A few weeks ago when I spoke on fad vs. trend at the International Dairy Foods Associations’ Ice Cream Technology and Yogurt and Cultured Innovation conferences, I took attendees back more than 30 years to discuss prioritizing product development and marketing today by looking at what worked, what did not work and what might be the way to go as we enter the post-pandemic world. I apologize in advance if I offend a few with my theories, but please remember, I’ve been reporting on dairy foods trends and innovations since 1993! That’s 28 years, longer than I want to admit and more years than the age of many of you reading this. (By the way, today is my birthday, so pardon the liberties I take in today’s blog. I feel like ruffling a few feathers with some observations I have made through the years.)
Facts with Opinion
- Birth rates are down but pet adoptions--and pet food sales--are up. (This does not mean dairy processors should all be making doggy ice cream nor does it mean you should stop focusing on developing nutrient-dense products for babies, toddlers and tots.)
- While plant-based innovations are all over the media—business, consumer, social and even political-- U.S. meat consumption is at an all-time high. Further, U.S. beef and pork exports established new records in March 2021. (This does not mean you should stop making plant-based dairy-wanna-be products and go into butchering. More on this later.)
- Pet rocks were a fad. Fidget spinners were a fad. Mobile phones are here to stay. (Just in case you were wondering.)
- Fat-free was one of the longest living fads in the food industry, starting out in the late 1980s and in full force by the early 1990s. (I know from my formulating experience during my tenure at Kraft from 1990 to 1993 that the words “fat-free” do not belong in front of the word “cheese.” Challenge me. I dare you!)
- Gluten-free foods are a necessity for those with celiac disease and gluten intolerance, giving this label claim longevity. (But, gluten-free dieting is a fad for many, thanks to unproven celebrity endorsements and media hype.)
- Complete protein is necessary for development and biological function, as well as overall health and wellness. (Yes, it is!)
More on Protein
A protein is considered nutritionally complete when it contains the nine amino acids essential in the human diet in a ratio that matches the requirements of the body. Dairy-based protein sources are nutritionally complete; however, the majority of plant-based protein ingredients are not. The most noteworthy exception is soy, which has long been the plant of choice for dairy alternatives. Other complete plant proteins include amaranth, buckwheat, chia seed, hemp seed, quinoa and spirulina.
In addition to amino acid profile, another consideration is the quality of the protein, which reflects amino acid bioactivity, among other attributes. Currently protein quality is measured by the Protein Digestibility Corrected Amino Acid Score (PDCAAS), which is an adjustment for the quality of the protein. It is based on the types and amounts of amino acids in the food as well as the overall digestibility. The PDCAAS values range from 0.0 to 1.0, where values are truncated to a maximum score of 1.00, which cows’ milk, casein, whey, eggs and soy protein all possess. Most plant protein sources have much lower values.
Some Fact, Some Theory
Phil Dunphy is the patriarch of Modern Family. He developed quite a list of Phil’s-osophy advise over the show’s 11 seasons, including "pourenting." When my husband—Timothy—shares his grand insights to me and our sons, we refer to it as Tim’s-otheory. It works! You are stuck with Donna’s Dose of Dairy today.
Let’s talk clean label and plant based. These are two concepts currently fueling product innovation, and rightfully so. After all, a diet with fewer artificial and chemically processed ingredients, along with more fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and whole grains makes nutritional sense. These two terms; however, should be limited to your internal communications.
They are not legally defined. They are cousins with “natural” and have an attitude. While many food and beverage marketers may be using these descriptors on their products, please don’t. They are an invitation to a class-action lawsuit.
Clean-label and plant-based formulating will be part of the new norm, just proceed with caution. I am not as worried about clean label as I am plant based. The term is being over used and causing confusion in the marketplace, because the descriptor is appearing on everything from vegetable oil to dried spices to bagged lettuce to wine! These products have always been plant based. Nothing has changed.
“Plant based” is sitting in a space similar to “healthy” near the end of the fat-free movement. This resulted in the development of the “jelly bean rule” by FDA in May 1994. It says that just because foods are low in fat, cholesterol and sodium, they cannot claim to be “healthy” unless they contain at least 10% of the Daily Value of vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, protein, fiber or iron. The FDA also made a policy that companies could not fortify foods with the sole intent of making that claim.
I would like to see plant-based labeling mean the product contains whole plants, such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and whole grains.
The dairy industry is in a good place when it comes to nomenclature. We can use words such as “non-dairy” to assist those avoiding dairy with enjoying like products simulated from plants. Even vegan is a safer term than plant based.
Consumers want non-dairy options. Oatly avoids “plant-based” language on its packaging and most marketing materials; however, my preference would be not to include “dairy alternative” language on the label. But the company is not a dairy, so I get it. Chobani focuses on the ingredient used in the non-dairy dairy-like product.
That brings me to my headline: Don’t Let Another Chobani Sneak Up on You. This is not a reference to Chobani’s non-dairy products, rather it’s where the dairy industry was in 2005 when Chobani was started.
This is the year that Activia yogurt debuted, and the big buzz word was probiotics, and soon prebiotics, yet, not only were these terms new to consumers, but processors were also unsure on how to use them. And while everyone was obsessed with figuring out digestive health, and getting pitched by suppliers to start “cleaning up labels,” Hamdi Ulukaya, founder and CEO of Chobani, bought Kraft’s yogurt factory in Upstate New York…and, well, the rest is history.
Oh, and by the way, Chobani just became the first in the U.S. dairy industry to be certified with the Fair Trade seal of approval. The certification, bestowed by a nonprofit trade group called Fair Trade USA, indicates that Chobani—a $1.5 billion (2020 revenues) company with 2,200 employees—has been working with U.S. farms and cooperatives to improve working conditions. It's a seal consumers are starting to value.
What’s my point? Don’t get hung up on “plant based” just because it’s all over the media. Include non-dairy options in your product portfolio. Think of dairy and non-dairy bases as carriers for nutrients and functional, beneficial compounds that the post-pandemic consumers wants to include in their diet.
This week HealthFocus International provided a sneak peek to insights from its 2021 USA Trend Study “Shoppers’ Journey Towards Living & Eating Healthier.” (Check out the infographic above.) I suggest you focus on functional ingredients for health and wellness. Add them to your dairy and non-dairy bases.
Here's something to ponder from IRI. “Due to recent cost increases and shopper behavior shifts stemming from COVID-19, CPG manufacturers--especially premium players--need to strengthen their margins and justify their price positioning,” said Ray Florio, executive vice president and partner of IRI Growth Consulting. “Shoppers have become far more cynical about product claims and benefits, requiring brands to take a more sophisticated approach to communicate their true value and avoid commoditization.”
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