Friday, September 24, 2021

Natural Products Expo East: Dairy is doubling down in the natural and organic segment. Read about the opportunities.

About photo: The new Trickling Springs Creamery is rolling out South Mountain Creamery Old-Fashioned Custard. The beverage is made with milk and cream from grass-fed cows and has a clean ingredient label that includes eggs, whey and nonfat dry milk.  

Live from Natural Products Expo East in Philadelphia…The vibe is amazing at this in-person, mandatory mask (being enforced) and proof-of-vaccination or negative-COVID-test result exposition. The event kicked off with a keynote presentation on “The State of Natural & Organic,” with the theme of “increasing sales mean the natural and organic industry can have a bigger effect on reducing poverty, promoting equality and protecting the planet.” It’s the kind of messaging that makes one proud to be involved in the better-for-you food and beverage industry. And dairy is doubling down in this space! 

Sales across the natural and organic products industry increased significantly this past year and there’s tons of room for growth and innovation. During the keynote address, which is available for viewing by linking HERE, the speakers highlighted the industry’s accomplishments, weaknesses and possibilities. (Thanks to my friends at Chicago-based SRW Agency for sponsoring the keynote.)

Nutrition Business Journal predicts that sales will continue to grow from 2020’s $259 billion valuation to $423 billion in 2030. Dairy processors cannot afford to ignore the opportunities. 

Sales of natural and organic foods grew three times faster than sales of conventional foods, according to SPINS. The segment continues to thrive with many consumers trading up for health and wellness by purchasing natural and organic rather than conventional. A growing awareness of sustainability and social responsibility is also fueling growth.

“People tried new brands [during the pandemic] and stuck with them, especially in the food and beverage categories,” said Carlotta Mast, senior vice president of New Hope Network, during the keynote. 

Natural and wellness continue to lead growth across the store, according to SPINS. Conscious consumers are placing a premium on ensuring their health and well-being and increasingly looking towards social responsibility and sustainability. Opportunities exist for farmers to adopt more sustainable and regenerative practices and for ingredient suppliers and food and beverage manufacturers to work closely with them in communicating these efforts.  

“While we know there are definitely headwinds with plant and lab-grown proteins, we all have a responsibility to get behind telling the powerful story of dairy proteins,” said Daragh Maccabee, chief executive officer of Idaho Milk Products, during a session on value-added proteins at the joint annual conference of the American Dairy Products Institute and the American Butter Institute, which took place virtually in August. 

Those efforts were in full force at Expo East, where more than a dozen dairy companies took on the dozen or so alternative brands by emphasizing sustainable practices, social responsibility, nutrient density, and yes, deliciousness.  

You can read more about dairy proteins HERE in an article I wrote for Food Business News titled “Dairy protein fueling functional food innovation.”

The Expo East keynote speakers emphasized that shoppers are making more holistic choices by seeking out maintainable diets featuring whole, minimally processed foods to construct a strategy that works for their health goals. This demand is driving nutrition-focused innovation. (This is dairy!)

McCoy said that the world’s most pressing problems revolve around the Earth and its people. That’s why it should be no surprise that plant-based products continue accelerated growth. While consumers initially sought plant-based foods for their health benefit, the positive impacts to the environment are undeniable, he said.

Data also shows that consumers are motivated to shop their values. Dairy foods can deliver on these values. We just need to communicate them better. 

And like I said, the dairy foods exhibitors (as well as meat marketers) that attended Expo East are doing this. In fact, SPINS data shows that meat and dairy brands are more aggressively address increasing demand for improved practices. (See chart.)

I highly encourage you to listen to the entire keynote HERE. And a shout out to all the exhibitors, buyers and attendees that made their way to Philadelphia for Expo East. This is such an important place for dairy to be and I am fully confident that many more dairy processors will embrace the natural and organic space. It’s the future.  

Thursday, September 16, 2021

Dairy-free Ice Cream: Opportunity or Threat? It’s All About the Story.


Source: Cascade Glacier

Heading to Expo East this week? I am. Typically the smaller—and much more manageable—of the two Natural Products Expos in the U.S., this one will be unlike any other, as entrepreneurs are anxious to show off their innovations. Last year’s in-person Expo East, as well in-person Expo West 2020 and 2021, were all cancelled because of the pandemic. Without a doubt, plant-based and keto are sure to be dominant themes, but so will regenerative agriculture and sustainability. I expect to hear lots of “stories” and brands banking on buyers to listen and respond with a purchase order. 

Folks, less than five years ago--with high-protein ice cream—you learned that just because a concept is doing well in the freezer does not mean every brand needs to play in this space. When it comes to dairy-free ice cream, there are some very good chocolates and vanillas in the retail marketplace. That’s enough!

 It’s not the same story in foodservice. Eugene, Oregon-based Cascade Glacier recognized this opportunity and is making it easier for foodservice operators to offer plant-based and allergen-friendly options that will satisfy a variety of ice cream consumers. Available in both Classic Chocolate and Vanilla, Cascade Glacier Dairy Free comes in three-gallon tubs for foodservice. The neutral base is intentionally crafted to blend seamlessly with the decadent flavors, eliminating any aftertaste such as coconut or almond that is common in other non-dairy alternatives. This formulation makes the product more versatile, allowing retailers to serve dairy-free versions of everything from scoops and sundaes to smoothies and milkshakes.

My friends at McConnell’s Fine Ice Creams are also embracing the concept of a very neutral base in its new Dairy-Free Frozen Desserts. Like all the company’s offerings, the new line is made from scratch at McConnell’s Family Dairy, using a proprietary and innovative base of oat milk, cocoa butter and coconut oil to approximate the indulgent, unique and creamy mouthfeel of McConnell’s ice creams without the coconut, oat or nutty aftertaste or smell customers so often find in dairy-free offerings. And like McConnell’s other products, there are no artificial flavors, colors or sweeteners. 

The oat base has a neutral taste, which gives McConnell’s the flexibility to incorporate other ingredients and flavors without overpowering them. All flavors are allergen free, kosher and non-GMO and are described as being delicious for customers and good for the planet. 

McConnell’s Dairy-Free Frozen Desserts come in six flavors. They are: Chocolate Fudge & Cookies, Coffee Cookie Crumble, Cookies & Cream, Passion Fruit Lemon Swirl, Salted Caramel Chocolate Swirl, and Vanilla Bean, with more to come. Flavors have been gradually rolling out across McConnell’s scoop shops starting with Peanut Butter Chocolate Crunch, Cookies & Cream and Passionfruit Lemon Swirl. 

That’s because the plant-based consumer is craving flavor innovation. Many favorite ice cream flavors—like mine, Pralines and Cream—cannot be applied to vegan frozen desserts. The key for this category is to explore eye-catching flavors—that taste delish—and include a story about them. They don’t have to be a threat to dairy ice cream. They present an opportunity. 

I’m a huge fan of KIND bars, not because they are plant-based, but because they are delicious and the company has a great story. It’s a brand I feel good about purchasing and eating. I’m a huge fan of their frozen products for the same reasons. The novelty bars are amazing, and the pints give new meaning to the phrase “permission to indulge.” As much as KIND FROZEN products are dairy-free ice cream, they also are healthy snacks. 

“At KIND, we’re always striving to challenge conventional wisdom and eliminate false compromises,” says Daniel Lubetzky, KIND Founder. “We tried to think differently about what we would want in a frozen treat. We discovered what was missing was an offering that tasted delicious, and delivered premium, plant-based ingredients that we can feel good about putting in our body.”

“While we’re best-known for nutrition bars most often consumed on-the go, we’re continuing to prioritize innovation that cuts across categories and day-parts. As we look to close the taste gap in health-focused aisles and the health gap in taste-focused aisles, we will stay true to how we’ve always created new products with an eye to elevate people’s overall experience, while adhering to our KIND Promise.”

KIND’s Frozen Pints come in seven flavors. They are: Dark Chocolate Almond Sea Salt, Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter, Cherry Cashew, Coffee Hazelnut, Caramel Almond Sea Salt, Pistachio and Strawberry. 

Bubbies, a leading mochi brand, now offers three non-dairy options in six-pack retail boxes: Vegan Strawberry Mochi, Vegan Chocolate Mochi, and a newly created flavor, Vegan Mango Mochi. They are made with a base of coconut milk and wrapped in sweet mochi dough.  

“We’ve seen a huge surge in demand from consumers seeking comforting indulgences over the past year, so it’s natural that ice cream would be one of the first foods they turned to,” says Katie Cline, vice president of marketing at Bubbies Ice Cream. “Not only are shoppers looking for ice cream as a comfort food, but also as a unique experience, from texture to flavor discovery and natural ingredients. We want to make our beloved mochi ice cream accessible to as many people as possible, so we’re thrilled to be launching our new Vegan Mochi Ice Cream. For us, it’s extremely meaningful as this opens up new opportunities to provide value to consumers and deliver small moments of joy.”

Wildgood takes a Mediterranean diet approach to its non-dairy frozen dessert. It’s made with extra virgin olive oil for a rich, smooth and heart-healthy indulgence. Varieties are: Chocolate, Coffee, Chocolate Hazelnut, Mango, Mint Chocolate Chip, Pistachio, Sea Salt Caramel and Vanilla. 
Sacred Gelato is one of the most recent start-ups to enter this space. This new gelato brand gets its creamy texture from a base of coconut meat that is sourced directly from Thailand. It includes adaptogenic herbs and medicinal mushrooms for a health and wellness story. The brand is making its debut in five flavors. They are: Chaga Chocolate, Coconut Salted Caramel, Matcha Mint, Saffron Chai Spice and Tigernut Cookies N Cream. 

SweetPea is exhibiting at Expo East and I cannot wait to sample. The brand relies on chickpeas to make its base mix and touts the nutrient density of the legume. The line is making its debut in nine varieties. They are: 3 Parts Chocolate, Cookies ‘N Cream, Cookie Dough, Mango Tango Peach, Must Do Cold Brew, Peanut Butter Bomb, T.G.I. PieDay Raspberry, Vanilla Bean, and, wait for it, Salted Caramel Praline. Hmm…has my beloved Pralines and Cream met its match? 

Friday, September 10, 2021

We Are Not Post-Pandemic. That’s No Excuse to Stop Innovation.


Photo source: Dutch Farms

Kids are back in school, where they should be (masked, of course!). Many professionals are returning to the office, albeit on a hybrid schedule. And air travel is picking up. But the message was loud and clear from the Marcum LLP’s panel discussion on Sept. 9, 2021, titled “Food and Beverage Innovation in a Post-Pandemic World.” That message was a clarification to the title of the event, “We are not post-pandemic,” said Jeff Swearingen, global senior vice president-demand accelerator, venturing and global business services for PepsiCo. 

He explained that we are in an evolving situation with a lot of unknowns. For many, the fear of going out during the delta variant rampage is greater than one’s fear of crime. Yet, the food and beverage industry must do its best to deliver against consumers’ expectations of convenience, and with the challenged supply chain, which is ongoing, that’s difficult to do.  

Communication is key, as is transparency. And part of what consumers are looking for during these uncertain times is a brand’s message of “good.” 

The concept of what is “good” in food and beverage marketing is in flux, according to research from Bader Rutter Intel Distillery, Chicago, which hosted a live panel discussion on August 25 on the topic. Overall, Bader Rutter data indicate that traditional definitions like taste and nutrition are not going away but newer ones are growing in importance.

“For decades, the source of food and how it’s made hasn’t really been an important message to consumers,” said Dennis Ryan, executive creative director at Bader Rutter. “But today, between the proliferation of brands and information access—digital and social platforms—consumers can really bode and choose brands based on whether they align with their values, whether they agree with how they’re grown and produced and where they come from, and what cost it takes to produce them. So defining your good and ensuring your definition of good aligns with your core audience on the right platform is now critical to modern marketing success.”  

You can read more about this topic by linking HERE to a Food Business News column I wrote on how creating and marketing “good” food is both an art and a science. 

Kristin Kroepfl, chief marketing officer, Quaker Oats Co., Chicago, a business of PepsiCo, Purchase, N.Y., and one of the panelists, said that marketing teams should work more closely with procurement to better understand the farmer connection. 

“Such conversation may unlock value that is hidden in the supply chain,” said Ms. Kroepfl. “It might spark an idea.”
In the end, when deciding where to focus energies for communicating good, Ms. Kroepfl said it’s an intersection of three things. First is the “authentic brand DNA.”  Photo source: Dutch Farms

“You need to inventory and understand at a very deep level your brand equities,” she said. “Then know the needs and wants of your lead consumer. Drill into that insight. Then move from consumer insights to foresight. Identify the values we share. It’s both an art and a science and relies on data and intuition.”  

That brings me to cheese. I am thankful to Dutch Farms Inc., a Chicago-based company with Dutch roots, for sponsoring today’s blog. The family-owned, fourth-generation company is all about communicating “good” through its brand messaging. After all, the Dutch have always been known for their dairy products, especially great-tasting cheese. 

And that’s real cheese. In case you missed the August 20, 2021, blog titled “Beyond Cheese. Impossible Cheese. Then There’s Real Cheese.,” you can link to it HERE.

There’s a great deal of opportunity to continue to innovate in the cheese space, in particular with snacks, but also with recipe development and assistance with helping make dinner. We are still in the pandemic and eating at home continues to be where most consumers get nourished.  

On the note of snacking, it is paramount that dairy marketers position dairy foods as a complement to all types of foods folks are snacking on, from sweet to salty, to fruits and vegetables. (See infographic.)

JPG Resources Inc., a food and beverage innovation consultancy based in Battle Creek, Mich., recently published a white paper titled, “How to Turn Your Food &  Beverage Idea into a Product with Staying Power.” It was made available to members of the Chicagoland Food and Beverage Network. You can download it HERE.

In this white paper, you’ll learn what steps to take, what mistakes to avoid and the milestones to mark. The voyage may not be easy and it may not proceed as quickly as you would like, but with the right combination of creativity, competence and commitment, your food product innovation might become the next big thing.

The authors state that the late Harvard Business School professor and innovation expert Clayton Christensen once said that 30,000 new consumer products are launched every year in the U.S., and that 95% of them fail. University of Toronto marketing professor Inez Blackburn is more generous. She contends that up to 80% of new products launched in the grocery sector fail.

But we love new products. And we want to try new things…now. 

In 2020, McKinsey & Co. reported that more than one-third (36%) of consumers had recently tried a new product brand and that 73% of them intended to continue buying the new brand. McKinsey also found that in some categories, nearly half of all product purchases are new trials.

“Although there’s no silver bullet for success, food brands of all sizes can tip the scales in their favor by taking a measured and strategic approach to food innovation that marries good ideas and genuine passion with shrewd business intelligence, expert technical knowledge and keen consumer insights,” according to JPG Resources. “Large or small, established or entrepreneurial, success in the hypercompetitive food landscape boils down to a single, simple realization: Innovation isn’t a commodity, but rather, a discipline.”

Photo source: Dutch Farms

“Big CPGs often look at a lot of data, and then they try to develop food and beverage ideas that are going to be really popular and make a lot of money,” said Veronica Lehman, business partner and emerging brands specialist at JPG Resources. “Entrepreneurs, on the other hand, often stumble onto ideas based on their own life experiences. They have ‘aha’ moments where they feel really passionately about something that they believe is going to change people’s lives for the better or progress the food system in a positive way. 

“It’s not enough to come up with something that’s really cool, shiny and fun if you can’t also make it, commercialize it, scale it and grow it into a sustainable business,” she said. 

Jeff Grogg, JPG’s founder, added, “Passion and personal experience are a great place to start. It’s our job to help you understand whether your idea is something you can actually make a business out of.

“Choose a single starting point instead of trying to be everywhere so that you can win where you play,” he said. “Pick a region, a channel or a retailer and focus on driving brand velocity, driving depth and driving repeat business.”

That’s Dutch Farms’ story. Congratulations to Dutch Farms, Chicagoland’s number-one dairy brand.

Thursday, August 26, 2021

Is Kefir the Next Greek Yogurt?


Greek yogurt—namely Chobani—made its debut in the U.S. at the onset of the Great Recession in 2007. Its success defied logic…or did it? Here was this new yogurt concept with a higher retail price tag in a smaller cup size than any other yogurt in the marketplace. Yet, with its claims of higher protein and less sugar, and its unique texture and taste, the product thrived. Well, it did more than that and ever since, we have all been wondering what will be the next transformative concept in the dairy case?

This week during Trends and Innovations, a part of the Sosland Publishing Webinar Series, Stephanie Mattucci, associate director of food science for Mintel, suggested that kefir has the potential to be that product. 

Let me back up. She first identified immunity as one of the three key health areas emerging from the pandemic where food and beverage innovators should focus their efforts. The other two are eye health (from all that screen time) and mental health (from that non-discriminating coronavirus disrupting our lives). 

Between 2016 and 2020, the percentage of global food and drink products with an immunity function increased 22%, according to Mintel data. In the U.S., 86% of consumers agree eating healthy is important for a strong  immune system, said Mattucci. Immunity was top of mind before the pandemic. The past year or so raised awareness of the connection between diet and immunity.

“Immune health will still be important to many consumers, even after the vaccine,” she said. “It’s all about staying healthy against many illnesses. It is especially critical until the youngest population can get vaccinated.”

The gut-health connection is one that now resonates with consumers. The two have a mutual relationship and constantly influence each other.

“This presents potential for immune health, with probiotics, prebiotics and even the newly arriving post-biotics,” she said. “They can really play a role in functional food and drink products to help consumers support their immune system by supporting their microbiota.”

Here is where she posed the question: Will COVID-19 turn kefir into the next Greek yogurt?

The global kefir market is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 6.12% from now until 2025, according to the “Kefir Market” report from, growing from a valuation of $1.437 billion in 2019 to $2.053 billion in 2025.

“Kefir is the rising star in the fermentation scene,” Mattucci said. “The kefir grains have application in dairy, juices, plant-based milks and water kefir, the vegan alternative to dairy kefir, everything from drinkable to spoonable products.” 

Kefir grains are a symbiotic microbial mix of bacteria and yeast. They feed on simple sugars and multiply in millions. This activity gives rise to a matrix that resembles a small cauliflower floret. The Lactobacillus family of bacteria is the predominant species; however, many others are present. 

Lifeway Foods, Morton Grove, Ill., the largest kefir manufacturer in the U.S., which just got bigger after its recent acquisition of certain assets of the privately held, California-based GlenOaks Farms Inc., a respected and pioneering probiotic drinkable yogurt brand founded in 1984, includes 12 probiotic cultures in all if its refrigerated kefirs, delivering 25 to 30 billion Colony Forming Units (CFU). The kefir cultures include: Bifidobacterium breve, B. lactis, B. longum, L. acidophilus, L. casei, L. lactis, L. plantarum, L. reuteri, L. rhamnosus, Leuconostoc cremoris, Saccharomyces florentinus and Streptococcus diacetylactis

Kefir grains are not created equal, which provides opportunity for innovation in this space based. Unique combinations of bacteria and yeast result in fermented foods and beverages that vary in tartness, the amount of effervescence and viscosity.  

“Dairy kefir offers compounds with other health benefits,” said Mattucci. “It contains the polysaccharide kefiran, a strong anti-inflammatory and stimulant for the immune system. And dairy kefir has the potential as a calming mood food, as it is a source of vitamin B12 and the amino acid tryptophan, a precursor to serotonin.”

The January 2021 issue (volume 133) of Biomedicine & Pharmacotherapy published a review titled “Kefir: A protective dietary supplementation against viral infection.” You can read it HERE.

In a separate study published in Microbiome (link HERE), researchers identified molecules in kefir that proved to be effective at treating various inflammatory conditions, including “cytokine storms” caused by COVID-19 and other diseases that attack the immune system.

A new study published from Stanford researchers published in the July 12, 2021, issue of Cell, shows a link between fermented foods such as kefir and an increase in microbiome diversity and reduction in inflammation. You can read it HERE.

“Products like kefir offer consumers affordable nutrition, especially as they are looking to support their health and strengthen their immune system,” Mattucci said. 

While kefir has been around forever, it still is an unknown to many. Market research firm Datassential reports that 34% of the population knows what kefir is but only 15% have tried it. Will COVID-19 turn kefir into the next Greek yogurt?

“Yes, I do believe we are in a massive new wave of growth like we have never seen before,” says Julie Smolyansky, CEO of Lifeway Foods. “A 2,000-year-old beverage whose time has come.” She cites these reasons.  

“More research has been done on kefir, gut health, fermented foods and probiotics in the last 18 months due to the pandemic than probably ever before,” she says. “The science is remarkable and it’s getting out to mainstream press and consumers are searching for this info. They are worried about their health and the health of their families. Right now, health, immunity and mental health are top of mind and one of the best ways to be empowered around health is to get the vaccine, mask up and drink kefir and love your gut. This is not just a trend but a 2,000-year-old healing beverage we are truly just starting to understand.” 

Mainstream media is also getting the science out there.

“The New York Times wrote not one, but two articles about kefir and microbiome this week,” says Smolyansky. It’s so exciting to see mainstream media finally becoming aware of what my ancestors have known intuitively in their gut for 2,000 years.”

Links to the articles are HERE and HERE

Also just this past week, kefir was listed first on Parade magazine’s 15 best fermented foods to try. The list describes kefir as “This fermented milk beverage is similar to drinkable yogurt. Fermentation eliminates most of its lactose, making it digestible even for those with lactose intolerance.”

Kefir is even catching on in foodservice. Nation’s Restaurant News recently featured kefir as a ”flavor of the week,” noting that awareness of kefir is growing. You can read the article HERE.

“Once restaurant business comes back, kefir could be on the menu,” says Smolyansky.

At retail, Lifeway’s second quarter 2021 sales surged 16.6% from the previous period in 2020, which was very strong. 

“Retailers were reluctant to bring new innovations to shelves during the pandemic. For kefir, an essential, they increased shelf space dramatically,” says Smolyansky. “This shows that consumers are becoming more aware of kefir and buying at a higher velocity.”

I am going to end with an article published this week in Grub Street with this headline: Whole Milk Mounts Its Triumphant Comeback--Hot girls are ditching the alternatives and are going back to basics.
You can read it HERE.

Friday, August 20, 2021

Beyond Cheese. Impossible Cheese. Then There’s Real Cheese.


News broke this week that alternative meat company Beyond Meat filed a trademark application for “Beyond Milk” with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. What the news failed to report is that the company did the same for “Beyond Cheese.” Impossible Foods already has the trademark of “Impossible” for non-dairy milk and milk products, too. 

Let’s discuss this. First off, for a point of clarification, plant-based butter is margarine and plant-based leather is plastic. Plant-based cheese is imitation cheese and has been around for a very long time. It refers to low-cost processed cheese in which the milkfat, milk protein or both are partially or wholly replaced with non-dairy ingredients, such as corn oil and soy protein. “Plant-based” does not mean “vegan” and neither does “imitation.” Vegan cheese, however, is a type of imitation cheese and should be labeled as such. So, while the dairy industry continues its fight about the use of the word milk on non-dairy white fluids, I think it might be a good time to change battles before things get ugly. It is paramount that every cheese-type product in the market that contains non-dairy fat or non-dairy protein, or both, and describes itself as being cheese, includes the word imitation on the label. 

And why? Because “real” cheesemaking is both an art and science. Imitation cheesemaking is just science. Both have a place in our evolving food scene, but we cannot dilute the beautiful art and science of cheesemaking. 

I made cheese for three years, from 1990 to 1993 with Kraft. I fully appreciate the importance of timing the addition of cultures and enzymes, managing pH and washing curd, the salting and packing process, and with pasta filata types, the temperature of the cooker/stretcher and the strength of the brine. Like I said, it’s an art and a science. 

That is something that the American Cheese Society (ACS) knows well. The group held a virtual conference a few weeks ago that enabled an international audience of cheese professionals-- from the U.S. to Europe to New Zealand--to interact and share knowledge and innovation. This would not have been possible without a virtual platform and indeed, virtual meetings are one of the more positive outcomes of the pandemic. The ACS voice will be amplified by its recent acquisition of Victory Cheese, an initiative launched by cheesemakers, mongers, chefs and cheese enthusiasts to help support and sustain specialty and artisan cheesemakers in the U.S. during and after the pandemic. 

Source: American Cheese Society, courtesy of Saputo

Every other year, ACS surveys artisan and specialty cheesemakers from around the U.S. to identify trends and guide benchmarking, policy recommendations and advocacy for the cheese industry. The 2020 survey was conducted two months into the COVID-19 pandemic. See infographics for some survey highlights. Infographics are courtesy of Saputo. (Click on infographic to enlarge.)

Real, natural cheese is made with only four ingredients: milk, cultures, enzymes and salt. It is the careful selection of these ingredients and the handling of the finished curd that allows for the many varieties of cheese in the marketplace. Cheese is one of the simplest, yet most complex foods in the world and we must never let it be lost to imitators. 

Here are some great examples of keeping the art and science of cheesemaking alive. 

Marin French Cheese Co., is introducing Golden Gate, the first in its new line of premium cheeses handcrafted at the country’s oldest cheese company. This washed-rind, triple crème cheese is aptly named for the golden color of the cheese as well as the Golden Gate Bridge, the iconic gateway to Marin County where the historic creamery is located. The unique cultures naturally present in California’s coastal air result in an artisan cheese with a true sense of place. 

Source: American Cheese Society, courtesy of Saputo 

Golden Gate undergoes four rounds of handwashing in its 14-day aging process to lock in moisture that encourages the growth of Brevibacterium linens cultures. Multiple rounds of handwashing in brine score the cheese to help it develop the cultures and build an edible rind that preserves the cheese’s creamy texture and balances its earthy, rich flavor with just the right amount of salt. The striking orange rind occurs naturally without the use of added colorant like annatto. Throughout the process, Golden Gate is stored at optimal humidity and temperature. 

Creamery Manager Caroline Di Giusto says that Golden Gate requires additional training with personal attention from the cheesemaking team. “This dedication is what makes Golden Gate a truly artisanal cheese that’s interesting and enjoyable as it ages into a more pungent and gooier flavor profile for cheese aficionados, enthusiasts and explorers,” says Di Giusto. 

Marin French Cheese has been making high-quality, soft-ripened cheeses using French techniques in the coastal terroir of Marin County since 1865. Famed for its soft-ripened cheeses with bloomy white penicillium rinds, it has also been handcrafting washed-rind cheeses since 1901 using Old World techniques. 

According to the ACS, “washed-rind” describes the surface-ripening process of washing cheese throughout the aging process with brine, beer, wine, brandy or a mixture of ingredients, resulting in cheeses with higher pH levels and lower acidity, high moisture content and a characteristic red-orange rind. Also typically pungent, the flavor profile of many washed-rind cheeses including Golden Gate is milder than their aroma would suggest. 

Source: American Cheese Society, courtesy of Saputo 

“Golden Gate offers a mature flavor that appeals to the evolving palates of today’s American consumers who are seeking nuanced profiles in their cheese,” says Manon Servouse, Marin French Cheese’s marketing director. “This cheese has a true sense of place and is a delicious, tangible representation of our unique Marin County terroir.”

Golden Gate is made in small batches with the highest-quality pasteurized milk from Holstein, Jersey and Guernsey cows pastured at North Bay dairies located near the Marin French Cheese creamery. A triple crème cheese means that cream is added to the milk for a richer flavor and texture. The vibrant edible orange rind reveals a supple, pale yellow interior with rich, botanical aromas and a deep savory flavor. Best enjoyed at room temperature, Golden Gate ranges from semi-soft, fudgy and robust when young to earthier oozing umami as it approaches its best-by date.

Rogue Creamery, which is known for its award-winning organic blue cheese, now offers a line of pre-packaged blue cheese wedges. Six varieties of Rogue’s certified organic, cave-aged blue cheeses come in convenient 4.2-ounce wedges. Varieties are Oregon Blue, Smokey Blue, Crater Lake Blue, Oregonzola, Caveman Blue and Bluehorn Blue. The company is using the rollout of the new format as an opportunity to rethink its case packaging and make its products more accessible to smaller independent retailers.

“We are always looking for ways to offer a cheese that’s on the cutting edge of sustainability,” says David Gremmels, president. “We aim to raise the bar and make our products more available to a broader range of consumers, all while reducing our plastic consumption and carbon footprint.”

Face Rock Creamery is an award-winning specialty cheese producer based in Bandon, Oregon. One of its newer concepts is the Face2Face blended aged cheddar, the creamery’s first mixed-milk cheddar cheese. The 12-month aged cheddar is made from a balanced blend of milk sourced from cow and sheep farmers located on the Southern Oregon coast. The cheese has a dense, creamy base from high butterfat cow’s milk and a slight salty piquancy from the sheep’s milk. 

It comes in 6- and 8-ounce blocks for retail and direct consumer sales, as well as 9-pound loafs for foodservice. It’s also available as a compact 7-pound clothbound wheel, aged for a minimum of 13 months. Face Rock takes a unique approach to its clothbound process by coating the wheels in butter made on site at the creamery using the same milk that goes into the cheese.

The company is one of four finalists among food and beverage startups vying for a $200,000 angel investment via Oregon Angel Food. Wishing them the best of lock at the finale on September 17, 2021.

Source: American Cheese Society, courtesy of Saputo 

Schuman Cheese continues to impress. Cello, one of the company’s handcrafted specialty cheese brands, added two products this summer to its portfolio of cheese flights: Cello Breeze and Cello Sunrise. Aiming to making cheese less intimidating for all through tasty products and educational resources, these new offerings deliver on both flavor and approachability, according to the company. 
The latest varietals feature paired trios of new and fan-favorite Cello cheeses in support of the growing cheese board trend. Cello’s cheese connoisseurs developed each flight to include an ideal combination of flavors, removing all the guesswork from building the perfect board. 

Cello Breeze couples Cello’s classic English Cheddar with two never-before-released offerings, Cello Blueberry Lemon Fontal and Cello Red Wine Soaked Goat Cheese. Cello Sunrise features Cello’s Cheddar Gruyere enhanced with roasted red and black peppers, a 10-month aged Asiago and a classic favorite, the Cello Hand-Rubbed Tuscan Fontal. 

“At Cello, we make it our mission to equip cheese lovers with the products and knowledge that will enhance every eating occasion,” says Mike Currie, marketing director at Schuman Cheese, the parent company of Cello. “We are thrilled to continue offering them even more ways to enjoy cheese through these exciting new flavors and flight pairings.” 

Speaking of the cheeseboard trend, Saga Ventures is introducing Cheeseboard Snacking Bar. The product is designed as a single-serve cheese snacking bar that provides healthy and satiable fuel between meals. It uses fresh California ingredients--two cups of milk, local fruits, nuts and spices—everything from apricot pistachio with rosemary and sea salt to chili mango with pepitas. It’s your all-in-one personal cheeseboard that provides 17 grams of protein.

In response to the growing demand for Gouda, Roth Cheese has introduced a new look for its line of Gouda products. The updated packaging--punctuated by easy-to-spot labels--features new wedges and slices for fan-favorites Roth Gouda and Natural Smoked Gouda.

“As trends and colors evolve, we want our packaging to stay current,” says Heather Engwall, vice president of marketing for Roth Cheese. “We are excited to deliver the same delicious Gouda cheese that our fans know and love, now with a bright and fun aesthetic that is sure to catch the eye of any cheese counter visitor.”

At the beginning of the summer, the company introduced Roth Spinach Artichoke Gouda. Made with the spinach artichoke flavors Americans know from one of their favorite party dips, this new gouda flavor was selected by consumers after a nationwide vote to “Choose Our Next Cheese.”

The crowd-sourcing campaign set out to take cheesemaking out of the creamery and into the hands of cheese fans who voted between four new flavors of gouda: Chimichurri, Hot Honey, Spinach Artichoke and Buffalo Ranch.

“As we are developing new products, we obsess over figuring out what the consumer will like, even when we’re creating a new flavored cheese,” says Samantha Streater, business development and innovation manager at Roth Cheese. “Spinach Artichoke Gouda was a clear winner in this contest and something we know consumers will love.”

Roth cheesemaker Madeline Kuhn spent several months perfecting this new cheese.

Source: American Cheese Society, courtesy of Saputo 

“Taking a classic taste like Spinach Artichoke, and turning it into a cheese, is a great way to get creative with new recipes to reimagine the flavor,” says Kuhn. “The rich and savory flavor will make you feel the comfort of Spinach Artichoke dip.”

There’s a lot of cheese activity in the import space. Norseland Inc., for example, is starting to market and distribute Pastureland Cheddar in the U.S. This range of premium Irish cheddar cheeses from Dairygold hopes to capitalize on the growing consumer awareness around health and nutritional benefits of naturally produced dairy products. The range will be certified to the prestigious Bord Bia Grass Fed standard and will be the first dairy product to feature the Grass Fed logo on its packaging.

“Consumers are looking for brands that align with their personal values and sustainability is frequently at the top of the list,” says John Sullivan, CEO and president of Norseland. “It’s inspiring to see more brands become sustainability-minded and make products that are accessible to everyone. On top of the environmental appeal, the cheese is delicious.”

Trugman-Nash LLC, the makers of Old Croc Australian Cheddar, is bringing even more “bite” to the category with the introduction of Grand Reserve Australian Vintage Cheddar in a new convenient 7-ounce retail package. Previously only available in 10-, 16- and 24-ounce chunks, this smaller size package is designed to increase consumer trial and invite more specialty cheese lovers to enjoy this special cheddar at an attractive price. Grand Reserve is crafted with milk from grass-fed cows and non-GMO ingredients. Grand Reserve is the brand’s most mature cheddar and not for the faint of heart. It’s carefully aged a minimum of two full years for a bold, rich flavor. The cheese’s texture is surprisingly creamy, yet crumbly with noticeably crunchy crystals.

Trader Joe’s now offers a limited-edition Kerrygold Irish Cheddar with Chili Peppers. Exclusive to the U.S. private-label retailer, new Kerrygold Irish Cheddar with Chili Peppers starts with creamy milk produced by grass-fed cows. That milk is fermented into a full-bodied Irish Cheddar infused with flakes of fiery red chili peppers. The creaminess of the cheddar is said to temper the heat of the chili peppers, which in turn brings out some of the cheddar’s sharpness.

Earlier this year, Old Amsterdam, the market leader in branded aged gouda cheese in Holland and a product of the third-generation 100% family-owned and run Westland Cheese Company, debuted two new flavors: Old Amsterdam Mild and Old Amsterdam Reserve. Old Amsterdam Reserve is aged for a minimum of 18 months and has a multitude of deep, rich flavors with bourbon, caramel and pecan undertones and a firm, crumbly texture, sparked with lots of ripening crystals. Old Amsterdam Mild is a young gouda aged for a minimum of four months. It and has a creamy and semi-soft texture.

Just four ingredients is all it takes. Of course, it’s only possible with time, knowledge and care. There’s nothing beyond real cheese. 

Friday, August 13, 2021

Is Whey the Way for Dairy to Gain an Edge in “Mental” Health Foods?


“Feeling good about oneself” ranks as one of the most important aspects of health and wellness for consumers in the United States, Mexico, Brazil, Germany and India, according to The Hartman Group. And right now, many of us are not feeling too great, mentally, as stress, anxiety and depression are rising in the U.S., and I am sure around the world. 

At times, some of us may have handled it better than others; but, most of us have our moments, right? This week was a sad one for me with three upcoming business-related trips that I was really looking forward to getting cancelled because of safety fears from the delta variant. 

The U.S. Census Bureau recently conducted the Household Pulse Survey. The 20-minute survey studies how the coronavirus pandemic is impacting households across the country. Data show moderate to severe anxiety peaked in 37.3% of adults during the pandemic, which is up 6.9% from 2019. When it came to depression among adults, reported cases jumped from 7% to 30.2% over the same time period. As for young adults, 43.5% said they had moderate-to-severe anxiety.

The story is even more grim with children and adolescents, who are now either back in school or getting ready to go back to school and “adults” around the country are adding fuel to the fire by arguing about masks and safety protocol. The August 9, 2021, issue of JAMA Pediatrics featured a meta-analysis titled “Global Prevalence of Depressive and Anxiety Symptoms in Children and Adolescents During COVID-19.” 

The researchers looked at 29 general-population studies, one of which was not peer reviewed, and found pooled depression and anxiety rates at 25.2% and 20.5%, respectively. Around the world, children’s depression and anxiety rates may have doubled since the start of the pandemic. Both depression and anxiety rates were associated with later stages in the pandemic and with girls, and higher depression was also associated with older children. 

Whey may be a way to help people improve mood and feel better. That’s because whey is a concentrated source of the amino acids glutamine and tryptophan. Glutamine is a non-essential amino acid, which means the body can produce it. It is known to reduce anxiety, as it is a precursor of  gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which regulates neuronal excitability throughout the nervous system. In other words, it helps keep you calm. 

Tryptophan, on the other hand, is an essential amino acid. This means it is not made by the human body. But guess what? It’s typically in whey protein. Tryptophan aids in the production of serotonin. This is a neurotransmitter that many researchers believe is linked to anxiety and depression.

Disclaimer: I have no medical training and am only summarizing information in scientific literature. However, there’s something to be said for having a glass of warm milk before bed to assist with calming and relaxation. 
We have been so focused on the quality of protein in whey and its positive effect on muscle and weight management that we may overlooked an innovation opportunity. Whey is not just good food, it’s mood food. 

With that, there are some real opportunities for developing mood foods for certain dayparts.

My friends at The Hartman Group recently published “Redefining Normal: Spring 2021 Eating Occasions,” which has some very interesting findings. It is a free report to Daily Dose of Dairy subscribers. You can download it HERE

Some key highlights include that this past spring, the basic rhythm of eating through the day shifted. Fewer Americans are participating in lunch, afternoon snack, dinner and after-dinner snack occasions, yet early morning snack occasions appear to be playing a more important role, as more Americans are now consuming food and/or beverages earlier in the day. The average number of eatings across the day has also declined, from 4.1 in spring 2020 down to 3.9 in spring 2021. This is a small, but statistically significant drop. This slight decline in participation in eating occasions per day corresponds with more items consumed per occasion, especially when snacking.

The average number of food and beverage categories present at any given occasion has increased significantly, reaching 3.1 items in spring 2021 (vs. 2.8 items in both spring 2019 and spring 2020). Morning and after-dinner snacking occasions are playing a more important role in consumers’ daily eating behaviors, all witnessing significant increases in the number of food and beverage items present compared to pre-pandemic eating and reflecting the elevated role that snacks are playing in consumers’ food lives.  

With snacking occasions playing a more important role in how Americans eat, and with mental health an epidemic because of the pandemic, there is a need for mood foods. Think, Stress-free Smoothie at 11:00am, a scoop of Happy Ice Cream at 3:00pm and Sleepy Time Sipper at 9:00pm. Namaste!