Friday, February 5, 2021

Dairy Foods Innovation: Formulating Experiences


This week I almost took a day trip from Chicago to Los Angeles, just for the heck of it. (Depart 8:55am arrive 11:28am; depart 4:00pm arrive 10:08pm; roundtrip $97.80.) Sounds crazy, I know. The reality is that I truly miss the hustle and bustle of flying, everything from waking early for the uber to the airport to going through security to waiting at the gate hoping to hear my name for an upgrade. (I cancelled the trip because my COVID-19 antibody test was negative and I did not want to take the chance. I’ve been told I tested too soon after a positive diagnosis.) 

I shared this story with others and many have expressed similar longings, not necessarily for flying but for something they really enjoyed—and took for granted—before the pandemic. And for many, it’s the experience they had with food and drink. 

It was that Instagram first forkful moment. The “opa” that comes when the flame is fired on saganaki. The custom ordering of a hand-mixed ice cream, from the inclusions to the cone. 

Consumer packaged goods marketers are now going to great lengths to provide experiential moments. Here’s my favorite so far. For Valentine’s Day, Kraft Mac & Cheese launched a limited-edition Candy Kraft Mac & Cheese. It is made with the same cheesy Kraft Mac & Cheese Americans know and love, but includes a candy flavor packet to turn the mac & cheese pink (from beetroot and carrot concentrates, so not to deter natural food aficionados) and add hints of sweet candy flavor (from fructose and natural flavors).

The product is not sold at retail, rather it is an online giveaway for one of a 1,000 boxes produced. You can still register to wine by completing this FORM by February 8. Winners will receive product by Valentine’s Day.

While it does not sound appetizing, I completed the form because I am craving experience. 

Ice cream marketers are on board. That’s what new Ben & Jerry’s Topped is all about. A pint of ice cream is topped with a chocolatey ganache.

“We wanted to dial up the indulgence level with this unique line of flavors, which entirely challenges HOW you eat this ice cream,” says Dena Wimette, Ben & Jerry’s Innovation Guru. “We started with sundaes and all the things you add to sundaes to make them great as our inspiration. You could say we ended up going over the Topped.”

Topped provides a unique eating experience. Eating a Topped flavor is an exercise in personalization and precision. Should you scrape off the layer of semi-soft, chocolatey ganache before going any further? Tunnel down and eat the ice cream first? Or get the best of all worlds by removing the lid and eating the flavor vertically with delicious ganache, chunks and ice cream all in one beautifully balanced bite? Whatever method you choose, you can’t lose. It’s a judgment free zone.

The seven varieties of Topped are: 
  • Chocolate Caramel Cookie Dough: Chocolate ice cream with caramel swirls and gobs of chocolate chip cookie dough topped with caramel cups and chocolatey ganache.
  • PB Over the Top: Chocolate ice cream with peanut butter swirls and peanut butter cups topped with mini peanut butter cups and chocolatey ganache.
  • Salted Caramel Brownie: Vanilla ice cream with salted caramel swirls and fudge brownies topped with caramel cups and chocolatey ganache.
  • Strawberry Topped Tart: Sweet cream ice cream with strawberry swirls and pie crust pieces topped with white chocolatey ganache and candy sprinkles.
  • Thick Mint: Mint ice cream with chocolate cookie swirls and mint chocolate cookie balls topped with chocolate cookies and chocolatey ganache.
  • Tiramisu: Mascarpone ice cream with fudge swirls and shortbread pieces topped with espresso fudge chunks and chocolatey ganache.
  • Whiskey Biz: Brown butter bourbon ice cream with blonde brownies and whiskey caramel swirls topped with white chocolatey ganache and white fudge chunks. This flavor “is produced in partnership with Vermont spirit sensation WhistlePig Whiskey, proudly featuring their award-winning six-year whiskey, WhistlePig PiggyBack Rye, cooked into the caramel swirls.”

Another way to provide experience is through limited-edition and seasonal offerings. When the consumer knows the product will not be available for a long time, there’s an urgency to purchase. This is an experience in itself, much like the McRib coming back to McDonald’s for only a week or two every year. (I love the McRib!)

Halo Top gets it. One of the brand’s fan-favorite flavors--Strawberry Cheesecake—is returning to shelves for a limited time this winter-going-into spring season. In fact, it’s out just in time for Valentine’s Day. Watch out Kraft Candy Kraft Mac & Cheese, you’ve got some competition!

The variety is strawberry cheesecake-flavored light ice cream, packed with creamy cheesecake pieces and a graham cracker swirl.

Brave Robot, launched by The Urgent Company, is providing a different experience, which is the opportunity to taste ice cream made with animal-free dairy. Consumer curiosity is paying off for the brand. In less than seven months from initial rollout, distribution has increased from 300 to 5,000 stores across the country. 

“The opportunity to pioneer a new food category doesn’t happen too often, and now 5,000 retail stores are with us,” says Paul Kollesoff, general manager and co-founder. “Dairy alternative ice creams always miss the mark on taste, and today’s consumer is hungry for better options. We see Brave Robot Ice Cream as an integral part of the solution.”

Brave Robot uses non-animal whey protein made by partner Perfect Day that is molecularly identical to whey from cow’s milk, except it is made through fermentation. This process means using less land, less water, and less greenhouse gas emissions to create animal-free dairy ice cream that is not like dairy, it is dairy, just without the cows. 

“Accessibility was a key component of our plan for this ice cream,” says Kollesoff. “We want to democratize new dairy. Not only are we championing consumer activism with this science-forward, better-for-the-planet product, but we’re making sure it’s at a price point ($5.99) that that’s accessible for all.” said Kollesoff.

Jon Spear, vice president of marketing, adds, “Knowing people eat ice cream for pleasure and joy, and since Brave Robot wins on taste, we like to call it a ‘Feel Good, Do Good,’ food. We want to encourage people to reduce their environmental impact, and our ice cream is an easy (delicious) first step.” 
While the country appears to slowly be reopening with the administration of vaccines and herd immunity from those who have had the virus, foodservice experiences will likely remain limited for the near future. It’s time to offer that experience for at-home enjoyment. 

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