While cheese has been the long-standing success story in increasing total milk sales, another dairy product has emerged as an industry contender: whey.

"Whey truly is the superstar ingredient for food developers," Bill Haines, vice president of business-to-business marketing for Dairy Management Inc. (DMI), told an industry audience at the annual meeting of dairy checkoff organizations in Orlando, FL.

Whey's use as a food ingredient is growing at a rate faster than even demand for cheese. According to the American Dairy Products Institute, whey usage has grown at an average compounded annual rate of 5 percent between 1991 and 2000. In fact, the use of whey protein concentrates alone grew from 75 million pounds in 1991 to more than 227 million pounds in 2000, an increase of more than 200 percent in the past 10 years.

"This helps dairy producers because it creates a market for what had been a ‘throwaway’ byproduct of cheese-making. It also significantly increases dairy's presence in foods that consumers traditionally do not associate with the dairy aisle," Haines said.

Today, whey ingredients can be found in nearly every aisle of the supermarket. Infant formulas, sports drinks, diet supplements, salad dressings, soups, baked goods and mixes, meats and sausage, and confectionery goods are just a few of the many food products that list whey on their ingredient labels.

“To food manufacturers, whey offers a prime opportunity to increase a product’s nutritional value, performance and functionality for today’s American consumer,” said Haines.

A study conducted in May 2000, asked consumers what they look for when making food choices. Seventy-four percent of consumers interviewed indicated that they look for food with added health benefits when making purchasing decisions. To Haines, that means opportunity for dairy producers and the dairy industry.

"When we asked consumers about health relative to dairy, nine out of 10 consumers agreed with the statement that dairy ingredients are good for you," Haines said. "Nearly half say they would buy more food products if they knew they contained dairy ingredients."

Historically, the health benefits of dairy products have been touted through milk and cheese. Now the industry has an opportunity to educate food formulators and processors about dairy's market potential outside of the traditional dairy case — especially in products containing whey.

Dairy Management Inc.