Thursday, April 25, 2024

Is Dairy Dead? Explore insights from the Dairy Innovation Strategies 2024 conference.


(left) Stay Strong is a brand from Lactalis in Denmark. It is a range of protein-rich dairy products marketed as “helping with muscle building and bone maintenance.” The 150-gram container of skyr has no added sugars and provides 18 grams of dairy protein, which come from protein inherent to cows’ milk and from added whey protein concentrate. 

This brand markets dairy as a “supplier of nutrition.” The formulation also includes lactase, enabling a lactose-free claim. This makes the product attractive to consumers who avoid dairy because of lactose intolerance or sensitivity. 

At the end of last week, two major announcements were made in the dairy manufacturing world. For starters, The Coca-Cola Company and fairlife broke ground on a new fairlife $650 million production facility in upstate New York, just outside Rochester. The 745,000 square-foot facility will serve as fairlife’s flagship Northeast location and is expected to be operational by the fourth quarter of 2025. The Daisy Brand announced it is investing $626.5 million to build a 750,000-square-foot manufacturing facility in Boone, Iowa, to expand its production of its clean-label cottage cheese and sour cream products. (I can’t help but note the similarity in dollars and space.)

These brands show us that value-added, premium, nutritious dairy is alive and thriving.

Is dairy dead? Clearly, no! This question, however, was posed this week at the Dairy Innovation Strategies 2024 conference in Copenhagen, Denmark. The consensus was that dairy is not dead, but it needs to evolve. 

After listening to many informative education sessions, I hope you agree: Dairy processors needs to redefine themselves as suppliers of nutrition and providers of indulgence.  

That’s exactly what fairlife and Daisy Brand do with their dairy products. It’s also trending in very progressive Denmark. 

The Protein Lab brand of drinking yogurt is made with milk protein concentrate and skimmed milk. The labeling includes statements such as “products designed for you,” “products for those who want more protein,” “a deliberate choice in your everyday life” and “enjoy without compromising on taste.” This is the perfect example of dairy being defined as a nutrition powerhouse and delicious!

And that’s something American students will get to continue to enjoy. Thank you!

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) released a final rule this week to update meal patterns for the National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program to align school meal nutrition standards with the goals of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025. This rulemaking is effective July 1, 2024; however, program operators are not required to make any changes to their menus as a result of this rulemaking until school year 2025-26, at the earliest. 
Schools are allowed to serve flavored milk to students in all grades given they meet specific standards and new limits on added sugars. The latter should not be an issue, as dairies have made a commitment to reducing calories and added sugars in flavored milk.

The added sugar maximum for flavored milk is 10 grams per 8 ounces beginning with the 2025-26 school year. There is also an added sugar maximum for flavored yogurt, which is 12 grams per 6 ounces. There will be a weekly menu-wide limit of an average of less than 10% of calories per meal from added sugars beginning with the 2027-28 school year. 

The National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) praised its member cooperatives for their tireless work to decrease the level of added sugar in flavored school milk, which now generally falls below the added sugar maximum established in this final rule. 

“Not only does flavored milk offer the same nutrients as regular milk, its presence correlates with decreased waste in school cafeterias,” said Gregg Doud, CEO and president of NMPF. “Many children prefer low-fat flavored milk over fat-free, and flavored milk offers the same nutrients as regular milk with a minor amount of added sugar.”

The International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA) established the Healthy School Milk Commitment to lower the added sugars in flavored milk intended for schools in early 2023. Today, the average added sugar level is 7.5 grams per serving for flavored milk in schools. Approximately 70% of all milk consumed in school meals is flavored milk. 

The USDA new rule re-emphasizes lactose-free milk as an option in all reimbursable meals. Offering lactose-free milk as a choice to all students supports child health and nutrition equity in school meals.

“Schools should offer lactose-free milk as a choice to all students, which would mark major progress for child health and nutrition equity in our school meals,” said Michael Dykes, president and CEO of IDFA. “Providing lactose-free milk, as well as other dairy products with low-lactose content, will allow more school children, including those with lactose malabsorption or lactose intolerance, to choose a dairy option that meets their needs and provides all the same essential nutrients as traditional dairy.” 

The updated standards provide schools with time to gradually reduce sodium in school meals by instituting one achievable sodium reduction. These limits apply to the average amount of sodium in lunch and breakfast menus offered during a school week.  For the next three school years, schools will maintain current sodium limits. Beginning July 1, 2027, schools will implement an approximate 15% reduction for lunch and 10% reduction for breakfast from current sodium limits. 

“While IDFA had sought to exclude sodium used for food safety and functional purposes in cheesemaking, IDFA appreciates USDA’s final rule maintaining current school meal sodium targets through School Year 2026-27 before adopting a more attainable, and permanent, school meal sodium target,” said Dykes. 

“Despite these positive developments for child nutrition, we are disappointed the USDA final rule released today sets an added sugar limit for yogurt that is out of step with the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines,” he continued. “The DGA is clear that added sugars may be used to increase the intake of nutrient-dense foods like yogurt. As an essential meat alternative for many children, consumption of yogurt has also been associated with higher diet quality in children, higher intake of multiple nutrients including calcium, potassium, magnesium, and vitamin D, and lower incidence of cardiovascular risk factors in adolescents, particularly total and excess abdominal body fat. 

“USDA also missed an opportunity to restore 2% and whole milk to school breakfast and lunch,” he said. “A plethora of science demonstrates dairy fat is unique, unlike typical saturated fats, in delivering positive and neutral health outcomes to people across all demographics. IDFA will continue to work with policymakers and lawmakers to enact the Whole Milk for Healthy Kids Act (H.R. 1147/S. 1957).”

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