Unlocking the potential of upcycling in dairy

David Faulkner, Director at Mintel Food & Drink, unpacks the potential of upcycling in dairy

15 Sep 2023

4 min

#Blog #All Categories #Global

Sustainability has become a key factor in consumers' food and drink choices. As discussed in Mintel's 2022 Global Consumer Trend Climate Complexity, consumers are turning to brands to provide them with climate-friendly choices. Notably in Australia, 70% of consumers say that they try to act in a way that is not harmful to the environment1 yet 29% also find it difficult to know which products are better or worse for the environment2. This article delves into the potential of upcycling as consumers gravitate towards sustainable dairy consumption.

Upcycling: A Growing Trend in Food and Drink

Innovations and smart solutions have grown since Mintel identified food waste as a growing concern in the 2017 Global Food & Drink Trend Waste Not. Upcycled ingredients are part of the fight against food waste, transforming the so-called "waste" into new ingredients or value-added products. Doing so demonstrates a commitment to creating a sustainable and secure food supply system, resonating with eco-conscious consumers.

Several examples in other food and drink categories highlight the untapped opportunities for dairy products to use upcycled ingredients. Resurrection Crackers, for instance, are crafted from spent grain, a byproduct of beer brewing. Kazoo Tortilla Chips incorporate 40% upcycled corn germ that would otherwise go to waste or animal feed. 

Resurrection Crackers with spent grain from beer brewing (France); Mintel GNPD

Kazoo Restaurant Style Tortilla Chips use upcycled corn germ (US); Mintel GNPD

To win consumer trust, dairy brands need to demonstrate that upcycled products offer both superior taste and quality. Whey, a common byproduct of cheese production, presents a valuable opportunity for dairy brands. Whey can be repurposed in other product categories, such as butter or spreads, offering a unique flavour profile.

Medlee Farmhouse Butter, known for its "upcycled goodness," boasts umami notes, a slight nuttiness, and a tangy flavour. In the UK, J. Sainsbury Farmhouse Butter is traditionally made with whey cream but does not explicitly highlight its distinctive taste.

Medlee European Tradition Farmhouse Salted Butter (US); Mintel GNPD

J. Sainsbury Farmhouse Butter (UK); Mintel GNPD

This preference for novel flavours can be observed in markets like India, where 43% of consumers expressed an interest in trying ghee/butter with Indian spice-inspired flavours like Garam Masala and Jeera Masala3.

Expanding the Appeal of Buttermilk

Buttermilk, the liquid remaining after churning butter from cultured cream, is often considered a cooking ingredient in many markets. By offering a range of flavours, including fruit and confectionery-inspired varieties, buttermilk has the potential to appeal to health-conscious younger generations seeking refreshing beverages.

Müller showcases the versatility of buttermilk, providing a range of products that offer fun, nutrition, and great taste as documented in Mintel GNPD. Their limited-edition buttermilk variant with a 12% pomegranate-orange fruit component highlights the diverse opportunities for buttermilk.

Transforming 'waste' into a new ingredient can show consumers that dairy brands are committed to creating a sustainable, secure food supply system.

Pomegranate and Orange Flavoured Buttermilk with Fruit Bits (Poland); Mintel GNPD

Exploring Other Upcycled Ingredients

In Thailand, 22% of consumers say that they would be interested in food and drink products that use ingredients that would have otherwise been wasted4.

Japan's Famimaru Banana Milk contains 15% banana puree made from mottainai bananas, which are unripe, damaged, or overripe bananas that would have been discarded.

Famimaru Banana Milk from retailer FamilyMart (Japan); Mintel GNPD

As the food and drink industry faces mounting concerns over waste, the utilisation of upcycled ingredients becomes increasingly appealing. While dairy alternative brands embrace various "saved" ingredients like oats, apricot kernels, and spent barley, dairy brands have the opportunity to leverage potentially wasted resources such as whey and buttermilk. However, it is crucial for brands to move beyond good intentions and deliver other compelling qualities, including exceptional taste, excitement, and health benefits.

Find out more about NZMP's whey powders here and buttermilk powders here.


David Faulkner

Director, Mintel Food & Drink

David Faulkner has had wide experience in competitive environments in the dairy and snack food industries. This includes being Head of Insights at two leading dairy companies. He has also held senior roles in Innovation, Brand and Category Management. David has a Business Degree from Bath University and is a Certified Member of the Market Research Society.

The views expressed above are the opinion of the author, not those of Fonterra, and Fonterra is not responsible for any decisions taken in reliance on the same.

  • 1. Mintel Global Consumer, The Holistic Consumer, March 2023,
  • 2. Mintel Global Consumer, Food & Drink, March 2023,
  • 3. Mintel Reports India, Butter and Ghee, 2021,
  • 4. Mintel Reports Thailand, Juices, 2022,

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