Friday, January 8, 2021

Dairy is in a good place in 2021. Let’s keep it there!


The newly released Dietary Guidelines for Americans (2020-2025 edition) reaffirmed dairy’s central role in the diet, as dairy foods provide essential nutrients that are often under consumed. It is paramount that processors continue to offer the highest-quality, best-tasting dairy foods in order to keep consumers as customers. 

Highlights from the Dietary Guidelines:

  • A recommendation of three servings of dairy in the Healthy U.S. Eating pattern and Healthy Vegetarian Eating patterns, in keeping with past guidelines;

  • Dairy’s continued recognition as a distinct food group;

  • A recognition that Americans aren’t consuming enough dairy to meet their nutritional needs;

(#1 approach to keep dairy attractive to the 2021 shopper: Invest in the marketing of dairy’s nutrient density. This includes social media and packaging claims.) 

  • Dairy’s reaffirmation as a source of four nutrients of public health concern, including potassium, calcium, and vitamin D, as well as iodine for pregnant women; and, the most noteworthy,
  • A recommendation of milk, yogurt and cheese in the first-ever healthy eating patterns geared toward infants and toddlers ages birth to 24 months.

(#2 approach to keep dairy attractive to the 2021 shopper: Invest in the development of nutrient-dense, delicious and even fun dairy foods for infants and toddlers.) 

“The panel’s recognition that dairy is a key source of ‘nutrients of concern’ in U.S. diets is especially important,” says Jim Mulhern, president and CEO, National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF). “During a time of food insecurity and concerns about proper nutrition among Americans, dairy is a readily accessible solution to clearly identified public-health challenges. Dairy farmers work hard to be part of that solution, and the panel’s recognition of the nutritional importance of dairy is greatly appreciated.”

Miquela Hanselman, NMPF’s regulatory affairs manager, said in a recently released podcast, “Dairy is in a good place. Three servings of low-fat and non-fat dairy are continued to be recommended in the healthy U.S. and vegetarian diets, and dairy remained its own group. In addition, dairy was recognized as a source of under-consumed nutrients, which are also known as nutrients of public health concern.”

Hanselman also discusses the need to incorporate up-to-date research on dairy in fats in the next round of guidelines and talks about their impact on encouraging the next generation of milk-drinkers. To listen to the five-minute podcast, link HERE. (I highly recommend listening and subscribing!)

Hanselman explained how the new Dietary Guidelines went against the advice of a Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee and kept the recommendation for added sugars at less than 10% of total calories per day, starting at age 2. Infants younger than age 2 should avoid foods and beverage with added sugars.

“Some added sugars can increase the palatability of healthy foods for kids,” said Hanselman.

The FDA defines added sugars as sugars that are added during the processing of foods, foods packaged as sweeteners, sugars from syrups and honey, and sugars from concentrated fruit or vegetable juices. When it comes to kids, sugar-sweetened beverages are the number-one contributor of added sugars to their diet, followed by desserts and sweet snacks.

(#3 approach to keep dairy attractive to the 2021 shopper: Invest in added sugar reduction for all ages. This can be achieved through careful selection of ingredients. For dairy, this includes use of high-quality fruits, premium cocoa, low- and non-caloric sweeteners, flavor modulators, enzymes and texturants.) 

When it comes to sweeteners, consumer requirements are diverse and there is not a one-size-fits-all approach, according to HealthFocus International. (See infographic.) Research shows that 66% of consumers now prefer products that taste less sweet than they used to. Interestingly, most shoppers prefer to reduce sugar instead of replacing it.

This is something that Eric Bonin, founder and CEO of Pillars Yogurt—and a friend—has known for some time. Pillars was the first yogurt brand to debut drinkable Greek yogurt with zero added sugar and pre-and-probiotics.

Four and a half years ago, Bonin delivered the first batch of Pillars to the Wayland, Massachusetts, Whole Foods from the trunk of his car. Now for 2021, the brand has won national distribution--with the exception of the Pacific-Northwest region--in the retailer’s yogurt set. 

(#4 approach to keep dairy attractive to the 2021 shopper: Invest in ingredients that support gut health and build immunity.) 

“Whole Foods was our first customer--the retailer that gave us a shot to bring a new product to the super-competitive yogurt category. We’re incredibly grateful and humbled by this opportunity,” says Bonin. “Brick by brick and store by store, we’ve been working hard at building our brand, and Whole Foods has been an incredible partner along the way. Taking Pillars national with Whole Foods will fuel our own trajectory and brand awareness, and also help the overall drinkable category expand as shoppers embrace the convenience and value of the drinkable format, which is still novel for many yogurt consumers.”

Created by Bonin with functional health and wellness in mind, all Pillars products are free from added sugar and feature a proprietary pre-and-probiotic blend to support optimal gut health. Pillars’ brand portfolio features six 12-ounce single-serve drinkable yogurt flavors, and four 32-ounce multi-serve drinkable SKUs. A 12-ounce serving of Pillars has 100 calories, 18 grams of protein, 5 grams net carbs, 0 grams of fat and is a good source of fiber. Sweetened and flavored with organic stevia and organic natural flavors, Pillars is non-GMO, gluten-free and certified kosher.

(On a personal note, my eldest son and I have tested positive for COVID-19 after he was exposed to the virus on New Year’s Eve. Don’t get me started on his selfish act, but nevertheless, he is my son. So far, so good. If we come out of this easily, I attribute it to all the probiotics and vitamin D we consume.)

Now the final topic we must all address: packaging. COVID-19 has all of us using way too much packaging and disposables.

Dutch multinational dairy cooperative FrieslandCampina just announced that it will be making PET bottles from 100% recycled PET (rPET) starting February 2021. Due to the fact that PET bottle can only be recycled if the consumer has removed the label, FrieslandCampina’s Research & Development department has developed a brand new “zipper” that makes it easier to separate labels from the bottle. This makes FrieslandCampina the first company in the dairy sector to make its bottles virtually circular for its brands in the Netherlands, Belgium, the United Kingdom and Hungary.

“With the 100% recycled PET bottle, FrieslandCampina is taking a new step in making its packaging circular,” says Patrick van Baal, global director packaging development. “Our ambition is to become fully circular. That is why we are increasing the recycled content of our PET bottles from 20% to 100%. This step is crucial because in order to achieve our sustainability goals, all packaging must first become recyclable and/or reusable.”

(#5 approach to keep dairy attractive to the 2021 shopper: Invest in efforts to do your part in reducing packaging waste.) 

Happy New Year! Dairy is in a good place. Let’s keep it there!

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