Friday, April 10, 2015

Spring Cleaning Time: Frozen and Refrigerated Dairy Dessert Clean-Label Trends

Nothing like a long weekend during spring break with seven teenagers (three boys, four girls, all 15 years old) to gain insight to the grocery shoppers of tomorrow. These are the youngest millennials, having been born in either 1999 or 2000. They survived Y2K.  And, oh my, do they have strong opinions of the foods they eat.

Fresh is paramount. I was very surprised that the baby carrots and celery sticks disappeared before the potato chips and pretzels. Eventually the chip bowl was cleaned out. The pretzels remained. (That contradicts better-for-you snacking!)

When I asked for requests from the grocery store for breakfast and snack foods, I was very pleased that almost all of them asked for yogurt. Whole fruits, hard-boiled eggs and green tea also made the list. (What happened to Pop Tarts and doughnuts? I bought them anyway. Eventually, they were consumed, too.)

When I asked for milk preference, they unanimously said 2%. One girl even went as far as explaining to me that it contained healthy fats. I was very impressed. But then one gal did say her mom likes to buy raw milk. Not to throw her mom under the bus, but I did break into a brief explanation of why raw milk is unsafe and why I will not be buying it. 

Though they did not seem to understand the term “clean label” when I asked them, they did have strong opinions of what they want to read on package labels. Surprisingly, organic was not as important as I thought it would be. “Nothing artificial” was something all seven agreed was a purchase requirement. (This did not hold them back from eating the cookies I made with artificially colored M&M’s.)

I’m not surprised that they do not understand the term clean label, as it really is not a consumer term. Shoppers are not walking up and down the aisles of the supermarket looking for the clean-label shelf. Retailers do not have a designated clean-label section, much like they do for organic and ethnic foods. Clean label is a marketing initiative for the R&D team, with the effort often varying by product category.

Clean label is not necessarily natural, which is a good thing, because natural is itself an ambiguous term. But I think we can all agree that natural infers that it came from Mother Nature, at least before it was processed and packaged, rather than concocted in a lab. It’s suggestive of good-for-you, minimally processed and even nontoxic.

Clean label is sometimes that, and other times it is not. Clean label involves transparency, which refers to the act of communicating to consumers the story of the food they are buying.

Transparency was identified as a key macro trend at the 35th annual Natural Products Expo West that took place in early March in Anaheim, CA. This term incorporates many facets of product marketing, including ingredient sourcing, nutrition claims, product description, packaging graphics and even a company’s business philosophy. When all of these are kept as clean, simple and truthful as possible, consumers often perceive the product to be close to something grandma would make in her own kitchen, with this notion of homemade being very appealing with today’s foodie society. The millennials, including my teen aged house guests, are all over it. (Little do they know that those cookies I claimed to make from scratch were refrigerated dough to which I added some topical M&M’s for that “made by Mrs. Berry” touch. I know, I was not very transparent. Shame on me!)

Clean really is about being clear. “The move from ‘clean’ to ‘clear’ labeling is a key trend for 2015, reflecting a move to clearer and simpler claims and packaging for maximum transparency,” says Lu Ann Williams, director of innovation at Innova Market Insights. “Meeting the needs of the millennial consumer has also become a key focus, as has targeting the demands of the gourmet consumer at home, re-engineering the snacks market for today’s lifestyles and combating obesity with a focus on positive nutrition.”

According to Clean Label Report 2015 from Nutrition Business Journal, no one in the industry seems to agree on an exact definition, yet suppliers, manufacturers and retailers are increasingly responding to and driving the movement. The report confirms that few consumers have even heard of the term, yet more and more of them are demanding food, supplement, personal care and household products that adhere to its strictures of fewer synthetic ingredients, fewer ingredients overall, “free-from” formulations and transparent supply chains.

So while only 23% of consumers surveyed say they have heard the term “clean label” and have at least some idea what it might mean, 83% say they actively try to avoid high-fructose corn syrup and 71% say “no” to artificial colors and flavors, according to Nutrition Business Journal research. The report shows that these and other ingredients are quickly on their way out of the natural channel, with mass retail following suit.

A recent report from Packaged Facts entitled What America Eats: Paradigms Shaping Food Choices identifies a number of positive shifts in American eating habits that bode well for the future. Chief among these is the finding that in 2014, 39% of consumers indicated they are eating less processed food than they were a few years ago. And while consumers are more likely to say they are shifting away from processed food, they say they are moving toward foods/food types that encompass “real foods,” such as fresh fruits/vegetables, locally produced foods and all natural proteins. Dairy is all this and more!

At IDFA’s recent Ice Cream Technology Conference in St. Petersburg, FL, Doug Goff, professor of food science at the University of Guelph, addressed the formulation challenges for clean labels. He provided data showing that consumers are clamoring to buy products with clean labels, fewer ingredients and less food additives. With ice cream, as well as refrigerated dairy desserts such as mousse and pudding, there are challenges with going clean label as emulsifiers and stabilizers serve key functions in texture, product stability, and with frozen products, controlling ice crystal development. The good news is that ingredient suppliers have stepped up to the challenge and have solutions to allow for cleaner-label formulating.

Here are some recent clean/clear label product launches.

Turkey Hill Dairy is rolling out All Natural Gelato, making it the first major ice cream brand to release an all-natural gelato product line.

“Our loyal fans are looking for great taste and simple ingredients,” says John Cox, Turkey Hill Dairy president. “Given the success of Turkey Hill All Natural Ice Cream--and realizing gelato is a rapidly growing category—we’re excited to bring this traditional Italian ice cream to grocery store shelves, adding a touch of Turkey Hill’s Lancaster County roots to every bite.”

Turkey Hill All Natural Gelato contains fresh milk and real sugar, and has less air than most ice creams giving it a richer mouthfeel. It is available in eight flavors: Chocolate Chocolate Chip, Chocolate Peanut Butter, Coffee Chip, Hazelnut, Mint Chocolate Chip, Peach Mango, Purely Vanilla and Sea Salted Caramel.

In case you have not heard, the industry finally has the next Cookies and Cream. It is Salted Caramel. Read more about this trend in a recent column I wrote for Food Business News that you can access HERE.

Hudsonville Creamery and Ice Cream Company is rolling out Hudsonville Naturals. This ice cream line is described as artisan and made with local ingredients, and natural colors, flavors and sweeteners. Front labels boast a “rBST Free” logo. The website explains how the ice cream is sweetened with pure cane sugar and how, for example, the strawberry flavor is colored by the strawberries. In addition to Strawberry, there’s Chocolate Cocoa Bean, Vanilla Bean, and surprise, surprise, Salted Caramel.

Family-owned Graeter’s Ice Cream expands its hand-crafted, artisan ice cream and gelato line with five new flavors, providing consumers with an indulgent dessert experience. The new flavors are: Bananas Foster Gelato (super yummy!), Bourbon Pecan Chocolate Chip Ice Cream, Black Raspberry Gelato, Dark Chocolate Mint Crunch Gelato and Toasted Coconut Gelato.

Entrepreneurs like Graeter’s Ice Cream are increasingly coming up with unique flavors that remain true to the brand’s original mission. That is, creating the finest, creamiest, most deliciously indulgent ice cream in the world, 2 ½ gallons at a time. Communicating this batch-made, hand-crafted process is all about the company’s clean and clear communication.
Committed to creating healthy snacks made with simple, wholesome ingredients, the Outshine brand has launched a new line of Simply Yogurt Bars. These frozen yogurt bars are simply made with 100% yogurt and blended with real fruit or fruit juice. Flavors are: Blueberry, Lemon, Mango, Peach, Pineapple, Strawberry and Strawberry Banana. Each bar contains 90 calories, 5 grams of protein and 10% of the Daily Value of calcium. Simply Yogurt Bars also include live and active cultures.  Outshine Simply Yogurt Bars are available in four-count boxes at a suggested retail price of $4.39 at major retailers nationwide.

Three Twins Ice Cream, a San Francisco Bay Area-based organic ice cream manufacturer, celebrates its 10th anniversary with the rollout of two new flavors: Banana Nut Confetti and Cherry Chocolate Chunk. Committed to a giving-back model and providing a great product at an even better price, Three Twins created Ice Cream for Acres in 2011 and to date the land conservation initiative has saved nearly 130,680,000 square feet and counting. All Three Twins ice cream pints top out at $4.99 per pint and include a charitable donation to the Global Wildlife Conservation in collaboration with 1% for the Planet. The company uses USDA-stamped organic ingredients, including milk and cream sourced from family farms within a short distance of its factories.

On the refrigerated dessert side of the business, French premium dairy processor, Marie Morin, which now manufactures product in Canada and exports to the U.S., uses clear glass packaging to communicate the simplicity of the product inside. For example, Caramel Flan is a creamy custard baked with a layer of decadent caramel sauce. Made with only natural flavors, this product comes in two packs of 4.6-ounce glass jars.

Something I learned during my weekend with the youngest millennials, just like every generation before them, they do not always do as they say. But they definitely are more knowledgeable about food then previous generations, which is why clean and clear is so important.

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