Friday, November 30, 2012

Ingredients for a Gradual Sodium Reduction in Dairy

Despite increased awareness about the risks of too much sodium in consumers’ diets and pledges from governments around the world to reduce salt levels in food, product launches with low/no/reduced sodium claims have been nominal, according to market research firm Mintel.

(Read HERE to learn about ingredients that help dairy processors reduce sodium. This is a recent article I wrote for Dairy Business News, a part of Food Business News.)

“A large percentage of the global food industry remains wary of the commercial impacts of reducing salt in their products. This anxiety is well-founded, with many products positioned as low sodium forced off the shelves prematurely in recent years due to poor sales,” according to Chris Brockman, global food and drink analyst at Mintel. “Consumers are concerned about salt intake, but are not willing to compromise on taste.”

According to Mintel’s research, some 54% of U.S. consumers say they limit their use of packaged snacks and other packaged foods because they think they have too much salt or sodium, and 53% are concerned about the amount of salt or sodium in their diets. However, it seems consumers will not give up salt easily. When it comes to products flavored with a non-sodium or salt alternative, almost half (46%) of consumers in the U.S. think that they don’t taste as good as their traditional counterparts.

“Brands will need to dispel widely held perception about low sodium or salt alternatives to be successful. Fortunately, this is possible,” says Brockman. “Many food brands are already introducing step-by-step salt reduction programs that gradually reduce the salt content of their products, a strategy often called ‘stealth health,’ as the incremental removal of sodium can be carried out over a period of time to help the consumer to become accustomed to the changed flavor profile, without the need to flag that up prominently on-pack and thus deter consumers who may perceive ‘less taste.’ Other brands are also steering clear of the health issue by experimenting with different flavor profiles, such as strong spices and vinegars, to enhance taste while eliminating sodium.”

Dairy processors, specifically cheese manufacturers, have a number of tools available to take the stealth health approach.

Read HERE about how dairy processors are making progress in sodium reduction in a recent article I wrote for Food Business News.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Ice Cream Trends 2013

It's that time of year...

...when you need to start planning for the upcoming summer’s ice cream season.

In mid-October I was fortunate to attend Taste Tomorrow, an invitation-only event hosted by Puratos. More than 200 key industry players in the bakery, patisserie and chocolate sectors met in Chicago for this two-day interactive program that featured in-depth insights into consumer attitudes, behaviors, choices and trends, as they relate to bakery, patisserie and chocolate. Almost all can be applied to frozen desserts.

We learned how global and local insights translate into emerging trends in the food sector. The event title—Taste Tomorrow—says it all. Innovative product developers must stay on top of the trends in order to formulate foods that meet the desires of tomorrow’s consumer.

Puratos’ Research
At the end of 2011, Puratos carried out extensive global research into consumer behavior and consumer choices in efforts to answer questions such as:

  • Are they embracing their local food heritage or are they constantly looking for new and exciting flavors?
  • Are healthy and sustainable options really changing eating patterns, or do consumers want gratification above all?

The company travelled around the globe and asked 6,400 consumers about their attitudes and preferences. The combination of qualitative and quantitative research provided the company with unique insights into today’s market and future trends, and showed that there are often conflicting or paradoxical trends. They also uncovered a number of megatrends for the future. All of these discoveries can be used to better understand your customers today and to help build your business tomorrow.

Key insights that impact all food sectors include the fact that consumers are becoming increasingly sensitive to how food is produced. Therefore, transparency and authenticity play a key role in the sourcing, development and production process of food products.

The nutritional value of food is a key aspect for the future. And when queried if they prefer naturally healthful foods or foods with health benefits added, the overwhelming response was that it does not matter.

Yet, naturalness is key. But what actually is naturalness? Puratos learned that naturalness to most consumers means “closing the gap between manufacturing and selling.” It’s the time from production to consumption...not necessarily the ingredients in the product.

Compelling stories are the future of food marketing. The manufacturer must express his passion for the product no matter how it is produced. In the case of ice cream, it should not matter if the ice cream is mass produced or hand-crafted batch-by-batch, as long as the passion and commitment to the product line is communicated on the package and in marketing materials. Discuss the origin of ingredients, the evolution of a recipe, the history of the brand, etc.

Telling a story adds value...and allows a marketer to charge a premium. Consumers want proof as to why they should pay more for a product. Storytelling provides benefits that exceed the cost of the product.

Consumers increasingly find food as a form of self expression. It’s not just what you wear; it’s what you eat. Tomorrow’s consumer will be even more highly involved with food, so connecting with them at all levels—nutrition, flavor, sourcing, etc.—is essential.

Puratos research indicated that consumers connect with city brands, no matter the city and no matter where they are. New York bagels are more popular in Milan than simply bagels. Parisian macaroons command twice the price of mere macaroons in Seattle bakeries. This can be taken to the next level with authentic state and even country favorites. This connection to a locality boosts the perception of quality and provides a guarantee of tradition.
Thank you very much Puratos for all this research. There is a great deal more, but these insights provided the groundwork for my top-five predictions for the 2013 ice cream season. These predictions also meld in observations from the numerous trade shows I have attended in the past six months that have focused on the convenience, foodservice and retail channels, including special attention to confections, snacks and better-for-you foods. And, of course, I factor in insights from ingredient suppliers at the IFT Annual Food Meeting + Food Expo, and the Chicago Section IFT Suppliers’ Night, which was last night (November 15). (It was so great to see so many of you, and congratulations to the Chicago Section for 50 years of service to the Chicago-area food industry!)
Top Five Trends for the 2013 Ice Cream Season
1) Desserts within desserts gain momentum, but the characterizing dessert needs to better connect with the consumer. Examples include: Georgian Peach Melba swirled through a Madagascar vanilla ice cream, Fair Trade Coffee-flavored ice cream loaded with Oregon Truffles, and Caramelized Illinois Apple pieces blended into Wisconsin Sweet Cream ice cream.
2) Sweet and salty have become quite common as inclusion blends in ice cream. But tomorrow’s consumer would like a little more excitement, so throw in a little heat or a touch of tang. Think peppers, hot sauce, citrus and even cheese. Even better, make it local. Vanilla ice cream swirled with pieces of locally baked apple pie and diced farmstead cheddar cheese. How about Chipotle-peppered pecans swirled through Florida Key Lime Pie-flavored ice cream?
3) Dairy within dairy…that’s right. Dairy’s wholesome and local perception resonates with consumers. Double up on the deliciousness with inclusions such as mascarpone swirl, cream cheese chunks and even sour cream-filled truffles.
4) Add some nutrition. Not everyone wants their ice cream to deliver the content of a daily multiple vitamin, but there’s definitely a consumer segment who is attracted to ice cream with some extra nutrition. Nutritionally enhanced ice creams are best in novelty form. This way the consumer knows exactly how much they are taking in and there’s less of a chance of over dosing. Think granola-coated low-fat California strawberry frozen yogurt bar that is an excellent source of fiber and provides a whole serving of fruit. 
5) And likely the biggest trend is booze. (The opening photo is courtesy of the California Table Grape Commission and features California Port Wine ice cream.)
From wine to beer to blended cocktails, the flavors from the liquor department have been making their way into ice cream for some time, and this trend is expected to gain strength. It’s taking place in foodservice and retail, and interest is growing. There are some ice cream manufacturers using actual alcohol, but that’s not what I am talking about, as such products can be challenging for dairy processors to market and distribute because of their purchase-age requirement. The trend I am talking about is margarita-flavored fro-yo and cabernet-swirled dark chocolate gelato. These are flavors that appeal to the more mature palette. It builds on the dessert-in-dessert trend, where one gets the best of two worlds for the calories of only one favorite treat.
With that said, would someone please create (sans the alcohol) a California Char-donna-y swirled Michigan Raspberry Low-Fat Probiotic Frozen Yogurt for me?
(Why not take this time to view the many innovative frozen desserts I have featured this year as a Daily Dose of Dairy? You can view them HERE.)

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Take a Look Through the Magic Mirror: Will Your Products Meet the Needs of Consumers in 2020?

Hopefully some of you remember the television show Romper Room. At the end of every episode, the hostess looked through her magic mirror and said random names of viewers she was claiming to see. It was always exciting when she saw me!

And it was very exciting to see so many industry relations at this week’s The Future of Dairy Forum in Rosemont, IL, presented by The Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy, which was founded by U.S. dairy farmers.

I saw Julie and Phil and Eva and Alan and Miriam and Bill and Shirish and Geri and Dave and Barb and oh, so many of you, it was great! For those of you who could not attend this forum where brand new research was presented that encourages “collaboration for innovation,” please watch this short VIDEO that summarizes the findings. 

The research explains that tomorrow’s consumer market represents billions of dollars of unrealized potential for dairy products—from milk to cheese to ice cream. To identify and activate growth opportunities for the dairy industry, the Innovation Center convened a task force to assess emerging trends, driving forces and demographic shifts that could impact dairy sales by the time we reach 2020.

Sounds far away? Well, it’s just about seven years from now. It’s been almost 13 years since Y2K, which seems like just yesterday. In other words, 2020 is right around the corner and you better be prepared to be a player in the consumer product goods segment.

The task force determined that the U.S. dairy industry can no longer count on significant increases in gross domestic product and population expansion to drive domestic growth. Because today’s consumers are processing information very differently from the turn-of-the-century and it’s very likely this will continue to evolve, the dairy industry must evolve, too. Who knows, maybe the iPad will be obsolete in seven years. Let’s face it; we are not going back in time. Rotary phones and typewriters will not return…but again, the same was said for turntables, and rumor has it that vinyl records are being produced once again.

Regardless, we must take the attitude of: See the Future of Dairy and Seize It.

According to the Innovation Center, by 2020, consumers will demand more from everything. If your products don’t deliver, driving significant business growth will be harder than ever. The Future of Dairy initiative will help you get smart about how to capitalize on emerging trends and driving forces to provide consumer-relevant offerings using dairy and dairy ingredients that will help grow your business. We must collaborate to innovate and partnering with the Innovation Center is your first step.

To read the entire Future of Dairy executive summary, click HERE and then scroll down. On this website you can also register to become a partner. This will give you access to insights to unlock further growth, both in the near future and further out.   

Here’s a quick overview of the Future of Dairy initiative. The research suggests that there are four overarching macro “states” influencing purchasing behavior, and dairy products can deliver in all four areas. These macro states are:
  1. Wellness
  2. Gratification/Enjoyment
  3. Convenience/Freedom
  4. Safety/Peace of Mind
Each of these macro states can be further dimensionalized according to specific needs within. And based on the rigorous assessment of these macro trends, coupled with the evolution of consumer needs and the current state of development of key dairy categories, the Innovation Center has identified 20 whitespace opportunity areas that product developers should focus their innovation efforts.
The Future of Dairy initiative equips dairy companies with a roadmap to navigate an increasingly complex marketplace environment and drive industry innovation to grow sales.
So, let’s fast forward to the future. Think about yourself and your individual and family needs. Hard to fathom, but my first born will be a senior in college and my baby a freshman. My husband and I might be empty nesters. We no longer will go through five gallons of milk a week! My metabolism will likely have slowed, which will have me seeking out nutrient-dense products that satiate and maintain lean body mass (and still taste delicious). Products that make any promise of decelerating aging will become our new household staples.
It’s predicted that by 2020, 33% of the population will be older than 55 years (not me yet!) and 50% more people will be managing diabetes. New product offerings must meet the dietary needs of aging boomers and those managing chronic conditions. They also must meet the needs of today’s youth, a generation who thinks energy comes from a 2-ounce bottle and dinner can be held in one hand while the other is playing Crazy Birds.
When I look through my magic mirror in seven years, I hope to see you and your company thriving.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Collaborate to Innovate

I challenge you to answer the question: Do you work in the dairy industry because it’s a job or do you believe it is your job to work in the dairy industry? It is my belief it will be those in the latter group, those folks with the passion and dedication to dairy that will help grow the industry.

Earlier this week, many dairy industry innovators—those folks in the latter group--explored the halls of Chicago’s McCormick Place to discover the latest and greatest in dairy packaging and processing at Pack Expo. At nearly the same time, chief executives from many of the companies who sent their innovators to Pack Expo met in Orlando during the 2012 National Dairy Promotion and Research Board (NDB)/National Milk Producers Federation/United Dairy Industry Association (UDIA) Joint Annual Meeting.

A panel of industry leaders agreed that it is time for the entire industry to reevaluate and reinvent how it invests in fluid milk. I say we must collaborate to innovate.

During Gary Hirshberg’s early years as president and CEO of Stonyfield Farm, he was a media maniac. He would talk to anyone, anywhere willing to listen to his passion for organic dairy. He openly shared his vision for growing the dairy business, even with the competition. His passion for better-for-you yogurt was contagious and I truly believe that Stonyfield is responsible for making yogurt a household name. Thank you Gary!

More Garys will do the industry good!

Comments from the meeting

According to Barbara O’Brien, president of the checkoff-funded Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy, fluid milk “is now at a crossroads” following four decades of declining sales. But she believes there are solutions. “But we need the will and commitment (of the industry) to carry them out,” she said at the annual meeting.

In September, the board of directors of Dairy Management Inc. (DMI), which manages the national dairy checkoff, approved six proposals with individual fluid milk processors to accelerate product innovation, extend milk’s availability in new channels, and secure additional resources to market fluid milk.

The total checkoff investment is $9 million to date; the combined investment by processors is $80 million.

Mike McCloskey, CEO of Select Milk Producers, pointed to several reasons for declining sales, including a lack of innovation throughout the value chain, competition from other beverages and antiquated plants that result in distribution and packaging challenges. “We can do more things to affect the desirability of milk,” McCloskey said. (Check out was some processors are doing HERE.)

Jim Wegner, president and CEO of Darigold Inc., said an aging U.S. population also is a factor, adding that 57 million people are 30 or older. “We must re-invent milk,” he said, adding innovations such as Greek yogurt and products featuring probiotics and low carbohydrates are solutions that meet the demand of today’s young consumer base.

John Kaneb, chairman of HP Hood LLC, said a natural division between producers and processors has slowed progress during the years.

Let’s stop this nonsense and collaborate to innovate. If you’re in the dairy industry because it’s a job, find another and make room for someone who cares. Us old timers have the passion and are working to keep dairy shining.

“As (DMI CEO) Tom Gallagher said (in an industry white paper), we need to take a ‘trustee approach’ to grow fluid milk sales,” Kaneb said. “We must not (maintain) a rigid system that smothers innovation. We must work to give oxygen to (the development of) new products. Milk should be the leader (in the beverage category).”

DMI has created an Innovation Fund Task Force to explore the fundamental factors inhibiting fluid milk sales, including barriers and lack of innovation, among others. DMI will work with industry leaders to identify potential pilot programs to rejuvenate gallon and half-gallon milk sales through product formulation, packaging, placement and branded marketing/promotion at retail. (Hmm, if you had been at Pack Expo this week, you would have seen that many packaging companies are ready and willing to collaborate in these efforts. Many folks want to work for dairy.)

Collaboration at work

The dairy checkoff gives producers a voice in the marketing chain after milk leaves their farms, and that helps grow sales, according to Gallagher. While brands are focused on market share, producers need growth in all dairy product categories.

Gallagher said the checkoff is engaged in image-building efforts that are designed to reach consumers who he considers to be “more complex to market to than ever before.”

“For years, it was taste and price,” Gallagher said. “Consumers make purchase decisions very differently today. For them, it’s also value, nutrition, convenience, on-the-go and sustainability.”

Now more than ever, he said, consumer trust is the foundation of sales. For example, consumers want to know that their food is safe, and that producers are good stewards of the land, and treat their animals well. “If something goes wrong, and trust in these matters is shaken, consumers want to know that policies and procedures are in place to prevent animal abuse and ensure a safe milk supply,” he said.

Gallagher said transparency is mandatory with consumers today. While consumers previously trusted government and businesses, all that has changed. “Trust barometers tell us that people trust those who seem most like themselves,” Gallagher said. “In our case, they trust the people behind the product--dairy farmers and their families. In other words, they want to hear from producers.” They want to feel the passion.

Among the checkoff’s priorities, Gallagher said, is to work with partners such as McDonald’s, Domino’s and Quaker, and encourage them “to do something they wouldn’t do otherwise, or to do it faster, to meet consumer demand and grow sales for everybody.”

California producer Steve Maddox, NDB chairman said the checkoff’s partnership with McDonald’s directly contributed to an additional 1.7 billion pounds of milk sold between 2009 and 2011. Producers can expect continued growth in McDonald’s dairy sales, he said, pointing to menu development efforts driven by checkoff employees who work at McDonald’s headquarters.

Beyond McDonald’s, the checkoff’s partnerships with Domino’s and other pizza companies and suppliers have moved more than 6 billion pounds of milk since 2009, according to USDA. Pizza innovation continues with the recent introduction of Domino’s Handmade Pan Pizza, which uses up to 40% more cheese than the chain’s two-topping, hand-tossed pizzas.

A new partnership with Quaker will explore other opportunities. Quaker has committed to building consumer awareness of preparing oatmeal with milk instead of water. Gallagher said nine billion servings of oatmeal are prepared annually but less than 30% of those are made with milk. (The difference also happens to be delicious.)

“Our checkoff program cannot do it alone,” said Paul Rovey, Arizona dairy producer and chair of DMI. “We need the added muscle and backing of powerful partners through an industry-wide approach.”

Local checkoff organizations are critical to protecting and promoting dairy’s image. Image efforts are focused on having more conversations--especially through social media channels--with consumers who are generations removed from food production. These consumers are interested in learning more about the work that occurs on dairy farms. Research shows they will be more loyal to products whose values--real or perceived--mirror their own.

Dairy’s story is one that “consumers tell us they want to hear,” said Bill Siebenborn, Missouri producer and UDIA chair. “It’s a story about our commitment to provide safe, nutritious foods to feed our country and the world. It’s a story about our dedication to environmental stewardship and caring for our animals. It’s about our involvement and leadership in local communities across this nation.”

The dairy checkoff is working with its partners to help connect producers to consumers. “It’s about sharing a story, and listening to their questions. It’s about building relationships,” he said. “Connecting to consumers is as important to your sales, your growth, and your freedom to operate as any other work we do. And only you can do it,” he said.

Do you have the passion that it takes?