Friday, September 9, 2022

Plant Based World Expo’s Keynote Inspires Dairy Innovation


(All graphs are courtesy of Dairy Management Inc.)

It’s been a busy few days in New York City while attending Plant Based World Expo. Here are seven key observations and comparisons between this third installment of the expo and the second one back in December 2021. 

1. Last year there were more than a dozen processors showcasing their plant-based version of chicken nuggets. This expo had fewer than a handful. 

2. None of the big-name plant-based meat players exhibited and on the dairy side, the only big player exhibiting was Miyoko’s Creamery. There were some middle-tier players, but the rest were new players trying to make a name for themselves in the plant-based space.

3. There may have actually been more ingredient, package and process suppliers exhibiting than plant-based food and beverage manufacturers. While plant-protein suppliers make sense in this space, not sure why vegetable oil and phosphate companies felt the need to be here. 

4. Many of the processor exhibitors sampled concepts that have always been plant-based products, such as nut butters, trail mix and puffed corn snacks. 

5. The conversation during a number of presentations focused on the fact that taste reigns when it comes to plant-based meat and dairy. In addition, the over processing and “unclean” labels of such products remains a deterrent to purchase for flexitarians; lack of adequate nutrition, in particular quality protein content is also a deterrent; and finally, there’s not enough variety in these products. 

6. Plant-based milks are here to stay. They are part of every retailer’s lineup. And, according to Meghan Barton, director of frozen for Kroger, they are a point of entry for consumers into plant-based eating. 

“Duplication among brands is something to be mindful of,” she said. 

Rodd Willis, director of natural and specialty for Dot Foods, said that if he was an innovator wanting to get into the plant-based space, he would do it in frozen, convenience meals. 

Barton concurred, adding that she would like to see more vegetable-forward options. “I want to see the vegetables,” she said.  

Kate Holmstrom, director-business acceleration consulting for 84.51, Kroger’s research business unit said consumers don’t want to be bored with more plant-based options of the same product. She also said that Kroger’s research showed that shoppers who have increased their purchase of plant-based foods have not eliminated animal-based products from the shopping cart. It’s mostly incremental growth for the stores. 

7. Here’s where it gets really good for dairy. Eve Turow-Paul, author of “Hungry: Avocado Toast, Instagram Influencers, and Our Search for Connection and Meaning,” and executive director of Food for Climate League, kicked off the expo as the keynote on Thursday. She explained how 21st-century innovations and pressures are redefining people’s needs and desires, and how this has fueled the foodie culture. In her presentation (and book), she weaves together evolutionary psychology and sociology with captivating investigative reporting from around the world, and reveals the modern hungers—physical, spiritual and emotional—that are driving today’s top trends, including plant-based foods. 

She explained how the youngest generations are the most anxious, lonely and tech-savvy consumers, and how they have found food to be one of the few things they can control. This is much like the fuel that inspires an eating disorder. 

Prior to the pandemic, she conducted the Hungry Study with Datassential. Of the 1,100 Americans surveyed, 84% of Gen Z and 86% of Millennials said they were passionate about food. Almost 60% of Gen Z and Millennials agreed or slightly agreed that their anxiety level is high, while Gen X was at about 55% and Baby Boomers were at about 35% in agreement.

Since the pandemic, these numbers are likely all much higher. To many, the world seems unmanageable. 

“The pandemic amplified loneliness,” she said. “And food is a way to belong to a community.
“People are looking for control,” she said. “They are turning to food to fulfill those unmet needs. You cannot ignore the fact that people are in crisis. People want to know more about who is growing their foods, where they’re growing it, how they’re growing it.”

With younger people glued to their phones and many lacking deep, in-person relationships, they are looking for a sense of community through food. People are identifying with others through diet tribes, and that’s part of the fuel behind the plant-based movement. It’s also part of the fuel behind do-it-yourself projects, everything from baking to gardening, and a renewed interest in crafts, everything from coloring books to crocheting. These things provide a sense of accomplishment, which in turn provide comfort.  

“Food is home,” said Turow-Paul. “Food is comfort, and we can really use food to create that sense of purpose and meaning in our lives.

“There’s never been a more important time to work in the food space,” she concluded. “Food is our answer to the climate crisis, as well as mental health and well-being.”

Dairy foods can do all of this. It was very timely that Dairy Management Inc. (DMI), announced the same day that Turow-Paul spoke that its New Product Competition will focus on dairy’s qualities related to calming. The program is open to U.S. undergraduate and graduate students to develop products in line with industry and consumer insights to uncover innovative dairy-based products that offer calming benefits. 

DMI concurs that research shows there’s a heightened emphasis on mental and emotional wellbeing, and consumers are looking for products that calm. And, there is projected growth associated with products that calm, and these benefits are of particular interest with Gen Z consumers. 

Research shows that among dairy consumers, 22% use dairy products to calm themselves and 24% are currently not using dairy products to calm themselves but would like to for this benefit. Creaminess is a key attribute across all dairy categories that consumers crave for calming products, according to MaryAnne Drake, director of the Southeast Dairy Foods Research Center, and professor at North Carolina State University. 

To read more about the health benefits of dairy--beyond being a nutrition powerhouse--link HERE

The competition provides a platform for students to bring their knowledge and expertise to dairy product innovation. Students can integrate their work on product formulation with packaging, pricing and marketing to create a product that meets consumer needs.

Successful entries will meet competition criteria, demonstrate innovation and provide value to consumers. The judging panel includes experts from across the dairy industry and winning teams will be recognized at the Institute of Food Technologists’ annual meeting in Chicago next July. The winning team will earn $8,000 with second place receiving $5,000 and $3,000 going to third place.

The deadline for submissions is Jan. 16, 2023. For more information, link HERE.

Today’s blog sponsor, Idaho Milk Products, is one of the sponsors of the competition. Thank you for fueling dairy product innovation and keeping it relevant to young consumers.

And here’s an example of a commercialized dairy product designed to calm. Clover Sonoma, a third-generation family-owned and operated dairy and Certified B Corporation, took its brand nationally earlier this year with a first-of-its-kind dairy beverage: Organic Moon Milks. 

Steeped in ancient Ayurveda, one of the world’s oldest holistic healing systems, Clover Sonoma’s Moon Milks blend 2% organic milk with herbs and spices. Available in quart size, Clover Sonoma Moon Milks debut at Whole Foods Market in three varieties: Golden Moon (Turmeric Ginger), Blue Moon (Blueberry Lavender) and Pink Moon (Cherry Berry Hibiscus). The soothing botanicals infused in all three flavors of Moon Milks can help promote relaxation and wellness throughout the day and can be enjoyed cold, warm or in a variety of recipes. 

In recent years, Moon Milks have become a do-it-yourself sensation on social media, given the photo-friendly bright colors, functional ingredients and relaxing tendencies and they are beginning to trend more broadly with consumers. This is what Turow-Paul talked about. Dairy can do this!

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