Friday, March 17, 2017

The Luck of the Dairy Industry: Go Green—and Clean—for St. Patrick’s Day 2017

“Top o’ the mornin’ to ya’,” which is how non-Irish folks like me—trying to sound like the real deal—say “good morning to you on this St. Patrick’s Day!”

(Pictured: Kellogg Company is serving Green Goodness Parfaits in New York City’s Times Square starting today, St. Patrick’s Day, through April 1. The parfaits are made with Greek yogurt mixed with moringa green vegetable powder, Special K cereal, banana, dark chocolate chips, honey, mint and pistachios.)

As I enjoyed a McDonald’s Shamrock Shake on Thursday afternoon while sorting through the stack of materials collected at Natural Products Expo West a week ago, I reflect on the “luck of the dairy industry.” Yes, indeed, the dairy industry is in a very good place.

Though Expo West had ample share of dairy alternatives in fluid, cultured and frozen formats, I do believe there was more REAL dairy at the exhibition this year. And why? Because dairy is inherently, simple, pure and nutritious. It’s just what many consumers want.

Now, as anyone in the food industry knows, distribution and retail merchandising puts stress on foods, dairy foods included, and additives are often necessary to maintain quality and ensure safety. It’s paramount that those ingredients be chosen wisely in order to keep labels clean and simple.

Research from Ingredion reveals what consumers want to see—and not see—on food and beverage labels. U.S. consumers aren’t just reading labels, they’re scrutinizing them. Standing in the grocery aisles with heads bent and products in hand, they are searching for claims and ingredients that make their buying choices easy.

This product goes in the cart; this one goes back to the shelf. Is your product making the cut into the cart? And after that, does it pass the taste test and make it into the cart again and again?
Ingredion’s research shows that the drive for clean and simple continues to expand, with nearly three-quarters of U.S. consumers finding it important to recognize the ingredients used in the products they buy. While the majority of consumers look at front-of-pack claims, many also are interested enough to turn packages over to look for the ingredients that led to the claim—and to see if they can find other reasons to buy or not. Interestingly, the ingredient list helps justify price in the minds of consumers and is of particular interest to shoppers over age 30. This is important to note. It’s not just a millennial thing!

Forty percent of survey respondents ranked the descriptor “natural/all natural” number-one in terms of appeal on the front of packaging. “No artificial ingredients” came in second (31%). This is challenging for marketers who know the term natural is ambiguous and can stir up controversy with watch-dog groups.

However, what is encouraging is that data also showed that 58% of consumers ranked “no artificial ingredients” as the claim most likely to make them consider switching brands. 
(For detailed survey results, please contact Ingredion at 1-866-961-6285.)

Many of the innovations that debuted at Expo West included claims of “natural,” “organic” and “no additives/preservatives.” In fact, all products exhibited at Expo West must meet certain criteria established by the event organizer, criteria that in fact renders the product clean label. It’s like Expo West organizers are the clean-label police.

According to Supermarket News’ Whole Health Survey 2017 of retailers, wholesalers, manufacturers and sales agencies, clean label was the strongest wellness trend in 2016, followed by organic, then natural/organic private label. It’s no wonder the expo floor was packed full of buyers and brokers from around the country and beyond.

Dairy ranked third in terms of the greatest increase in consumer demand for natural/organic/green products. Produce ranked first, while grocery/snacks came in second. Meat was fourth.

Seventy-five percent of respondents said sales in health- and wellness-related categories increased this past year. And here’s something to take note of: only 29% of respondents said that conventional products remain strong in the dairy category. It’s no wonder there were so many new—and improved—dairy products at Expo West. Here’s a sampling.

Lifeway debuted Ceremonial Matcha Organic Kefir. This new kefir variety is packed with protein—11 grams--and 30 milligrams of caffeine (from the addition of organic matcha green tea powder) per 8-ounce serving. Matcha is an antioxidant-rich superfood known for its ability to boost memory, energy, alertness and mood. The product is naturally gluten free, low in fat and 99% void of lactose. The 15 to 20 billion colony-forming units (CFUs) of 12 live and active cultures may help support immunity and digestion.

The company fills the new variety of kefir, as well as its other kefir products, in bottles that are made of plant-based materials. This renders them 100% recyclable.

On Thursday, my friend Julie Smolyansky, CEO of Lifeway, spoke with other industry leaders on the role of “big food” in today’s food world at the Good Food Festival & Conference in Chicago.

“Today’s consumers have lost trust in big food, rightfully so,” she said. “So much so that big food lost 20 billion dollars last year, with many consumers migrating to smaller, community driven, nimble, innovative companies that have soul and passion.”

This includes companies such as Lifeway, as well as most of the other Expo West exhibitors.

“Big food is risk averse, and scaling clean ingredients is challenging, and frankly, they are incapable of innovation for a variety of reasons,” she said. “But what they have is efficiency. They have incredible supply chain know-how and they have incredibly smart multi-national teams. If big food wants to regain the trust of today’s consumer, they are going to have to take a long hard look at themselves, hold themselves accountable and own what they have contributed to.”

This includes obesity and diabetes epidemics, climate change, and malnutrition and famine around the world.

“We have a billion people in the world who are obese and a billion people in the world who are malnourished; 20 million people in the world are at risk for famine this year,” she said. “In 2017, we have the ability to prevent catastrophic starvation of people. Now more than ever we need big food to step up and help solve the greatest challenges of our time in a sustainable way. They need to take the long view and make some investments in local, national and international communities.”

These are many of the communities represented at Expo West.

Straus Family Creamery, the first 100% certified organic creamery in the U.S., is expanding its line of premium organic Greek yogurt. The yogurts are made with simple organic ingredients and live active cultures. The vat-set yogurt is carefully strained, which gives it a thick and creamy texture without the addition of thickeners or stabilizers. New Lowfat Plain and Whole Milk Vanilla are joining Nonfat Plain and Whole Milk Plain. Strauss uses sweet cream buttermilk in its Greek yogurts to add an extra touch of deliciousness.

Last year the company added two refreshingly simple ice cream flavors--Lemon Gingersnap and Strawberry—to its frozen dessert lineup. Both flavors are made from organic milk and cream supplied by local family farms in Marin and Sonoma Counties.

The Lemon Gingersnap features smooth, creamy organic lemon ice cream, blended with gluten-free cookies from Ukiah, California-based Pamela’s Products. The Strawberry ice cream combines organic strawberries with a sweet cream base made from only a few simple, organic ingredients: cream, milk, sugar and egg yolks.

“We are excited to introduce new ice creams made with milk from local family farms,” said Albert Straus, Founder and CEO of Straus Family Creamery. “When consumers enjoy our ice creams, they are also helping to sustain family farming, revitalize rural communities and support a thriving regional food system.”

Organic Valley, the U.S.’s largest cooperative of organic farmers and a leading organic brand, is growing its Grassmilk Yogurt line. The yogurts are made from milk produced by cows that are 100% grass-fed, with no supplemental feed, grain or soybeans in their diet, just lush, fresh pasture and dried forages, according to the company. This diet produces milk that naturally contains calcium, conjugated linoleic acid and omega-3 fatty acids.

Crafted in small batches, the yogurt is minimally processed, cream-on-the-top yogurt made from non-homogenized whole milk. Black Cherry and Peach are now part of the 6-ounce single-serve cup lineup, which debuted a year ago in Plain, Strawberry, Vanilla and Wild Blueberry flavors.

JC’s, a brand known for dreaming up classic frozen treats and decadent candies with a modern twist, added Coconut Cream and Chocolate Peanut Butter to its JC’s Pie Pops frozen novelty line. The brand’s signature JC’s Pie Pops combine the taste of classic pie favorites, topped with crumble, all on a stick. The new flavors join Banana Cream, Caramel Apple Crumble, Caramel Turtle, Chocolate Silk, Key Lime, Mint Chocolate Chip, S’mores and Strawberry Cream.

Morinaga Nutritional Foods introduced Alove, a yogurt snack that contains real bits of aloe. The yogurt is made using Morinaga’s proprietary process of removing fresh aloe from aloe plant leaves, the best and tastiest parts. This then gets mixed into creamy yogurt. The product is made in the U.S. using locally sourced California milk. It does not contain high-fructose corn syrup, artificial flavors or gluten and is a good source of protein and calcium. Alove comes in Blueberry, Original Aloe and Strawberry flavors.

Morinaga Nutritional Foods is the U.S. arm of Japanese dairy giant Morinaga, which has been successfully selling aloe yogurt in Japan for years. Consuming aloe is associated with internal healing, cleansing and repair. Some studies show an association with boosting immunity and heart health.

Dreaming Cow Creamery, the maker of grass-fed and 100% pasture-raised cream-top yogurt, is introducing a new line of products. LUSH is a nutrient-dense yogurt drink made from the same milk used for its yogurts and combined with fruits, one full serving of vegetables and more than 20 billion probiotics (Bifidobacterium-12), which have been clinically shown to promote immunity and digestive health.

LUSH is a full-fat yogurt drink that contains antioxidants, vitamins A and C, iron, calcium, potassium and B vitamins. It comes in a square-round 12-ounce plastic bottle designed for merchandising in either the refrigerated produce section or the yogurt aisle. The four varieties are: Blueberry, Boysenberry, Purple Carrot & Beet; Lemon, Passionfruit, Carrot & Pumpkin; Peach, Ginger, Pumpkin & Carrot; and Strawberry, Raspberry, Purple Carrot & Beet. A single bottle contains 230 to 250 calories, 9 to 11 grams of fat, 11 to 13 grams of protein and 15 to 23 grams of sugar, depending on variety. LUSH is made with only natural ingredients, without any preservatives or stabilizers.

“We spent some time over the past few years in research and development to define and create a product that aligns with the tastes and attitudes of today’s health-conscious consumers,” said Kyle Wehner, co-founder and CEO. “We found that most Americans are not getting enough fruit and vegetables a day, but they are more thoughtful than ever before about what they’re putting into their bodies. Flavor and convenience seem to be the biggest obstacles. Seeing a major void in the market, our vision and purpose behind LUSH is to bring a convenient and delicious ‘wellness on-the-go’ yogurt drink with noticeable nutritional increases that everyone can enjoy anytime. It’s like a Farmer’s Market in a bottle.”

Dreaming Cow is the only national yogurt brand that exclusively sources its whole milk from its own family dairy farms, which have been focused on the humane treatment of cows and sustainable farming since 1993. Dreaming Cow’s cows are not treated with artificial growth hormones.

“As Millennials become a bigger buying segment in the marketplace, they are demanding better nutrition from the foods they eat. They are driving companies to be more innovative and are challenging the status quo in nearly every category throughout the grocery store,” says Jason Therrien, national account director. “They also want to see complete transparency of how the food they eat is made, and who makes it. We strive for transparency by communicating our commitment to the humane treatment of cows and sustainable farming through our packaging, website and social media platforms.”

It’s time to go clean and green. That includes Big Food, too. May the luck of the dairy industry be with you.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Dairy Foods Snacking: Why Sugar Content Matters

The modern era of snackified eating has fully emerged, according to The Hartman Group. And based on the innovations debuting at Natural Products Expo West today, the snack food industry is in for a real shake up.

Yesterday was the soft-start to Expo West, with attendees able to explore innovations from many of the 600 first-time exhibitors in the Fresh Ideas tent and the satellite exhibit halls. From plant protein bites to meat jerkies to pulse chips, these exhibitors are targeting the growing the snack daypart. They are smart.

Research from The Hartman Group shows that 91% of consumers are snacking multiple times throughout the day. (This figure was 90% less than a year ago.) Snacking is essential to daily eating for most Americans and accounts for 50% of all eating occasions. In fact, about 7% of these snacking consumers forego meals all together and instead graze their way through the day. This is being driven by Millennials, which means it’s a trend that is going to intensify in the next few years.

With snacking being an all-day affair, snacks must be tailored in appearance, calories, nutrition, taste and texture to meet consumers’ expectations. The Hartman Group identified three key snacking drivers—nourishment, optimization and pleasure—that represent a thematic shift towards individualized and intentional snacking. Sugar replacement

“Many companies continue to market to what we imagine when we think of meals and snacks: the bowl of cereal, the lunchtime sandwich, a quick bag of chips and the family to share the meat and potatoes,” writes The Hartman Group in its hot-off-the-presses “The Future of Snacking 2016” report. “By speaking only to these images, companies are missing out on new opportunities emerging from the dynamic changes taking place in American culture (in general) and our eating culture (specifically).”

The report explains that there’s a confluence of several cultural shifts that have led to the prominence of snacking. 

  • These shifts include the erosion of food rituals centered on the nuclear family, rapidly changing wellness and culinary trends, and the growing access people have to food and food types.
  • As eating experiences that tend to be individualized and not shared, snacks are able to address consumer needs in ways that traditional meals often cannot.
  • The boundary between meals and snacks is blurring, but most people understand a meal to be shaped by cultural traditions around timing, setting and food groups. Snacks, on the other hand, are highly personalized and variable.
  • Snacks often punctuate and bridge larger eatings but happen fluidly and spontaneously, often during other activities. As such, they are low or no prep and more easily satisfy demands for immediacy.
  • They are likewise less substantial, often containing fewer than 200 or 300 calories, and people do not hold snacks to the same nutritional standards as meals.

Dairy foods are well poised to take charge of the snacking daypart. There are products that talk to all three drivers: nourishment, optimization and pleasure.

When it comes to nourishment, the inherent, as well as added protein in dairy foods assists with hunger abatement. Dairy’s natural, as well as added sugars, combined with the protein and fat provides sustained energy to help maintain one’s reserves of stamina to meet the demands of life. Dairy beverages address hydration, another critical nourishment need.

Regarding optimization, dairy products can be formulated to provide quick energy, bringing energy back to one’s baseline or even provide an extra boost of strength and vitality. What’s key here is the product should not raise blood sugar and then take the consumer into a quick crash and burn. Sugar management is paramount.

“Lowered sugar contents for optimum energy,” this is a key message being communicated by exhibitors at Expo West. It also speaks to the Nutrition Facts label that will soon require a separate line for “added sugars.”

And finally, there’s the driver of pleasure. Consumers find comfort in dairy foods and can satisfy their cravings with the many varied tastes and textures. This past week at the International Dairy Foods Association Ice Cream Tech conference in Las Vegas, I discussed how ice cream needs to be made into a snack. There are so many options in the novelty format. Load them up with fruits and nuts, keep added sugars low, and you have the ideal “craving” snack.

Sugar content and sugar form matters. Research commissioned by BENEO in 2016 and conducted by Ipsos showed that consumers are gaining a better understanding that not all sugars are alike. The study of 1,000 U.S. consumers was undertaken to obtain a better understanding of consumers’ perceptions of sugar, carbohydrates and the benefits of nutrition that supports a lower blood glucose response and energy management. Those surveyed indicated that along with looking for foods that are natural, clean label and nutritious without “empty calories,” they also pay close attention to the levels of sugar that are contained in their food choices. Consumers prefer nutritional foods that not only sustain energy throughout the day, but also help with weight management, healthy eating and disease prevention.

Additionally, the results revealed that consumer health concerns in order of importance are weight management (38%), stress (35%) and fatigue (33%). Respondents indicated they are aware that the amount and type of sugars play a major role in coping with these health issues. In fact, 57% of the consumers polled said they try to cut their sugar intake. A healthy diet (58%), weight management (56%) as well as tooth decay and diabetes (37% and 28%, respectively) were named by respondents as concrete reasons to limit sugar intake. On the other hand, respondents said they are not prepared to completely forego sugar, with taste being the number one reason at 58%. Twenty-four percent said sugar provides essential energy and 20% indicated that sugar acts as a mood food.

While consumers said they have an ambivalent relationship to sugar, they indicated that there is awareness that some sugars are better for their health than others. Sugar from honey for example, was perceived as the most appealing sweetener in the U.S because it is natural. Furthermore, about two out of three respondents agreed that naturally derived sugars from fruits, vegetables and plants are healthier (64%). A similar number also said they preferred natural sugars to low calorie sweeteners (65%). Finally, 60% of the consumers polled indicated their ideal sweetener would not lead to a “sugar boost and crash effect.”

Many of the products being debuted at Expo West address sugar content. For example, Yooli artisan-style farmer’s cheese, which made its debut at the 2016 expo tweaked its formula over the past year to be lower in added sugars. This protein-packed snack delivers 17 to 18 grams per 4.4-ounce container. The product comes in Honey Lemon Zest (super yummy!), Strawberry and Vanilla varieties, delivering 170 to 180 calories, 2.5 grams of fat and 15 grams of sugar.

The Yooli Bars are all about on-the-go snacking. These are farmer’s cheese with coconut, strawberry or vanilla and enrobed in dark chocolate. A 50-gram bar contains 100 to 130 calories, 10 to 11 grams of sugar and 6 to 7 grams of protein. Check them out at the satellite expo hall in the Hilton at booth 529.

Naturi (booth 8924) is another exhibitor that emphasizes the lower sugar content of its yogurts. The company’s newest flavors are Coffee + Chicory and Pineapple + Coconut, each with 13 grams of protein and a mere 12 grams of sugar per 5-ounce container.

Hope to see you on the Expo floor today or tomorrow. Sugar replacement

Friday, March 3, 2017

Embrace National Nutrition Month: Milk Is Already Great. Here Are Tips to Make Milk Better.

Photo source: California Milk Processor Board

Data show that today’s consumer is more than ever aware of how diet influences short- and long-term health and wellness. Shoppers are seeking out nutrient-dense foods to attain benefits beyond basic nutrition.

Inherently nutritious milk and beverages made with milk or dairy ingredients appeal to these consumers. The correlation of calcium to bone health is ingrained, while an understanding of the many benefits of dairy protein resonates with more and more consumers.

Thank you to my friends at Midwest Dairy for sharing recent USDA Economic Research Service data that show both total and domestic commercial disappearance of milk grew in 2016. In total, it was up 3%, while domestically it increased 2.9%.

Dairy remains a vital part of people’s lives. The numbers show it. USDA-ERS data show milk used in all dairy products continues to increase on a total volume and per capita basis. During the 20-years from 1995 to 2015, average annual growth in disappearance was 1.5%. During this time frame, per capita consumption increased by 57 pounds on milk equivalence. That’s a lot of milk. 

Though I’m sure most of you know this, that milk is being consumed mainly in the form of cheese and yogurt. Per capita cheese consumption increased by 8 pounds during this 20-year period, while yogurt increased by 8.6 pounds. Cheese consumption continues to show healthy growth, yogurt, however, has slowed.

This is my favorite. Butter is back. Per capita butter consumption is at its highest point--5.6 pounds--since 1969. From 1995 to 2015, it grew by one pound.

Then there’s milk. The base ingredient for dairy foods, and an incredible powerhouse beverage all on its own. From 1995 to 2015, per capita consumption decreased by 5.7 gallons. I repeat myself…that’s a lot of milk!

Data analysis by my friends at Midwest Dairy shows that the milk segments that are growing and off-setting part of the milk decline include lactose-free, flavored, refuel and whole. Further, milk as an ingredient is growing through lattes. Think all those ready-to-drink cold-brew beverages finding their way into the convenience channel.

In less than a week, Expo West will take place in Anaheim. I’ve received MANY previews of innovations that will be rolling out at the show, dairy and dairy alternatives. Many of these will be featured as a Daily Dose of Dairy over the next month. These are out-of-the-gallon innovators, something I encourage all processors to be.

Photo source: Starbucks

It’s time to get creative with milk. Here are some tips.

1. Concentrate the protein content. This can be achieved through filtration or protein addition. Flag it on product labels. Talk about the benefits, which range from satiety to refuel.

2. Boost health and wellness attributes. Consider adding DHA omega-3 fatty acids, probiotics and/or prebiotic fibers, among others. Identify your target consumer and formulate a milk beverage to meet their nutritional needs.

3. Go lactose free. Real or perceived lactose intolerance, there’s a (rapidly) growing number of consumers who believe they feel better without lactose in their diet. So just do it already. I believe that all milk beverages should be lactose free. This eliminates a barrier to trial. If you use lactase enzyme to breakdown the lactose, it also assists with building natural sweetness.

4. Reduce added sugar in flavored beverages. Stevia, monkfruit and erythritol are all sensible natural sweeteners. Keep it simple and label friendly. A little sugar in combination with these high-intensity works, too.

5. Make fruits and vegetables work for you. Juices, concentrates and purees add sweetness, boost fiber content and, if added in sufficient quantities, deliver a serving or two of produce. They also provide natural color. Artificial colors are no longer acceptable by many consumers, especially in dairy beverages, which possess a healthful halo.

Give consumers the beverages they are looking for so they can raise their glass and toast to good health. Let them have their own daily dose of dairy.