," she said.
She stressed the importance of consuming dairy products in order to maintain a balanced diet. "Cheese is the glory food," she said, "as it has a concentrated source of nutrients and recent research suggests that it has a positive influence in reducing the risk of strokes."
John McKenna, award winning writer and food critic, spoke of making milk 'sexy' and refuted some of the misinformation on dairy products.
His main message was to highlight the 'magic of milk' as a balanced and nutritious food and to challenge those extolling dairy alternatives as the best source of food.
He suggested producing a greater variety of new flavoured dairy products, just as the high-end craft beers and newly developed craft spirits have done . Mr McKenna believes the dairy industry has the ability to create niche products using milk, yoghurt and butter that will command a higher price than commodity products.
Ciara O'Callaghan, Brand Director with Ornua, said the dairy industry needs to promote a positive image of dairy products to dispel the current myths and to challenge the false truths.
She said that the Irish grass-fed story is vital to promote sales. "Our consumers need to know what we are offering."
She also emphasised the importance of clean labelling as consumers now check packaging for details and are keenly aware of the importance of traceability, the ecological impact and the need for information on carbon footprint.
"Diet is a lifestyle choice and consumers look at brands and consider environmental and health factors before purchasing."
According to Zoe Kavanagh, CEO of the NDC, the council believes that many people in their twenties are avoiding or limiting dairy in their diets. "This is a key concern as this age group will be the future parents and the next generation of older adults," she said.
"Our market research has demonstrated a gap in 'millennial understanding' around Ireland's grass-based system, while misconceptions and urban myths about dairy fat levels, allergies and lactose intolerance are wrongly encouraging millennials to opt for trendy, almond milk lattes and gluten-free foods," she added.
In light of the ongoing focus on the millennial generation, the NDC has recently started to work with some social media influencers to promote the nutritional benefits of dairy to their large audience of followers.
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