Friday, December 18, 2020

Dairy Foods Innovation: Be Ahead of the Curve in 2021


Too many forecasts to digest? How many even relate to dairy? Better yet, how can we make them relevant to dairy? Let’s explore what consumers actually purchased in 2020 and how the dairy industry can be ahead of the game and make sure these products are better than ever and more available in 2021. 

There will be no trade-offs in 2021. People are smarter and stronger than a year ago. They plan to speak with their dollar more than ever before.

In an end-of-year progress report conference call with media on Dec. 17, 2020, Tom Gallagher, CEO, Dairy Management Inc. (DMI) and Barb O’Brien, president of DMI and the Innovation Canter for U.S. Dairy, along with Pennsylvania dairy farmer and DMI Chair Marilyn Hershey, provided a review of 2020 and a look ahead to 2021. The three confirmed what we already knew, consumers flocked to the supermarket dairy case during the pandemic. 

Now that there’s a vaccine, which may allow for more flexibility in dining by the time summer rolls around, we need to keep dairy relevant to consumers. The speakers pointed out how COVID-19 has made consumers more aware of the food supply chain and sustainability efforts by all players in that chain. It matters. And will matter even more moving forward. That’s a good thing for the dairy industry because we are ahead of the curve.

According to research conducted by Kearney Consulting in April, 50% of consumers say COVID-19 has made them more aware of the environment. But even more remarkable, 58% of Americans believe we should respond to climate change with the same urgency as we have responded to COVID-19.
O’Brien referenced strong commitments by many involved with dairy, in particular Nestlé and Starbucks, to the Net Zero Initiative, an industry-wide effort that will help U.S. dairy farms of all sizes and geographies implement new technologies and adopt economically viable practices. The initiative is a critical component of U.S. dairy’s environmental stewardship goals, endorsed by dairy industry leaders and farmers, to achieve carbon neutrality, optimized water usage and improved water quality by 2050. Photo source: Dairy Management Inc.

“The U.S. dairy community has been working together to provide the world with responsibly produced, nutritious dairy foods,” said Mike Haddad, chairman, Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy. “With the entire dairy community at the table--from farmers and cooperatives to processors, household brands and retailers—we’re leveraging U.S. dairy’s innovation, diversity and scale to drive continued environmental progress and create a more sustainable planet for future generations.”

Again, we are ahead of the curve. Dairy is all about delicious, nutritious foods made in a sustainable manner. Note, the emphasis on delicious is about creamy richness…not sweetness. 

Did you know that dairy farmers have been funding research led by National Dairy Council on the role of whole milk dairy foods and wellness for over a decade? In fact, around 70 studies have been published, adding to the growing body of evidence indicating that consuming dairy foods, regardless of fat content, as part of healthy eating patterns is not linked with risk of heart disease or type 2 diabetes. The paradigm shift to more fat flexibility in the dairy group is already happening in the real world as demonstrated through the many actions of consumers and thought leaders. 

Whole milk, for example, has increased its volume share of milk. In 2020, whole milk holds 41% share, the largest of any fat level. Major quick-service restaurants are offering flexibility, too, with whole milk, cheeses, yogurts and, in some cases, butter. 

While the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee report recommended decreasing added sugars from 10% to 6% of daily calories it did not recommend decreasing saturated fat. It stayed at 10% of daily calories.

Let’s get back to staying ahead of the curve in 2021. There will be growth in functional foods and flexitarian meals. Remember, dairy makes plants taste better! Dairy is also inherently functional. 

Innovation is key to moving forward. People are tired of the same old recipes they are cooking at home or the limited options available for delivery and takeout. They are looking for a balance between better-for-you and enjoyment. They are feeling more adventurous and interested in new flavors. It’s time to rethink what sold in 2020 and how to attract shoppers in 2021. 

This week the Kroger Company, America's largest grocery retailer, announced the top-10 trending foods of 2020, as well as its food trend predictions for 2021. Based on year-over-year sales growth across Kroger’s business, including nearly 2,800 retail stores and pickup, delivery and ship, the trending foods and beverages of 2020 included:

1. Zero-Calorie Soft Drinks
2. Four-Cheese Mexican Blend Shredded Cheese
3. Flavored Potato Chips (Hot & Spicy, Regional Flavors & Meal-Inspired Varieties)
4. Sauvignon Blanc Wine
5. Heavy Whipping Cream
6. Fresh Burger Patties
7. Artisan Breads & Restaurant-Style Buns
8. Bulk Individual Coffee Pods (96-Count)
9. Party-Size Bags of Variety Chocolate
10. Black Forest Ham

“The most-popular foods and beverages of 2020 underscore how our customers not only adapted to the challenges of this unique year but embraced cooking and eating at home as part of their new routine,” said Stuart Aitken, Kroger’s chief merchant. “As many of our customers transitioned to working from home and virtual schoolrooms this year, coffee, fresh deli meat and artisan bread emerged as go-to staples for elevated breakfast and lunch routines, while zero-calorie soft drinks, unique potato chip flavors, wine and chocolate stood out as comfort-food favorites. Fresh ground beef, premium buns and shredded cheese also rose in popularity as our customers recreated their favorite restaurant-style burgers at home.”

In addition to the look back at the trending grocery purchases of 2020, Kroger unveiled its top-seven food trend predictions for 2021, thoughtfully curated by its culinary experiences team and its private-label (Our Brands) product developers, chefs and innovators. Dairy has a role in all of them. Read more. 

1. Futureproof Foods
From immune defense to mood management, consumers are increasingly looking for flavor and functionality in their favorite foods and beverages, especially as the nation continues to navigate a public health crisis. As “futureproofing” and “biohacking” trends continue to accelerate in 2021, shoppers can expect to see more foods with added benefits to support immune health, gut and brain health, energy levels and stress management.

Opportunity: This is a no-brainer for dairy. Think probiotics, prebiotics, added nutrients, and yes, dairy’s inherent high-quality, complete protein content and healthy fatty acid profile. 

2. Seeking Comfort
Easy-to-prepare comfort foods are on the rise as consumers look to balance convenience and quick preparation times with flavorful meal options. To help cope with the added stress many faced in 2020, consumers are also increasingly turning to home baking as a mood booster and mental escape.

Opportunity: Another no-brainer for dairy. Think cheese, cooking creams, dips, dressings, and of course, ice cream. 

3. Ketotarian Foods
High-protein eating styles like keto have skyrocketed in popularity, creating a conundrum for consumers who want to explore the trend, but find it difficult to balance the low-carb, high-fat dietary guidelines with a desire to consume more vegetables and plant-based foods. Enter the “ketotarian” diet: a plant-based spin on traditional keto guidelines. Consumers can expect to find a growing selection of these plant-based, high-protein foods on grocery shelves in the year ahead. 

Opportunity: Dairy fat makes keto-designed foods delicious!

4. Global Flavors and Restaurant Favorites Hit Home
According to 84.51°, Kroger’s data and analytics subsidiary, more than 60% of Kroger shoppers are spending more time cooking at home. This trend will only accelerate in 2021, as consumers spice up their weekly routines by experimenting with global flavors and recipes that recreate their favorite travel experiences or restaurant meals at home.

Opportunity: Flavor creation is the future. Take consumers on an adventure!

5. Mushroom Mania
Kroger believes 2021 will be a breakout year for mushrooms. The versatile vegetable is rich in antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, and can easily elevate everyday recipes with its warm umami flavor. Consumers should expect to see mushrooms play a starring role in a variety of new products in 2021, including blended plant-based proteins, condiments, spices, seasonings and more.

Opportunity: This trend may be a bit more challenging for dairy foods innovators to embrace; however, there’s opportunity in mushroom cream sauces and dips, as well as cheese spreads and even ice cream. Did you know candy cap mushrooms have the fragrance of maple syrup? They make a great inclusion. 

Photo source: Vitamix
6. For the Planet
Consumers are more interested than ever before in the environmental impact of their lifestyle choices. According to a recent survey from 84.51°, 35% of Kroger shoppers strongly agree they are more conscious of food waste since the onset of COVID-19 and more than half plan to continue taking steps to limit food waste after the pandemic. In the coming year, consumers will find a growing selection of eco-friendly products that reduce their carbon footprint, including plant-based and plant-blended meats, sustainably packaged products and more.

Opportunity: Dairy is on the way to achieving carbon neutrality, optimized water usage and improved water quality by 2050.

7. Fresh Innovation
Forget Silicon Valley--consumers can find the latest emerging technology in their local produce aisles. From no-cry onions to in-store hydroponic farms to plant-based coatings like Apeel™ that extend the shelf life of produce, shoppers will see more innovative solutions launch in the coming year to help keep their favorite fruits and vegetables at the peak of freshness longer.

Opportunity: Dairy dips, yogurts and dressings are a great accompaniment. Remember, dairy makes plants delicious!

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