Friday, April 21, 2023

It’s a Pivotal Time for Dairy Processors: The Plant-based Fad Is Evolving into the Plant-forward Trend


First, Wood Milk. Founded by actress Aubrey Plaza, new (spoiler alert: it’s fictious), Wood Milk is 100% all-natural, milked wood. Inspired by the idea that these days you can make milk out of anything, Plaza looked at a tree and thought “could I drink this?” And thus, Wood Milk was born. Wood Milk’s fresh, new campaign is designed to inspire the next generation of milk drinkers and wood-based enthusiasts with a beverage that is made from trees but tastes nothing like dairy milk and has none of the nutritional benefits.

Created in the Wood Milk Orchards right here in the U.S., Wood Milk is made from the freshest flavors of maple, cherry, mahogany and hickory, all grown in bio-diverse, eco-friendly, artisanal, free-range wood forests. Using a state of the art “wood milking” process, Wood Milk is created fresh from a unique blend of trunks, roots and branches, right from the ground.

“Here at Wood Milk Orchards, we’re certain that our artisanal Wood Milk will be the only milk you’ll want to drink for the rest of your life,” says Plaza. “Why? Because I said so.”

Watch the commercial HERE

Moving on, FDA announced on April 20, 2023, that it is reopening the comment period for the draft guidance on the labeling of plant-based milk that appeared in the Federal Register on February 23, 2023. The new deadline for comments will be determined when the reopening notice publishes. The FDA is reopening the comment period in response to requests from stakeholders to allow additional time for interested persons to develop and submit comments.

It’s time to get REAL. For starters, cows’ milk marketers may want to entertain labeling products “Real Dairy Milk.”  Why not? This vernacular is used on dairy creamers. Goat milk and sheep milk marketers use the species in the name. I personally think “dairy” would be preferred to “cows,” but still, why not do this? 

Innovation Ideas from the 2023 Global Plant-Forward Culinary Summit at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) at Copia 

While many of you attended the International Dairy Foods Association’s annual, co-located Ice Cream Technology Conference and Yogurt & Cultured Innovation Conference in Austin, Texas, this week (sorry to have missed the event), I was the guest of the CIA at Copia in Napa Valley, Calif., for the Plant Forward conference. As they say, all food and beverage trends start in foodservice and many start with the most creative chefs in the country. Their innovations trickle down the food chain, often getting lightened for the everyday consumer. That’s what attracted me to the event. And it delivered. 

This was likely one of the most inspirational conferences I ever intended and have tons of thoughts to share for your future innovations. Keep in mind the conference was “plant forward.” It was all about making plants—mainly fruits and vegetables, but also grains, nuts, seeds, legumes and even algae—the star of the meal. However, real meat was welcome, just more of as a garnish. Think crispy, shredded  bacon sprinkled on top of a marinated and grilled celery root steak with an olive oil-based chili drizzle. Real dairy was even more welcome. Butter, in particular, was used for grilling. And, cheese, of course, makes all veggies better. There were plant-based options being used in some of the supplier-hosted tastings, but all of the chefs only reached for the real deal in their cooking demonstrations. 

In fact, every chef I heard speak criticized the overly processed and fakeness of alternatives. 

My favorite comment: Did anyone ever ask consumers if they wanted these alternatives? 

I doubt it. And that’s what makes this a pivotal moment for dairy processors. Plant-based meat and dairy products are evolving from being a fad to holding a small market share in animal-based categories. 

Fads fade. Trends stay. Trends fuel fads, but the fad—the impulsive response to something that consumers want—is never the answer. 

Let’s take a step back. We all have heard loud and clear messaging from nutrition authorities: eat more fruits and vegetables, among other dietary advice. That’s what consumers want, creative and delicious ways to eat more fruits and vegetables, as well as other plant-based foods, namely whole grains, nuts, etc. Dairy foods can do that. It’s time to put on your thinking cap and get creative in product development.  

Please take note, after two days of eating mostly plants, I craved quality protein. My body needed a Greek yogurt on the third morning, and lunch at the airport, a juicy cheeseburger. I finally felt full. 

Photo source: Farmer's Fridge

So, on the heels of the ADPI meeting starting this Sunday (hope to see many of you there), where dairy proteins will be a focal point, let’s commit to creating products that complement the evolving plant-forward trend. 

Based on the more than 50 plant-forward dishes I sampled at the CIA event, here are some top-of-mind ideas to get you started in this space. 

Greek yogurt or fresh cheese—cottage, ricotta, farmers, etc.—parfaits in clear containers, such as the jars used by Farmer’s Fridge, with layers of diced sweet potatoes and pecans, corn kernels and black beans, or oats and whole berries. 

How about waffle toppers? I see this as being a cup of higher protein ice cream or frozen yogurt with whole fruits and nuts. When your waffle pops out of the toaster, just top it off with a slightly tempered waffle topper for a nutritious breakfast any time of day.

And how about salad toppers? Think dome container with creamy ranch dressing with shredded cheddar, with sweet green peas on top along with a packet of chopped walnuts. 

Ricotta cheese, in my opinion, is an underappreciated high-protein dairy product. Maybe add some spinach to it and market it as a lasagna filling, even better, a vegetable (slices of zucchini, eggplant and carrots) lasagna filling. 

No-melt cheeses, how about flavoring them and turning them into toppings such as parm in a can? I can see cotija seasoned with chilis, lime and cilantro as a corn-on-the-cob topper.  

The ideas are infinite. The future is plant forward. 

We NEED to eat more fruits and vegetables. We have for a very long time. That’s the consumer need. Dairy, in particular, high-protein dairy, can help consumers get there, all while keeping the diet simple, clean and as close to Mother Nature as possible. 

Fruity Flavors and Inclusions Shine at 2023 Innovative Ice Cream and Cultured Dairy Product Contests 

Congrats to the winners:

Most Innovative Ice Cream Flavor (currently offered for sale in the market)
1st Place: Honey Sopapilla | H-E-B
2nd Place: Banana Graham | Perry’s Ice Cream Company, Inc.
3rd Place: Spicy ‘n Spooky | Baskin Robbins

Most Innovative Ice Cream Novelty (currently offered for sale in the market)
1st Place: Lemon Bar Sandwich | DFA Dairy Brands
2nd Place: Vegan Snickerdoodle Ice Cream Sandwich | Van Leeuwen Artisan Ice Cream 
3rd Place: Strawberry Shortcake Ice Cream Bar | Hudsonville Creamery & Ice Cream Co., LLC

Most Innovative Cultured Dairy Product (currently offered for sale in the market)
1st Place: Smooth Blended Cottage Cheese with Strawberry | Dairy Farmers of America, Inc.

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