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July 08th, 2019

Why lactose-free is going to be massive in Asia

Ben Rutten
Global Business Manager Milk

Food Fact

in Asia-Pacific, lactose-free dairy is expected to grow at double the rate of the dairy market (8% vs 4.2%, 2018-2023).

The growth of lactose-free in Asia – now and into the future – could be linked to behavioral and dietary choices taken in the very distant past!

Here’s an interesting statistic that some of you may have already come across. There are likely to be at least forty times more people suffering from lactose intolerance in an Asian country like Vietnam than in a north European country like Denmark. In fact, an estimated 90-100% of adults in East Asia and 80% in Central Asia have an impaired ability to digest lactose.1 This contrasts with around 2% in Denmark.

My first thought on reading this was to ask “why?” One possible answer lies in the extent to which human cultures have historically relied on dairy as an important source of nutrition. Adults from Europe can drink milk because their ancestors lived where dairying flourished and passed on gene mutations that maintain lactase into adulthood. In other areas of the world such as Africa and many parts of Asia, dairy farming has historically been less feasible, and people lost the ability to digest milk after infancy.2

1 de Vrese M, et al. Am J Clin Nutr. 2001;73 (suppl):421s–9s.
2 http://news.cornell.edu/stories/2005/06/lactose-intolerance-linked-ancestral-struggles-climate-diseases

Increasing demand for lactose-free

My second thought was to consider the implications of this fact on the dairy market in Asia. Of course, lactose intolerance may not be a big issue for a consumer who eats little or no dairy. However, consumption of dairy throughout the world – including Asia-Pacific – continues to grow. With the majority of Asian people suffering from lactose-intolerance, it’s not rocket science to predict a concomitant increase in demand for lactose-free in the region. Not surprisingly, I discovered that in Asia-Pacific, lactose-free dairy is expected to grow at double the rate of the dairy market (8% vs 4.2%, 2018-2023).3

3 Euromonitor (accessed on March 2019)

“Looking beyond China, there is a booming lactose-free market in other countries in Asia-Pacific such as Singapore, Thailand and Malaysia.”

Overall health benefits of lactose-free

Interestingly, this growth of lactose-free is not solely associated with coping with lactose-intolerance. A DSM survey showed that consumers in China were more likely to cite the overall health benefits of lactose-free dairy versus regular dairy as a reason to purchase it than any other factor. 82% of consumers polled in China believe that lactose-free dairy is healthier than regular dairy. 81% believe that lactose-free dairy is easier to digest than regular dairy. The top three reasons to choose lactose-free dairy foods and drinks over regular options in China are: health benefits (65%), easier to digest (36%), and nutritional value (36%).

Innovation plus communication

This has major implications for dairy manufacturers seeking to do more business in markets such as China. It would appear that a two-pronged attack would make sense. Create innovative products that respond to the heightened dairy desire, whilst at the same time strengthen the perceived health benefits of lactose-free options with for example vitamin or mineral fortification.

DSM Solution

Enabling lactose-free dairy that tastes great with Maxilact® and Maxilact® Smart

DSM can support your lactose-free plans in Asia

Asia is clearly an important market for lactose-free, for local manufacturers as well as Western producers wanting to export. At DSM we supply enzymes, solutions for sugar reduction and vitamins for lactose-free and healthy dairy. Drop me an email and I would be delighted to talk with you about how we can support your specific lactose-free plans for Asia.

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