Friday, September 1, 2023

An Opportunity to Formulate with Ube: It Complements Many of the Macro Food Trends Fueling Product Innovation

Let’s start with ube, a purple yam originally from the Philippines. It has a vibrant purple color that is Instagram friendly, along with a sweet, slightly nutty, vanilla taste that goes perfectly with milk and coconut. In Filipino cuisine, it is often boiled and then mashed (skin and all) with sweetened condensed milk. In the U.S., it is showing up in ice cream and milky beverages, such as this iced coffee from Wake ‘n Bacon in Chicago. It’s called the Purple Haze and is a combination of the breakfast joint’s ube coconut milk concoction mixed with coffee and whole milk. And, it’s delish! Wake ‘n Bacon also makes pancakes and cheesecake featuring ube. 

Ube fits into many of the macro trends discussed below. Its naturally sweet taste enables the elimination or reduction of added sweetener to many applications, in particular dairy foods. Its nutritional profile resembles the sweet potato, as it is high in healthy carbs, vitamins and fiber. The purple color screams anthocyanins, powerful plant-based antioxidants associated with helping reduce blood pressure and inflammation and protect against cancer and type 2 diabetes.

Ube may just be the next superfood and the dairy industry needs to jump on this opportunity. It complements many of the macro food trends fueling product innovation, as identified by Barb Stuckey, chief innovation and marketing officer at Mattson, during a webinar on August 31, 2023, hosted by the International Dairy Deli Bakery Association (IDDBA). Here they are:

1. Sugar is Going Down. 

“Everyone is watching their sugar intake,” said Stuckey. “Sugar reduction is a trend that is here to stay. It’s a big business.” 

Americans consume, on average, almost 152 pounds of sugar each year, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 

“That’s more than many people weigh,” said Stuckey. 

The added-sugar intake story is even more grim for children. And this presents an amazing opportunity for dairy processors to get added sugar out of kids’ favorite dairy foods, such as flavored milk and yogurt. 

“U.S. children consume 66 grams of added sugar per day, on average,” said Stuckey. “That is about 53 pounds, or the equivalent of a bathtub of sugar per year.” 

Mintel estimates the low-sugar market could be adding an additional $36 billion in the next two to three years across food and beverage.

Ube adds natural sweetness to dairy foods. Use lactase to break down lactose into its sweeter components, and then, with the help of ube, a no-added-sugar claim may be possible on everything from ready-to-drink lattes to yogurt. And kids love that purple color. 

2. Plant Based: It’s a Marathon, Not a Sprint.

Despite the consumer backlash to fake meat, plant-based foods are not going away. Mattson insights have identified plant-based cheeses and spreads as a growing opportunity as technology improves. Convenient, prepared foods are also attractive to shoppers. 

“It’s not just brands that are mission based playing in this space, it’s big companies, too,” said Stuckey. 

Ube is a plant. Enough said. 

3. Vegetable-Forward Eating.

This macro trend is all about eating plants as plants. What makes plants taste better? Dairy!

“Celebrating the plant itself,” said Stuckey. “The color, the beauty, the texture of vegetables and legumes.” 

Ube wins in the color department. 

4. Global Flavors of the Moment.

Ube puts a stamp in your culinary passport for the Philippines . 

5. Consumers Don’t Want to Cook. They Want to Assemble. 

Ube-based butter spreads, sour cream or cream cheese are a great way to garnish. 

6. Functional Food Drivers.

Gen Z became aware of the connection between health and food at a much younger age than previous generations thanks to COVID. 

“They are the only modern generation impacted so intensely by a health scare as youths,” said Stuckey. “They see food as health, with mental health just as important as physical health. They look for functionality from everything they eat and drink. Gen Z consumers spend a greater percentage (20%) of their money on food than previous generations at the same age.” 

Ube has a healthful halo.

7. Sustainability and Mission Driven. 

Gen Z grew up as climate change has grown. Their world has never been without extreme weather, said Stuckey. 

Ube farming is one of the most profitable agricultural activities that is enjoyed by many, especially in Central to Northern Luzon and Bohol. It’s easy to plant and grow. 

Ube production could be the Philippines’ next big agribusiness, according to the Nov. 9, 2022, issue of Agriculture. There are government-led programs to help local farmers improve the quality of their crops, including biofortification methods to further increase nutritional quality. 

8. Artificial Intelligence.

“AI will learn consumers’ food preferences and guide them to undiscovered experiences,” said Stuckey. 

Stuckey emphasized how most of us are using AI without even knowing it.

Just ask Google, Bing or ChatGPT about ube. (How do you think I found out the info stated above?)

9. Help Consumers Fight Food Waste.

According to Mattson proprietary research, 99% of consumers (70% extremely and 29% somewhat) see food waste as an issue. The challenge is that most consumers think they are doing their part to fight waste, when in fact they are the biggest contributor. 

The entire ube may be consumed. There’s no waste.  

10. Embrace the Future Supply Chain. 

While precision fermentation, cultivated animal proteins, vertical farming and robotic supermarkets may not be mainstream for another decade or two, they are part of our future. 

Ube will be part of our future, too. Dairy processors have an opportunity to take it mainstream. TikTok has already educated viewers about using Trader Joe’s Ube Spread in plain yogurt.

Real California Milk Excelerator Finalists Target these Macro Trends

The California Milk Advisory Board (CMAB), in partnership with innovation advisory VentureFuel, recently selected the eight finalists to participate in the 5th Real California Milk Excelerator competition. This will be my fifth year judging and I cannot wait to hear their pitches! 

“We continue to see themes of global flavors and ingredients, a focus on sustainable sourcing and packaging, and products that go deep on the functional benefits inherent in dairy to address specific consumer needs from protein to gut health,” says John Talbot, CEO of the CMAB.

These themes complements Mattson’s macro trends. 

The Excelerator helps identify, curate and accelerate the very best dairy-based products that introduce novel benefits and drive use of California milk and dairy in formulations. This year’s Open Innovation theme attracted dozens of applications from five countries, all with a goal of securing a spot as one of this year’s participants in the three-month program that provides access to non-dilutive funding, mentors, investors and buyers, and the California Milk Advisory Board’s specialized network of resources. The cohort represents themes of global flavors, functional benefits and sustainability from upcycling byproducts of dairy production to packaging from renewable sources. All concepts are made with at least 50% real dairy.

The eight members of the 2023 Real California Milk Excelerator cohort and their products are: 

  • Arbo’s Queso Dip (Memphis, Tenn.) – Gluten-free, keto-friendly queso-style cheese dips for retail.
  • The Empanada Shop (Redondo Beach, Calif.) – Empanadas combining golden, flaky crust, creamy, melted cheese and a fusion of Latin American tradition and California flavors for retail and foodservice.
  • New Alchemy Distilling (El Doradao Hills, Calif.) – A distillery making Spilt clarified milk punch cocktails in a can made with natural ingredients, zero stabilizers and upcycled whey from cheesemaking. 
  • Amazing Ice Cream (Stockton, Calif.) – Cookie Wild cookie wafer ice cream bar novelties enrobed in chocolate to stay crunchy.
  • Noorysha Yo-Gut (Los Angeles, Calif.) – Specialty probiotic dairy product designed to support gut health.
  • Petit Pot (Emeryville, Calif.) – French-style dairy desserts in paper-based cups made with more than 80% stainable/renewable fiber.    
  • Shakewell (Garden Grove, Calif.) – Fresh high-protein drink made with five ingredients, including upcycled whey.  
  • WonderCow Nutrition (Valencia, Calif.) – All-natural bovine colostrum powder supplement that promotes immunity, muscle recovery and gut health. 

“The Open Innovation theme is exciting because of the variety of applications we received, and the myriad of ways startups and established brands are innovating with real milk and dairy ingredients,” says Talbot. “Each member of the cohort brings something new and exciting to the marketplace and we’re looking forward to supporting their journey and ultimately seeing these products in the market with the Real California Milk seal.” 

With real dairy’s versatility of benefits and functionality, from nutrition and flavor to texture and chemical composition, this open approach encourages innovation across product categories, all leveraging the versatility of the California dairy ecosystem.

“The Real California Milk Excelerator is a testament to the dairy community’s commitment to forging novel connections with consumers and unexplored markets,” says Fred Schonenberg, founder and CEO of VentureFuel. “We’ve seen incredible displays of innovation and ingenuity from participants over the past four years, and our 2023 cohort continues to underscore the boundless possibilities within the dairy sector.”

Over the past four years, the Real California Milk Excelerator has worked with more than 45 startups across numerous categories including food, beverage, direct-to-consumer platforms, textiles and personal care. Representing nearly 40% of states across the U.S., program alumni have gone from idea to distribution with organizations such as UNFI and KeHE; and many can now be found on the shelves of retailers like Walmart, Safeway, Kroger, Amazon and Whole Foods.

Details about the 2023 cohort, mentors and the final pitch event are available HERE


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