Health and sustainability: dairy's role in greener diets and healthier people

Published: 17-Nov-2021

We’re in an era of increased health consciousness. From physical fitness to digestive well-being and mental welfare, consumers have increasingly been seeking ways to improve their overall health for some time now, reports Els Zeeuwen, Director, Branding and Communications at FrieslandCampina Ingredients

Of course, COVID-19 accelerated this trend, as even seemingly healthy consumers re-evaluated their lifestyles and proactively acted to improve their potential weaknesses. What’s interesting is that instead of adopting a “cutting back” approach to their diets, consumers are instead looking to add more — maximising nutrient intake through functional foods that provide added health benefits.

Dairy ingredients are one example of what people are looking for to support their overall health and wellness, providing plenty of opportunity for brands to leverage these ingredients. In fact, according to FMCG Gurus research, milk (61%), dairy probiotics (56%) and protein drinks (55%) are some of the top products consumers turn to when they want to boost their health.

But here’s the rub; this desire to improve ourselves is coinciding with consumer desire to improve the condition of the planet. They’re recognising that the health of Earth also plays an important part in their overall well-being, resulting in what’s been termed “eco-anxiety.”1

Studies show that 77% of students say that thinking about climate change makes them anxious, whereas 45% of young people find that worrying about climate change is affecting their daily lives.2,3 It’s this concern for the environment that is, in part, fuelling the growth of the plant-based alternatives market.

So, as agricultural industries face high levels of scrutiny about their impact on the environment, brands leveraging dairy and dairy ingredients in their health products must be able to ensure the sustainability of their operations throughout the supply chain. Here are three ways the dairy industry is supporting them in that mission and ultimately helping consumers to make healthier, greener choices.

A focus on the farm

As much as 24% of global greenhouse gas emissions come from the agricultural industry, with dairy accounting for approximately 2% of that figure.4 But forward-thinking solutions at farm-level can help to mitigate food and drink companies’ environmental impact as we look towards a more sustainable, circular dairy industry.

Dairy co-operatives bring farmers together with the right support and tools to help them operate as efficiently and sustainably as possible — by optimising water management, for example — to reduce the farm’s footprint considerably.

Energy consumption at the farm is another key area where gains can be made. Our estimations suggest that if farmers cut their energy consumption by half, their footprint could be reduced by as much as 3% per kilogramme of milk. There are also lots of opportunities at the farm to enable a more circular dairy industry, including generating renewable “clean” energy using solar, wind or even manure.

Mono-manure fermentation — a process in which manure is fermented without coproducts — can not only cut greenhouse gas emissions at the farm, but also give farmers the opportunity to generate extra income through renewable energy. Insights from our Jumpstart programme show that a single fermenter can provide enough renewable energy to fuel as many as 300 homes and reduce ammonia and methane emissions by 50% and 80%, respectively.

Providing a full supply chain view

Health and sustainability: dairy's role in greener diets and healthier people

Because a co-operative has total ownership of the supply chain from the very beginning, businesses sourcing dairy ingredients can get a fuller picture of the dairy logistics — from grass to glass. This is especially true when new technologies and scientific innovations enable us to make improvements and get a more connected view across operations and stages of production.

For example, by monitoring biodiversity data at the farm, we’re able to track KPIs such as gas emissions, soil nitrogen balance, ammonia emission, share of protein produced by own land, share of permanent grassland, share of nature and landscape management, which then allows farmers to get detailed and personalised insights regarding how to make improvements.

Elsewhere, we’re implementing continuous monitoring systems to measure things such as energy use in real-time in our production factories to get a full picture of where efficiencies can be made.

A full view of the supply chain doesn’t just mean improvements at the factory and the farm, it also applies to dairy ingredients on the move — whereby even the most unassuming improvements go a long way.

Using sustainable fuel sources, such as Bio-liquified natural gas (Bio-LNG), to reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions is an obvious step to take, but even actions such as reducing truck weight and training drivers to drive efficiently can also deliver significant benefits.

At FrieslandCampina Ingredients, we also recently implemented some firsts in dairy transport: the first hydrogen powered milk truck and a generator on the axis of our truck’s trailers that produce energy when the truck brakes. Our measurements suggest these changes in our milk transportation have already reduced CO2 emissions by 1.5% every year.

Thinking circularly

It’s with this level of overview that dairy co-operatives are more than just an ingredient supplier; they can help brands on the journey to circularity, rather than just making reductions. And effective partnerships enable this within their own ecosystem and across the entire value chain.

Many dairy companies are founded on a principal of co-operativism — it’s a way of working that’s in our DNA. Of course, this includes collaboration with farmers, but also third-parties who can help brands to take their sustainability efforts to the next level.

Partnerships — upstream, downstream and horizontally — are a key part of our strategy and help to create a more circular dairy economy.

For example, we recently collaborated with a regional water management authority to close a loop in our manufacturing processes, where neoalginate — a raw material that can replace fossil fuel-based chemicals in a variety of industries — was extracted from the wastewater from one of our production locations.

The benefit of this approach is, of course, that manufacturers waste less and become more efficient. At the same time, they can also improve their sustainability credentials by tapping into the insights and expertise from across the industry to address the areas that will make the most impact.

While consumer preferences evolve, dairy remains an important part of healthy nutrition. In 2019, the EAT-Lancet Commission reconfirmed that animal proteins are still an essential part of a sustainable, but balanced, diet. But, as consumers increasingly link their own physical and mental health to the welfare of the planet, it’s imperative that brands look across their entire supply chain to substantiate sustainability claims.

By collaborating with the right partners, brands can successfully appeal to a generation of health-aware consumers and help them to make environmentally conscious choices when browsing the supermarket or pharmacy shelves.


  4. J. Poore and T. Nemecek, “Reducing Food’s Environmental Impacts Through Producers and Consumers,” Science 360(6392), 987–992 (2018).

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