Fluid milk consumption has declined in the United States, but lactose-free dairy milk (LFM) sales have steadily increased. It is important to understand how consumers perceive LFM and what consumers value when purchasing LFM. This study characterized consumer perceptions and preferences for LFM. Three 1.5-h focus groups (n = 25), an online survey (n = 331), trained panel descriptive analysis, and a consumer acceptance taste test (n = 160) were conducted with LFM consumers. Focus groups were evaluated by frequency of responses. From the focus group findings, we found that price was a primary choice driver of LFM. Habit and flavor familiarity with cow milk were a major driver of selection of LFM over plant-based alternatives for consumers. Higher sweetness and lower viscosity were the primary sensory differences between LFM and traditional milk, and were viewed negatively in general. The online survey included Kano questions, maximum difference scaling, and an adaptive choice-based conjoint. The data gathered from these techniques provided insight into the perceptions and purchase habits of consumers. Kano data demonstrated consumer attitudes toward the presence or absence of product attributes. The maximum difference scaling scaled the importance of product attributes to consumers. An adaptive choice-based conjoint provided insight into consumer purchase habits by simulating a purchase decision through an online interface. The attributes evaluated included price, packaging material, package size, lactose removal method, shelf life, sweetness, texture, nutrition claims, and label claims. Survey responses were analyzed by univariate and multivariate statistics. Survey results quantitatively confirmed many focus group observations. Price, texture, sweetness, shelf life, and package size were the most important attributes to LFM consumers. A low price, ultrapasteurized LFM in a half-gallon cardboard package was the ideal LFM. Descriptive analysis of 9 commercial LFM followed by consumer acceptance testing was conducted. External preference mapping was conducted with trained panel and consumer acceptance results. Consumer acceptance testing of commercial LFM revealed 3 consumer clusters with distinct preferences for LFM flavor and texture. High sweet taste was a driver of liking for the overall population, and eggy flavor and viscosity were drivers of disliking. Knowledge of consumer preferences for LFM will provide actionable insights for new product development within the dairy industry for this market segment.
Keywords: conjoint analysis consumer acceptance descriptive analysis focus group lactose-free milk