Friday, June 14, 2024

Indulgence and Flavor Adventure Dominated IDDBA 2024


It was great to visit with so many of you on Sunday during my half-day, whirl-wind walk of the expo floor. Indulgence and flavor adventure dominated recent innovations. There were very few products with better-for-you or plant-based positionings. It was all about enjoyment and exploration, often times in single-serve sized packages.  

Jonna Parker, principal and team lead for fresh foods at Circana spoke in a session on snacking. She pointed out that a recent survey showed half of all consumers “often eat snacks instead of a meal because I am on the go” while 46% of consumers snack more than three times a day.

“Small indulgences are where to be for the next few years,” added Steve Zurek, director- sales development for North American sales operations at NielsenIQ. He explained that the trend toward personal-sized, affordable treats is a movement with staying power.

Let’s check out some of the innovations from this year’s expo. 

Heartisan Foods is growing its Red Apple Cheese brand with numerous shapes, formats and flavors. Many of these will be featured in coming weeks as a Daily Dose of Dairy. For now, here’s a peek into the brand’s adventurous side. Its flavored gouda chunk line now includes a Spicy Smoked offering, which joins Honey Sriracha, Mango Habanero, Smokey Bourbon and Scorpion. The new Cheese Curd line is making its debut with a Bloody Mary variety. The iconic snacking curds come in 8-ounce bags. 

BelGioioso has a new small-batch flavored artisan cheese under its La Bottega line.  Artigiano Blood Orange is a slightly sweet and savory cheese hand crafted by soaking the cheese in a citrus marinade. This BelGioioso original comes in a 5-ounce wedge.

Until now, cows milk yogurt manufacturers thought they were only up against plant-based concepts. Enter eggs. That’s right. Oolie is described as “Egg Based Provisions.” Yogurt is also on the label; however, the product is dairy free. The brand markets itself as “farm-fresh eggs reinvented as classic creamy favorites” and comes in Blueberry, Keyline, Lemon, Strawberry and Vanilla flavors. The brand also has a line of dairy-free, egg-based dips in Garlic & Herb, Mediterranean Tomato, Red Beet, Spicy Pepper and Yellow Curry flavors. 

Global flavors in traditional dairy products is booming. Esti Foods, a company that has built its brand by focusing on Mediterranean products, including hummus, tzatziki, Greek yogurt, yogurt-based dips and more, is growing its “Circle of Global Flavors” offerings with two dairy-based dips. Chimichurri is a “flavor of Argentina,” while Elotes Street Corn is a “flavor of Mexico.” 

Land O’Lakes is growing its Goya line of ready-to-eat refrigerated dairy desserts with Mexican Chocolate Pudding. This is a dark, rich chocolate with plenty of cinnamon and complements the swicy trend of sweet and spicy. The single-serve desserts come in 4-ounce cups and are sold in packs of four. 

Reina Foods is rolling out Bend&Blend. The dual-compartment refrigerated dairy dessert has pudding on one side and a sweet dipper on the other. The two initial offerings are: Chocolate Pudding with Mini Teddy Bear Crackers and Vanilla Pudding with Mini Maria’s Cookies. The package size is 9.5 ounces. 

Artisan butters, often with higher-percentages of butterfat as compared to mainstream, everyday butters, continue to boom. In the weeks ahead, be on the lookout for some co-branded butters from Epicurean being showcased as a Daily Dose of Dairy. 

Here we have Moinear Farmhouse Butter, which is made with California milk in California using a traditional Irish recipe based on pure whey cream. The company explains that “during cheesemaking, as the curds and whey are gently separated, the aromatic cheese flavors begin to develop as the cheese cultures ferment. Rarely is the whey cream separated from the whey to begin the skilled small-batch churning process of hand-making world class whey butter, traditionally known as “farmhouse butter” or “old-fashioned butter.” It is now the king of artisanal butters with its “mild, nutty, cheesy and richer, fuller flavor” profile. Cheese-making cultures produce the whey butter flavor secrets. Whey butter is a rare delicacy and our mission is to reintroduce this exciting long-lost art of whey butter making to the world.” The butter comes in 8-ounce foil-wrapped blocks, salted or unsalted. 

Ellsworth Cooperative Creamery is exploring worldly flavors with its new Antonella Artisan Cheese Collection of semi-soft cheeses. The logs of cheese are hand-rolled in dried, flavorful ingredients, including herbs, vegetables and even cured meat. Varieties are Garden Vegetable & Sweet Basil, Pepperoni & Marinara and Roasted Garlic, Tomato & Basil.  

Pine River adds four varieties to its Traditional and Premium Cold Pack Cheese Spread lines. The newest offerings are: Maple Bacon, Spicy Pimento and Vintage Reserve. Spicy Pimento is a fiery rendition of the company’s beloved Pimento spread with now more Grade A cheddar shreds added. Infused with zesty pickled jalapenos, this kicked-up version delivers a delightful kick of heat, elevating the classic flavor profile to new heights of boldness and intensity. Maple Bacon is a fusion of Grade A cheddar aged for a minimum of nine months with maple onion jam and savory bacon. Vintage Reserve is a revamped iteration of the company’s popular 60-Month Anniversary spread. Crafted with white cheddar aged for a minimum of five years and studded with five-year cheddar chunks throughout, this rich and creamy cheddar spread promises a truly indulgent taste experience that will leave you craving for more. The brand is also undergoing a makeover with new color schemes. As part of this refresh, Pine River renamed its Mango Habanero spread to Kickin’ Mango. Stay tuned for more new flavors, including Raspberry Chipotle and Italian Truffle. 

Yancey’s Fancy, always an innovator with edgy flavors, provided IDDBA attendees with a sneak peek at its Ube Cheese concept, which is still under development. The purple-veined cheese has an extra layer of nutty flavor from the ube fruit. New flavors available now include Green Goddess Gouda, Portobella & Truffle Cheddar, Strawberry & Jalapeno Cheddar, and Lemon Bliss Cheddar. The pasteurized process cheese comes in 7.6-ounce chunks. 

Citrus flavors are trending, which is somewhat of an unusual combination in dairy because sour does not always go well with creamy. In fact, for some, there’s that vision of the acidic fruit curdling the milk. But they do go together, and surprisingly, deliciously well. Superior Foods Company, a co-packer of innovative dairy dips and spreads has a new Lemon Blueberry Bliss dairy dip. On the savory side, there’s a new Pepperoni Pizza flavored dip. 

The Gordo’s brand is expanding into  the non-cheese Premium Dip category. The three new dips use a sour cream and cream cheese base and come in 12-ounce tubs. Flavors are: Creamy Jalapeno, Smokey Tomato (and chiles) and Zesty Ranch. The brand also has dual-compartment refrigerated snack packs. The 4-ounce containers come in Cheese Dip & Pretzels and Queso & Chips varieties. 

On the sort of sweet side of snacking comes Ice Cream Not Fried Chicken from Life Raft Treats. This handcrafted Ice Cream Drumstick has a chocolate pretzel “bone” in the center, which is enveloped by waffle-flavored ice cream and then enrobed in caramelized white chocolate and corn flakes. Each drumstick is 2.5 ounces and individually wrapped. 
They are sold in display packs of 24 drumsticks. This creation was invented by a six-times James Beard Foundation Award semifinalist—Cynthia Wong—for her outstanding craft as a pastry chef. 

Old World Productions is growing its Carnegie Deli Cheesecake Bites with a Birthday Cake variety. The frozen dairy-based poppable dessert comes in 3- and 6-ounce shareable bags. 

Mark your calendars for IDDBA 2025, taking place June 1-3 in New Orleans. 

Thursday, June 6, 2024

It's Milk's Time because It’s Milk Time!


A shout out to Julian Mellentin with NewNutrition Business for sharing this infographic (below). He commissioned its creation to coincide with World Milk Day, which was January 1, 2024. 

“As you know well, milk is a naturally nutrient dense superfood and it’s time the intrinsic health values of dairy were made more widely known,” he says. “So to showcase that, we asked a colleague, who has a master’s in nutrition science, to create this graphic.

“It shows that milk is a whole food. The complexity of the whole food matrix provides a unique bundle of essential nutrients that it is impossible to replicate.”

Well said! Thanks Julian. 

I am convinced that whole milk will become cool again thanks to innovations in foodservice. Take for example Mycha, which calls itself The Milk Tea ATM. It’s a vending machine business featuring made-fresh-daily milk teas and other milk-based beverages in Chicago and Los Angeles. It’s growing quickly. You can read more HERE.

The drinks are amazing. I am partial to the Taro Milk Tea, which combines the earthy sweetness of taro root with the creamy richness of milk. It has a slightly nutty flavor and is not overly sweet. (I do not have a sweet tooth.)

Last year when I arrived in New York City for the Fancy Food Show, I stumbled upon a café dedicated to milk-based tea beverages. They could be made to order or purchased ready to drink in glass jars. Many featured boba for an extra sensation. 

(Click on infographic to enlarge.)

When I visited Thailand, such places were ubiquitous. And they made cows and their milk the star, with photo ops available near Holstein statues. 

We need more of this in the U.S., especially in urban areas.  

The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf has started playing in this space in the U.S. The specialty coffee and tea house’s new summer menu features four new beverages that showcase the delightful textures and tastes of boba pearls and matcha. Whole milk is also part of the mix. 

The four offerings are: Iced Brown Sugar Latte with Boba, Iced Ceylon Milk Tea with Brown Sugar Boba, Iced Matcha Cream Strawberry Latte and Iced Matcha Cream Mango Latte.

It’s summer road trip time! Get me to The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf.

New York City’s famous Milk Bar has long been offering various “milky” products at its cafes. (The name is a giveaway!) The company has teamed up with Tropicana to introduce a new limited-time-only soft-serve this summer. 

“As a life-long OJ enthusiast, I’m so excited to partner with iconic juice brand, Tropicana, to create our new summer treat obsession, Orange Squeeze soft-serve,” says Christina Tosi, founder of Milk Bar. “I grew up racing to the ice cream truck to score my favorite creamy, orange and vanilla flavored bar. Orange Squeeze is our take on that childhood classic, transporting you back, Milk Bar style, to sweet summer memories of that bright, fresh-tasting combo.”

And the Winners Are…
Circana released its 2023 New Product Pacesetters report this week, which features the top-100 CPG product launches in the food and beverage and nonfood categories. The latest Pacesetters, which garnered $6.1 billion in combined first-year sales, include products that help Americans navigate their daily lives in new ways as they adapt to post-pandemic routines. The report highlights the ongoing influence of innovation in the CPG sector as consumers seek exploration and new experiences, gravitating toward versatile products and new product formats.

“Consumer behavior has changed dramatically in recent years, from the pandemic and then the resumption of active lifestyles and hybrid work,” says Lisa Maas, principal and practice lead-innovation at Circana. “The latest Pacesetters align with consumers’ desires for new experiences and product formats, new levels of convenience, trusted solutions for baby and pet and products that deliver superior performance. Brands that lead with relevant innovation stand to not only boost sales, but also cultivate lasting customer loyalty.”

The Top 10 Food and Beverage 
New Product Pacesetters for 2023 are:
1. Similac 360 Total Care
2. PRIME Hydration
3. Starry
4. OREO Frozen Desserts
5. Starbucks by Nespresso for Vertuo
6. GHOST Energy
7. Doritos/Cheetos/Sunchips Minis
8. Black Rifle Coffee
9. Electrolit
10. Kevin’s Natural Foods

Circana’s findings indicate that shifting daily routines have impacted every aspect of consumers’ lives, from how they practice self-care to the meals they prepare and the daily appliances they use. There has been an increase in slow cooker and casserole dish sales, likely due to their association with easy-meal preparation and cost savings. This reflects the ongoing demand for convenient solutions for complete meals or meal shortcuts. 

Consumers are looking for ways to elevate the morning experience, as evidenced by Starbucks by Nespresso for Vertuo’s fifth-place ranking on the food and beverage Pacesetters list. Additionally, Nestlé collaborated with popular Kellogg’s brands to introduce Carnation Breakfast Essentials, Kellogg’s ready-to-drink breakfast meals, providing a quick breakfast option for consumers. The latter features dairy, and lots of it. 

(Click on infographic to enlarge.)
The data show that co-branding and licensing, as seen in the Carnation-Kellogg’s offerings, leverage the trust and loyalty that established brands enjoy, opening doors for expansion beyond their core categories. For instance, OREO cookies and Little Debbie snack cakes have made their way into the frozen aisle, with OREO Frozen Desserts ranking number four on the food and beverage Pacesetters list, and Hudsonville Ice Cream’s Little Debbie flavors at number 18. Go dairy! Go dairy!
The report suggests that consumers increasingly sought functional benefits across the store in 2023. This demand for added value was likely driven by high inflation and a continued focus on well-being. The trend was particularly evident in the beverage sector, where products offering enhanced hydration, energy and nutritional benefits were prominent, even among traditional carbonated soft drinks. 
And, you may not have heard, but the U.S. birth rate increased in 2021, particularly among women younger than 25, and first-time mothers. The report signals that this trend may have been fueled by increased work-from-home arrangements, giving people increased flexibility to start a family. The market has responded to this shift with a variety of baby products, including the number-one food and beverage Pacesetter, Similac 360 Total Care infant formula. This dairy-based formula, enriched with five “immune nourishing” prebiotics, is claimed by Abbott Laboratories to offer added advantages for brain development and digestive health. Top-ranking products for babies and young children likely reflect parents’ commitments to providing healthy starts for their children. Go dairy! Go dairy!

Who’s Innovating and How?
While Circana saw strong contributions from mid-sized companies last year, the 2023 Pacesetters showcase the influence of innovation from smaller companies. Manufacturers with sales under $500 million represent 59% of New Product Pacesetters by count, up from 41% in 2022. These smaller companies are also making a significant impact, accounting for 43% of New Product Pacesetter dollars (up from 18% in 2022). A common theme across leading companies last year was a keen focus on the consumer, with a commitment to meeting consumers’ needs with relevant product solutions, messaging, and pricing.
“In 2023, collaborations with well-known brands, compelling brand narratives and a dedication to product expansion helped drive brand awareness and increase sales,” says my friend Joan Driggs, vice president of content and thought leadership at Circana. “Products identified as Pacesetters contributed an 18% increase in total multi-outlet sales, compared to an 11% increase in 2022, highlighting the importance of innovation and strategic partnerships in achieving sustained growth and market success.”

You can access the full report HERE to see the other dairy brands who made the list and their rank. 

Numerous frozen dairy brands made the top-200 list, including Blue Bunny, Godiva and Van Leeuwen. Creamer, cheese and yogurt brands are on the list, too. You will also find many innovations utilizing dairy ingredients, namely dairy proteins.

Congrats to all innovators! It’s Milk Time!

Friday, May 31, 2024

Navigating the Anti-Ultra-Processed, Forbidden Ingredients and PFAs Conversations


It’s getting bigger, and please do not ignore it. “It” is the anti-ultra processed, forbidden ingredients and PFAs awareness movements.

The New York Times recently reported on ultra-processed foods. Editor Alice Callahan wrote on how scientists associate the consumption of ultra-processed foods with 32 different health problems, including cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes and mental disorders. And, according to some of the vocal activists in this space, a number of products manufactured by dairy processors qualify. 

You can read more HERE

“While the ultra-processed dialogue may be confusing, it is likely to ramp up,” according to Sherry Frey, vice president of total wellness, NielsenIQ, Chicago. 

The good news for dairy processors, however, is that “at the same time, the demand for protein continues to grow,” said Frey. 

She says to expect “an increased focus on specific food ingredients.” This is already happening with some states banning certain additives, ones associated with ultra-processed foods.

California started the anti-ingredient crusade last year when it banned four food additives: potassium bromate, brominated vegetable oil, propyl paraben and red dye No. 3. Titanium dioxide was on California’s original list, but this EU-banned whitening agent lives on in The Golden State.

Other states are planning similar bans. Some proposals are expanding the list of targeted additives.

GoCoCo, a mobile app that helps consumers detect unhealthy ultra-processed food in supermarkets and suggests healthier alternatives, recently completed a data analysis of the 550,000-plus commercial products in the app. Results show that more than 70,000 products contain at least one additive under the spotlight. That equates to 13% of the food and beverage products in the market. In California, the ban will affect almost 12,000 products. Details of the study can be found HERE.

“It is positive that states are being proactive, it shows that they care about consumer safety,” says Bertrand Amaraggi, CEO of GoCoCo, “But the rise of differing regulations can create confusion from a consumer perspective, as they may not understand how something approved at national level is prohibited in certain states.”

Most dairy processors are well positioned to navigate the anti-ultra processed movement and the banning of specific ingredients. But, many of you may not be aware of a recent Consumer Reports investigation. The title--Forever Chemicals Are Found in Some Milk, Including Organic—says it all. 
You can access it HERE.

Graph source: GoCoCo  (click on graph to enlarge)

Forever chemicals are per- and polyfluoroalkyl (PFAs) substances that have been linked to cancer, immunity and endocrine problems, and infertility. And there’s a very good reason to believe that they will be a target of concern in the near future. 

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency states on its website that PFAs are widely used, long-lasting chemicals, components of which break down very slowly over time. Because of their widespread use and their persistence in the environment, many PFAs are found in the blood of people and animals all over the world and are present at low levels in a variety of food products and in the environment. PFAs are found in water, air, fish and soil at locations across the nation and the globe. Scientific studies have shown that exposure to some PFAs in the environment may be linked to harmful health effects in humans and animals.

The Consumer Reports study was conducted on 50 samples of whole milk in five states with known PFAs groundwater contamination: California, Michigan, New Jersey, Texas and Virginia. The PFAs were found in six of the 50 samples. 

“What we found does not mean that anyone needs to stop drinking milk,” says James Rogers, head of food safety testing at Consumer Reports. “But this highlights shortcomings in how federal food safety agencies and manufacturers monitor milk and other food for these clearly harmful chemicals, and the urgent need to set health-protective limits on PFASs”

So, while this and all the other noise gets sorted out and addressed, marketers of nutrient-dense, healthful foods, need to be proactive in this space by using front-of-pack labeling to communicate nutritional content. This will be paramount as social media raises awareness of the various conversations. 

In case you missed it, a new study from the International Food Information Council highlights the need for balanced front-of-pack nutrition labeling. The research shows that accurate front-of-pack nutrition labeling can be helpful to both consumers and food companies to ensure relevant nutrition information is accessible when consumers are making product choices when shopping in store; however, when the nutrition information in a front-of-pack labeling system is limited, consumers may miss out on vital information that can help them make healthier food choices. Communicating nutrient density is critical as these movements ramp up. The full study is available HERE.

Friday, May 24, 2024

Dairy Industry Take-Aways from the Restaurant Show


It was wonderful to see so many of you at the National Restaurant Association Show this past week in my hometown Chicago. The Windy City welcomed more than 58,000 foodservice professionals from around the world, representing 124 countries. The show saw a 6% increase in total attendance—with 22% international growth—compared to last year, highlighting its importance in the industry. With a 9% increase in exhibit space compared to 2023, the show floor provided a comprehensive platform for industry professionals to connect and collaborate.

Dairy shined throughout the expo, with California and Wisconsin both having pavilions. Plant-based dairy—the few brands who had the courage to showcase their innovations—shined, too. It’s safe to say that to play in this space, mediocracy is no longer an option.  

Last week I mentioned how I was looking forward to trying Armored Fresh’s Oat Milk Cheddar Dip. I did. It was delicious. You can read more about it HERE.

I also tasted pizza made with new Daiya Dairy-Free Cheese Shreds. Once again, it was delicious. (On its own, I would not snack on the shreds like I do real dairy cheese shreds. But on the pizza, it’s a winner.)

Daiya developed shreds specifically for foodservice operators, leveraging the success of its new proprietary ingredient, Daiya Oat Cream blend. Products made with this ingredient were unveiled across retail in December. The innovative foodservice shreds promise a dairy-like melt that browns and strings just like dairy cheese. It does. 

The demand for dairy-free options in the foodservice industry has been steadily increasing, driven by shifting consumer preferences towards plant-based alternatives when eating out. With an ever-growing number of individuals embracing dairy-free diets due to health, preference and environmental reasons, offering high-quality dairy-free options has become imperative for foodservice operators to cater to diverse customer needs and preferences. 

In foodservice, chefs, culinary specialists and operators can perform their magic and serve these products in unique ways so that the consumer has a better experience with them than if they “played” with them at home. After all, (almost) everything tastes better when someone else makes it. 

“We’ve seen plant-based menu penetration grow by 262% in the last four years, and ultimately what diners expect when they order a dairy-free alternative is that cheesy, ‘melts-like-dairy' experience,” said Melanie Domer, chief commercial officer at Daiya. “The demand for such a product is there, and we’re delivering operators a solution that we believe bridges the gap between consumer expectations and dairy-free offerings.”

If you want to explore all types of “dirty” tricks that menu developers are pursuing to get inspired, read an article I wrote for Food Business News titled “Unexpected ingredients’ among trends fueling menu innovation” HERE.

That brings me to a new report from The Brainy Insights on the global dairy blends market. Dairy blends are defined as foods and beverages that combine dairy ingredients with other components, such as vegetable oils, emulsifiers or flavors, to create versatile and functional food ingredients. 

These blends offer a range of benefits, including enhanced nutritional profiles, improved texture, extended shelflife and cost-effectiveness compared to traditional dairy products. Dairy blends find applications across various food industries, including bakery, confectionery, beverages and processed foods. They are also used in dairy products, everything from cheese to ice cream to yogurt, providing manufacturers with flexibility in the formulation and allowing them to tailor products to meet specific consumer preferences and dietary requirements. With the increasing demand for healthier and more diverse food options, dairy blends continue to play a vital role in the food industry, catering to the evolving needs of consumers worldwide.

The report said that the dairy blends market generated $4.21 billion in revenue in 2023 and is projected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 7.8% from 2024 to 2033. The market is expected to reach $8.95 billion by 2033. 

Now while this new product from REBBL is vegan, it serves as an example of dairy blend innovation. The product is called a Smoothie Starter, a category-defining multi-serve concept created for convenience and functional nourishment. 

Smoothie Starter is designed to transform morning rituals, offering consumers an organic and convenient base to create nutrient-dense smoothies in seconds without the mess. With just the simple additions of ice, fruit or greens, users can quickly and seamlessly blend up a protein-packed and gut health-supporting smoothie to fuel their day.
“The launch of Smoothie Starter marks a significant milestone in our product portfolio; we’re proud to introduce this one-of-a-kind offering for smoothies that is unmatched in the current market,” said Andy Fathollahi, CEO of SYSTM Foods. “We’ve eliminated the guesswork from smoothie prep and are offering consumers a quality, convenient foundation to enhance their morning ritual at an unrivaled value.”
Offered in coconut milk and oat milk liquid base varieties, Smoothie Starter delivers 20 grams of plant-rich protein to kickstart the day and features amplified benefits through postbiotics to support gut health. The product is also fortified with 20% of the Daily Value of zinc for immunity support. 
Each 32-ounce bottle is intended to make four smoothies. The product is debuting at Target and Sprouts nationwide for $9.99.

Fathollahi added, “By simplifying and upgrading the smoothie-making process with unparalleled nutritional benefits, REBBL empowers consumers to take control of their mornings and fuel their bodies with the goodness they deserve.”

The dairy industry needs to continue to help fuel bodies with the goodness they deserve. 
The Food as Medicine conference followed the restaurant show. Kerry Hackworth, director-nutrition affairs for the National Dairy Council, said this.

“According to a Cornell researcher, we make over 200 food related decisions per day and small changes add up over time. This means that achieving health shouldn’t just focus on eating more plants and produce. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans provides recommendations for healthy eating patterns and is put together every five years by experts in their field who look at the body of evidence to support the components of a healthy diet. Plants, in combination with animal-sourced foods, can fill nutrient gaps and help to prevent disease.” 

Happy Summer!

Friday, May 17, 2024

Plant-Based Dairy Growth Needs More Effort in Foodservice


(click on photo to enlarge)

On the heels of what is going to be a foodie week in Chicago, starting with the National Restaurant Association Show tomorrow, followed by various venture-funding related events with the Future of Food Week and the Food as Medicine conference, it is safe to say that plant-based foods will be a major topic of conversation. 

While reviewing the programs for these events, and exploring the plethora of press releases received, there, between the lines, I found an opportunity for plant-based dairy. It’s foodservice. See, in this space, chefs, culinary specialists and operators can perform their magic and serve these products in unique ways so that the consumer has a better experience with them than if they “played” with them at home. After all, (almost) everything tastes better when someone else makes it. 

Plus, that line between restaurant menus and home cooking is blurring. That’s thanks to social media like TikTok where restaurant dishes become viral sensations and in the right culinary hands popular social “food fads” are translating to menus and limited-time offers, according to Hudson Riehle, senior vice president of research for the National Restaurant Association.

“This year’s trends are dominated by consumer craving for comfort and community with a healthy side of curiosity influenced by social media,” said Riehle. The association’s 2024 What’s Hot Culinary Forecast is based on a survey of 1,500 culinary professionals nationwide. They identified incorporating social media as one of the top-10 hottest trends in 2024. 

It worked for dairy cottage cheese. Nearly half of all new dairy cottage cheese consumers are coming from the social-media-savvy Gen Z and Millennial sets, the other half comes from older generations, with the most growth by far coming from Gen X, a cohort decidedly less dedicated to TikTok than their younger counterparts. Why Gen X? Is it an attempt to gain a tasty dairy fix with less fat, right at the age where waistlines are more difficult to tame? Is it nostalgia for our childhoods in the 1970s and 1980s, the last time cottage cheese was so central to American diets? Nope, it’s because we are smart! 

Consumer Reports published “Is Cottage Cheese Good For You?” this week. You can read the article HERE.

The writer explains that cottage cheese checks many boxes of what today’s health and wellness shopper is looking for, starting with this cultured dairy product’s nutrition profile and ending with its versatility. It can be a dip, a pasta sauce, a bread spread and even a base for frozen dessert. 

The one thing it is not is vegan. And, by no means am I suggesting anyone even attempt to make a plant-based cottage cheese. I just cannot imagine plants even trying to imitate the perfection found in dairy-rich curds and creamy dressing. But…there’s opportunity to make a high-protein, plant-based cooking “cream” that can be used in all the same ways.  

This week at the restaurant show, Armored Fresh, an innovative food tech company breaking the mold of what zero-dairy cheese should taste and perform like, will introduce its newest foodservice item: Oat Milk Cheddar Dip. While the brand will be showcasing the smooth and creamy dip drizzled over crunchy tortilla chips and topped with Beyond Meat’s Seared Steak Tips for attendees to sample vegan nachos, this “dip” has potential to be so much more. It can serve as the starter for all types of plant-based condiments, sauces, dressings, etc. 

“Whether you’re vegan, vegetarian, lactose intolerant or are just supporting environmental sustainability, Armored Fresh is creating new delicious replacements for everyone’s favorite foods,” said Rudy Yoo, founder and CEO. “Our goal is to provide zero-dairy alternatives that don’t compromise on taste, texture or price, allowing consumers to indulge in the foods they’ve always enjoyed. We are continuously seeking innovation to bring back the joy in dairy-free dishes, making them accessible and delightful for everyone.”

That base—and others to come—has the opportunity to get consumers familiar with plant-based dairy. Rather than trying to replicate the dairy products so many of us love and enjoy, maybe it’s time to simply create new plant-based food categories and ingredients for foodservice. Think about it. 

Friday, May 10, 2024

Dairy’s Future Depends on its Relevancy to the Undergrad Class of 2024


The undergrad class of 2024 is the same group of Gen Z that graduated high school in 2020, a year where proms, award ceremonies and walking across the stage to receive a diploma did not happen. Congrats to all the graduates and their parents. We did it! 

To say this group of young adults is cynical is an understatement. They do not trust the adults supposedly adulting this world right now (I do not blame them.) and they will change the way of doing business. They will change our global food systems. 

Their biggest objection will be ultra-processed foods. A federal committee is currently examining the emerging science on industrial made foods. Ultra-processed food intake may be part of the Dietary Guidelines in 2025. And if not that year, I am confident Gen Z will demand it for 2030. 

A new 30-year study published in the British Medical Journal found that people who ate a lot of ultra-processed foods appeared to have a slightly higher risk of premature death. You can read the study HERE.

In the FAO’s National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey published in 2019, Americans were shown to be especially at risk. Ultra-processed foods accounted for 57% of adults’ daily energy intake and 67% among youths in the United States. You can read the study HERE.

Hey, I’m super guilty of having had microwaved chicken nuggets and serving them to my Gen Z sons with mac and cheese and a side of corn…multiple nights in a row.  

I will be driving my University of Illinois graduate home on Monday. I asked for his grocery wish list so the fridge and freezer are stocked. He requested no “ultra-processed foods.” He informed me of the air fryer he bought and his preference for fresh chicken breast and various seasonings. He does not want tater tots or mac and cheese. He prefers fresh potatoes, sweet potatoes on occasion. Wait for it…he also said he now prefers whole milk instead of 2% low-fat. I asked why. It was a convoluted response, but something along the lines of whole milk is more natural. I interpreted that as being less processed.  
This anti-ultra-processed movement is not going away. It is a part of Gen Z’s vernacular. 

Part of the Dietary Guidelines or not, Gen Z is cooking in order to avoid ultra-processed foods. Newly released insight from the Y-Pulse Youth Lifestyle Monitor reports the rising culinary confidence of young people ages 8 to 18 who are becoming discerning diners and self-assured cooks. The report cites food media, chefs, food and nutrition professionals and parents as important influences and delves into the perspectives of Millennial and Gen Z survey participants on cooking at home and dining away from home.

“When we first began studying kids and their eating habits more than a decade ago, favorite foods and treasured family recipes that evoked positive flavor memories were very often attributed to grandparents,” says Sharon Olson, executive director of Y-Pulse. “Today’s food savvy millennial moms are influencing a new generation of kids who are self-assured when it comes to cooking and critiquing food.”

In a recent Y-Pulse nationwide study, the majority of moms of 4 to 17 year old children (94%) said they enjoyed cooking. Cooking is a creative expression for many of those surveyed with 91% agreeing that they enjoy being creative with ingredients in the kitchen. Although they welcomed recipes, 94% said they like following recipe suggestions that allow them to put their own spin on dishes. The research found 74% of modern moms agreed that they like to be challenged in the kitchen. 

In a Y-Pulse survey of 8 to 18 year olds, the majority (85%) reported that a parent in the household prepares most of the meals. Yet, more than half (56%) reported that they enjoy cooking for their family.

The Youth Lifestyle Monitor reports more than half (56%) of K-12 kids are watching the Food Network and “Tasty” style videos for entertainment. Forty six percent said they tried to cook some of the meals they saw on videos and social media platforms and 58% liked to cook for themselves. 

Kids have become more than the audience for cooking shows; they have become the talent. A review of social media platforms shows a growing trend of cooking shows hosted by kids, for kids on various platforms like YouTube, Instagram, TikTok and Facebook. These shows often focus on simple and fun recipes that children can easily follow and recreate at home.

Flavor exploration and reviewing food venues have become popular diversions with consumers of all ages. Young consumers have increasingly taken on the role of influencer as well in today’s food culture expressing their experiences and opinions on social media platforms. 

Successful food industry professionals understand the importance of engaging these discerning young tastemakers in many segments of the food industry. For example, a Y-Pulse survey of school nutrition professionals found 40% offered kitchen tours and 38% had active student advisory panels. 

And then they become parents. Older Gen Z’s, the ones who likely did not walk across the stage for their university diploma, have some very strong opinions about food, according to Culture Bureau, a Los Angeles-based strategic consultancy. 

Gen Z has transformed every part of culture, and the world of parenting is next. As the oldest turn 27 this year, Gen Z will make up the majority of first time parents by 2026— yet most businesses continue to ignore them as head of households and parents, according to Kasi Bruno, founder of Culture Bureau. 

Culture Bureau surveyed 5,000 Gen Z and Millennial parents and found that these young families are redefining cultural norms and setting new benchmarks for brands and marketers. This landmark research reveals that Gen Z parents are navigating parenthood with a blend of traditional values and modern skepticism, influencing everything from housing preferences to social media interactions. They are not only reshaping the landscape of parenting but also consumer behavior, challenging established brands to adapt or be left behind.

The era of the frenemy Instamom influencer is over. Skeptical, Gen Z parents seek authenticity and are changing the face of parenting and influence on social media. Gen Z parents, unlike Millennials, can’t rely on traditional support networks for guidance, so they seek it more often from their partners as they navigate parenthood as the first and only of their friends to have children.

Gen Z parents are less frugal than Millennial parents, but their “worth more” equation is different, with money and mental health on the top of the list of must-know hot topics they want to teach their kids, according to Bruno.

Photo source: The Movie Data Base

“National brands beware,” she says. “Gen Z parents love store brands far more than Millennials.”

Understanding Gen Z is no longer a nice-to-have, but necessary for businesses across categories. 
“The Gen Z parenting wave is here and it’s reshaping the consumer landscape in real-time and in surprising ways,” says Bruno. 

The other night I watched the 1967 movie “The Graduate.” Dustin Hoffman’s Ben character—the university graduate--said, “I am worried about my future. I want it to be different.” 

Some things never change. Young adults always want things to be different. The dairy industry must evolve to meet their wants and needs. 

Friday, May 3, 2024

Explore Opportunities to Grow Dairy in Foodservice


Photo source: Black Rock Coffee Bar

TGIF! It’s been a tough news week for dairy with all the dramatized headlines and stories circulating about bird flu. Take time for you. Sit back and read about all the great dairy innovations being served outside the home.

Foodservice is one of the biggest opportunities for dairy innovation, real innovation, not just adding another slice of cheese to a sandwich or a dollop of sour cream to a baked potato. And remember, what’s happens in foodservice makes its way to retail. Here are some recent innovations to learn from. 

While saving the planet remains a challenging number-one, two or even three selling point at retail (shoppers prioritize taste, price and convenience), especially if the product costs a premium, the story is different at foodservice, where many diners choose an establishment for its sourcing and sustainability efforts, among other feel-good reasons. Shake Shack is one such place.

Neutral Foods has partnered with Shake Shack to supply its certified Carbon Neutral Whole Milk to more than 90 locations in the U.S. Operators use the milk to make the chain’s beloved hand-spun shakes.

“Shake Shack has always stood by its commitment to do the right thing since day one, and we respect its dedication to support American farmers who are investing in climate smart practices,” said Marcus Lovell Smith, CEO of Neutral Foods. “The scale, reach and popularity of Shake Shack has been integral to our foodservice business supporting our mission to radically reduce the carbon footprint of agriculture across the U.S.”

Neutral Foods partners with farmers across America to support carbon emissions reduction projects, which can reduce the carbon intensity of milk production. From researching feed supplements that can reduce enteric methane emissions to low-carbon electricity when using on-farm equipment like tractors and feed mixers, to off-farm processing, manufacturing and transportation, Neutral Foods invests directly with farmers to mitigate the climate impact of dairy farming.

“Staying focused on delivering the highest-quality ingredients and experience is core to what makes Shake Shack the brand it is today,” said Jeffrey Amoscato, Senior Vice President of Supply Chain and Menu Innovation at Shake Shack. “As many American farmers face economic challenges, Neutral Foods is partnering with them to innovate and find new ways to thrive and help our industry reduce its environmental footprint. This support is something we can certainly get behind as a company born in the hospitality business.”

Shake Shack first started its pilot with Neutral Milk at select Shake Shack locations in early 2022 and is now expanding to more locations across New York, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, New Jersey and Massachusetts. By using Neutral Milk, to date, Shake Shack has already avoided more than 375 metric tons of CO2e, equivalent to 873,000 miles driven by an average gasoline-powered passenger vehicle (source: US EPA Greenhouse Gas Equivalencies Calculator). 

Hopefully more foodservice brands will find a way to source better-for-the-planet dairy to assist with educating consumers. In the meantime, many are doing a great job at getting creative with dairy-centric menu items. 

For example, Chicken Guy!, the chicken chain owned by Guy Fieri and Robert Earl, is debuting the Berry Bomb Shake. It is described as hand-spun vanilla soft-serve with mixed berry puree, topped with fresh whipped cream and cinnamon toast crumble.

Yogurtland’s newest soft-serve frozen yogurts are on flavor trend. There’s Strawberry Matcha and Milk & Honey. Guests can also enjoy limited-time-only toppings such as Lychee Star Jelly and Strawberry Heart Jelly. 

Häagen-Dazs Shops are now serving a limited-time dessert, the New York Strawberry Cheesecake Dazzler. Available in Shops nationwide through June 14, the dessert is a playful take on New York’s renowned treat that honors the city where Häagen-Dazs Shops opened its first-ever bricks and mortar location.

The New York Strawberry Cheesecake Dazzler is a blend of Häagen-Dazs creamy cheesecake ice cream with a swirl of sweet strawberry sauce and graham cracker crust pieces, layered with fresh strawberries, graham cracker pieces, and topped with whipped cream and a strawberry garnish.

Coffee cafes are all about fluid milk, cream and dairy-based foams and froths. Tim Hortons is toasting to a quarter century of sipping on Iced Capps with the rollout of CARAMILK Iced Capp and the return of fan-favorite OREO DOUBLE STUF Iced Capp. All Iced Capps start with a base that’s a blend of coffee, cream, vanilla and brown sugar.

The CARAMILK Iced Capp features Tims original Iced Capp base along with a blend of milk chocolate chunks, a swirl of whipped topping and a drizzling of gooey caramel syrup. The OREO DOUBLE STUF Iced Capp blends the Iced Capp base with OREO cookie crumble and vanilla syrup, then adds a layer of vanilla-flavored whipped topping.
Tim Hortons also has a new Tiramisu Cold Brew. The coffee is steeped for 16 hours in the restaurant for an incredibly smooth and velvety taste. This gets mixed with tiramisu syrup and topped with an espresso-infused cold foam that is sprinkled with cocoa powder.

Black Rock Coffee Bar (pictured right), a national boutique coffee chain, has kicked off its Summer Daze Campaign, which includes new chilled beverages. Vanilla Cookie Mocha is a fusion of the chain’s full-bodied espresso stirred into white mocha and vanilla flavoring then combined with whole milk. The alluring sweetness of white mocha, and the comforting essence of vanilla is poured over ice and topped with a luscious crown of chocolate macadamia nut cold foam. 

Orange Dream Fuel is a blend of vanilla, orange zest and the invigorating kick of Black Rock’s Original Fuel energy drink. It gets crowned with a creamy orange cold foam reminiscent of childhood orange cream popsicles. The Orange Dream Fuel is served over ice or is available frozen. 

Dutch Bros Coffee is in on the coffee latte trend. Its latest innovation is the Churro Freeze, which features caramel coffee topped with a cinnamon sugar-flavored Soft Top and churro bits.

The Churro Freeze is a great treat for Cinco de Mayo, as is the new Waffle Ice Cream Taco at Cold Stone Creamery. At the heart of the Waffle Ice Cream Taco is the company’s signature Sweet Cream Ice Cream, which is nestled within a freshly made waffle taco shell. To elevate the experience, each taco is generously coated with rich, creamy chocolate and sprinkled with crunchy peanuts, creating a perfect blend.

Treat yourself this weekend to some dairy outside the home. 
(Need more flavor trend insights? Click on the Synergy banner below.)