Dairy Proteins Best Practices and The Race to a 50 Gram RTD

By Thom King – Chief Innovations Officer,  Icon Foods

Icon Foods Dairy Proteins Best Practices and The Race to a 50 Gram RTD

With GLP-1 agonists being all the rage among those who can afford them, there has been serious growth in the meal replacement RTD category. Now, prominent brands have SKUs specifically tailored to meet this demand. All indications suggest that formulations prioritizing digestive ease, high fiber content, and nutrient density are the most likely to excel.

One major concern associated with rapid weight loss is muscle loss, particularly in consumers over 45 years old, as it can lead to an acceleration of sarcopenia—age related muscle loss. Dairy proteins are the most efficacious for ensuring high-quality protein bioavailability and providing the full spectrum of essential amino acids. Milk protein, casein, and whey protein isolate are three different examples of such proteins. Let’s explore their key distinctions and best practices in formulation.

Milk protein, casein, and whey protein isolate are three different types of proteins derived from milk. Here are the key differences between them:

Milk Protein:

  • Milk protein is a mixture of two primary proteins found in milk: casein and whey.
  • Milk protein contains both casein and whey proteins in their natural proportions as they exist in milk.
  • Milk protein is usually found in products like milk, yogurt, and cheese.


  • Casein is the predominant protein found in milk, making up about 80% of the total protein content in milk.
  • It is a slow-digesting protein that forms a gel-like substance in the stomach, leading to a sustained release of amino acids into the bloodstream over a longer period of time.
  • Casein is often used as a protein supplement and is commonly found in protein powders, protein bars, and other nutritional products.

Whey Protein Isolate:

  • Whey protein isolate is a type of protein derived from whey, the liquid portion of milk that separates during cheese production.
  • It undergoes additional processing to remove most of the fat and lactose, resulting in a protein powder that is very high in protein content (usually 90% or more protein by weight).
  • Whey protein isolate is quickly absorbed by the body, making it an ideal choice for post-workout recovery or as a convenient source of high-quality protein.

Each type of protein—milk protein, casein, and whey protein isolate—has unique characteristics that make them suitable for different formulation applications. Here are some common applications for each type of protein:

Milk Protein:

  • Baked goods: Milk protein can be used in the formulation of bread, cakes, cookies, and other baked goods to improve texture, structure, and moisture retention.
  • Nutritional beverages: Milk protein is often added to nutritional shakes, meal replacement drinks, and protein bars for its balanced amino acid profile and slow-release protein properties.
  • Dairy products: Milk protein is a key ingredient in the production of yogurt, cheese, ice cream, and other dairy products to enhance their protein content and nutritional profile.


  • Protein powders: Casein protein is commonly used in protein powders and shakes as a slow-digesting protein source that provides a sustained release of amino acids to support muscle recovery and growth.
  • Meal replacements: Casein can be included in meal replacement products to provide a steady source of protein and promote satiety over an extended period of time.
  • Protein bars: Casein is often used in protein bars for its binding and texture-enhancing properties, as well as its ability to provide a prolonged release of amino acids.

Whey Protein Isolate:

  • Sports nutrition: Whey protein isolate is popular in sports nutrition products such as protein powders, pre-workout drinks, and recovery supplements due to its rapid absorption and high protein content.
  • Functional foods: Whey protein isolate can be incorporated into a variety of functional foods and beverages, including smoothies, protein bars, and meal replacement products, to boost their protein content and nutritional value.
  • Infant formula: Whey protein isolate is commonly used in infant formula due to its high protein quality, digestibility, and amino acid profile that closely resembles human milk.

These are just a few examples of the diverse applications for milk protein, casein, and whey protein isolate in the food and beverage industry. The choice of protein type will depend on the desired product characteristics, such as texture, taste, protein content, and digestibility.

Dairy proteins come with a few challenges. With RTD’s attempting to match and exceed 50 grams of protein per 12 ounce serving, it means there are a lot of proteins packed into a small space. This can create a product with chalkiness as well as bovine or barnyard off-notes. While flavor masking can mitigate these problems, it can also mask desirable flavors and increase your COGS. Challenges like these can be addressed with Positive Allosteric Modulators like ThauSweet DRM. ThauSweet DRM is a sweetness and flavor modulator that uses organic rebaudioside M stevia leaf extract, katemfe fruit extract (thaumatin), and cassava root fiber. This blend enhances flavors and extends the pallet experience, effectively covering up off-notes from heavy dairy proteins. ThauSweet usage levels can start at .55% of the total solution by and weight with titration to 1.25%. ThauSweet DRM can be labeled a as natural flavor or as organic rebaudioside M stevia leaf extract, katemfe fruit extract (thaumatin) and cassava root fiber.

Reach out to your Icon Foods representative for samples and documentation.

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