Friday, February 12, 2016

Millennials, Functional Foods and Ice Cream: Packaging and Product Considerations

Photo source: International Dairy Queen 
The fast-food and frozen dairy dessert chain is featuring Red Velvet Blizzard Cupid Cakes for the Valentine holiday. Have a lovely one!

During the past two days I was engaged with the Dairy Council of California Functional Foods Task Force (FFTF). This is a group formed 16 years ago (I was a founding member) and convenes annually to track changes in the external environment that affect the dairy industry. This 14-member group is composed of industry experts from around the country, representing food and nutrition research and development, academia, marketing, education and communications. Discussions ensue around nutrition and dairy research, public policy, regulations and consumer perceptions that impact dairy. Strategies are identified that Dairy Council of California and the industry can pursue to optimize dairy’s positioning in a rapidly changing environment. To learn more about this group, link HERE.

We originally formed to focus on what was at the time the emerging area of functional foods and the role of dairy foods in this movement. Today the term functional foods is almost never heard, as the food industry has evolved to make functionality a given. Consumers have greater expectations of their foods, with nutrient density, wholesomeness, and fortification to bridge the gap for nutrients of concern expected. All foods perform a functional purpose, have it be provide calories for energy, nutrients to grow, or vitamins and minerals to reduce the risk of disease.  

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That brings me to frozen dairy desserts, including ice cream, fro-yo and novelties. Every year I provide the FFTF a brief overview of recent dairy foods innovations. In the past, my presentation focused on so-called functional foods, those foods that provide benefits beyond basic nutrition. Such foods had typically been fortified with functional ingredients such as plant stanols and sterols, novel fibers, whey proteins, omega-3 fatty acids, resveratrol, green tea extract, botanicals and more. This year I explained to the group that there’s not much of that going on these days in dairy…except in frozen dairy desserts.

These products historically have been all about indulgence and deliciousness. They are a dessert, a treat…but can they be more? With efforts to make refrigerated yogurt an all-day food, even a meal replacement in the evening by loading it up with nutrient-dense inclusions, some with a savory twist, why can’t frozen dairy desserts become something more, or, at the very least, a delivery vehicle for some extra nutrition? That might be something millennials want.

Millennials were a focal point of our discussions at the FFTF meeting. Specifically, we focused on how this demographic is changing the way we produce, source and distribute food. We also discussed how millennials as a group often reject science-proven nutrition and food safety principles—they are the drivers of the raw milk movement—and often listen to their Facebook friends for dietary advice. 

To read an article I wrote earlier this week for Food Business News entitled “Debunking the Food Babe,” link HERE. The article is a Q&A with the three authors of the 400-page The Fear Babe: Shattering Vani Hari’s Glass House. This book has been dubbed “the book the natural and organic food industries doesn’t want you to read.”

The book’s title makes reference to the self-proclaimed Food Babe, Vani Hari, an attractive 30-something food activist from Charlotte, N.C., who, according to the authors, uses scare tactics rather than sound science to make food companies change their ingredients and business practices. Though too old to be a millennial herself, she preys on the millennial demographic and their rejection of science and Big Business.

This infographic from BuzzBack provides some insight to how millennials think and what makes them tick. The market research firm surveyed 190 U.S. residents, ages 18 to 34, and found that they are all about balancing health and indulgence. Specifically, eight in 10 say it’s important to eat healthy and believe it’s good to indulge occasionally. This is a perfect opportunity for ice cream and like products to be repositioned as a healthful indulgence. 

According to a report rolling out later this month from Technavio entitled “Ice Cream Market in the U.S., 2016-2020,” the demand for healthier, more natural food has extended into the ice cream sector. This is being accomplished by manufacturers offering ice cream in smaller portion sizes, lower levels of fat and sugar, and fortified with functional ingredients such as probiotics and fiber.

Technavio’s market research analyst predicts the ice cream market in the U.S. to grow at a modest compound annual growth rate of around 2% by 2020. The growing consumption of take-home ice-cream products is the primary growth driver for this market, with Millennials often the ones buying the decadent pint to enjoy while watching something on Netflix. Factors such as the emergence of ice cream as a snack and a rise in the availability of ice cream in unique styles and flavors will impel market growth during the estimated period.

To keep consumers interested in the category, ice cream marketers need to differentiate themselves from others by innovating in packaging and formulation, as well as position in the marketplace. That’s what you get with this new product line rolling out by foxy’s. 

I first wrote about this company in August 2012 when it introduced a line of “playful and healthful” frozen yogurts. You can read about the product line HERE.

The company is now rolling out what it calls “thoughtful ice cream,” a line of small-batch, probiotic ice creams with less sugar than most products in the marketplace. The line talks to millennials.

CEO and Managing Partner Angus Murray, a dynamic man who I have gotten to know over the past few years, says the company spent 36 months of research and development before introducing the new foxy’s ice cream line. It’s a super-premium ice cream crafted so that:
  • You can’t tell the difference.
  • It’s premium.
  • In no nonsense, unique packaging.
  • Reasonably priced.
  • Thoughtfully created.
  • Uniquely sourced.

This is everything millennials look for in packaged foods.

“We make foxy’s to order, meaning you have the freshest possible milk and ingredients,” he says. “It’s a range of very unique, premium 16% butterfat, 50% overrun ice creams loaded with more than one billion probiotics per serving and around 20% less sugar than comparable products. 

“The products are also symbiotic. We use organic agave inulin to assist with the stabilization of the base mix, which is required when we reduce sugar,” he says. “Inulin is a fiber that is not digested. Instead it makes its way to the areas of the digestive tract where the probiotics do most good and supports them by providing a growing medium.”

The company’s production process minimizes waste, reducing its carbon footprint. Only 60 pints are made per batch and containers are hand packed.

There are 11 flavors in the line, many with whimsical names that speak to millennials. For example, with “6 Mile Almond & Honey,” the milk goes directly from the milking sheds to the farmer’s own plant. The almonds are from the same farmer’s land. The honey is from the beehives of the bees that pollinated the groves that provided the almonds. All this happens within a 6-mile radius. With other flavors such as “Rocky Road Less Travelled,” there’s a story behind the source of the ingredients, everything from the marshmallows to the nuts. For more information on foxy’s thoughtful ice cream, link HERE.

As much thought went into the foxy’s products as the package. Minimal, simple graphics communicate what the products are all about.

According to the Millennial Marketing website (link HERE), millennials are into packaging as much as they are product. The experts provide four suggestions to use packaging to engage millennials and get them to buy your product. They are:
  • Implement limited-edition packaging, as millennials are always into the next trend.
  • Support sustainability.
  • Bring something new to the table.
  • Personify the package.

Millennials believe that the products they purchase and consume define who they are. Ice cream can do that.

Happy Valentine’s Day weekend…and for many U.S. subscribers, enjoy your three-day Presidents’ Day weekend, too.
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