Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Asian Pacific Dairy Foods Industry

The dairy industry in Asia Pacific is expected to outpace mature markets like the U.S. and Western Europe in the very near future. This is the result of Asian consumers’ increasing awareness of the health benefits associated with dairy foods, with yogurt and fermented dairy products leading the way.
Research shows that consumption of dairy products has rapidly increased in the Asia Pacific region, making it the fastest-growing region for dairy product consumption during the past thirty years, according to the organizers of the Dairy Asia Pacific Summit 2014, which will commence in Singapore on November 20.

This two-day summit will draw together distinguished experts as well as dairy industry leaders for a thorough analysis of product innovation, regulatory, industry integration, safety controls, supply chain management and traceability, as well as farm management and sustainability within the dairy industry in the Asia Pacific region. It will function as a useful opportunity for attendees to share their valuable experiences and opinions of the many unique challenges and opportunities within Asia Pacific’s dairy industry.
For more information, link HERE. Hope to see you there!

China is Developing a Taste for Dairy

China will be the largest dairy market in the world by 2018, despite dairy not being part of the traditional Chinese diet, according to a new report from Canadean entitled “Consumer Trends Analysis: Understanding Consumer Trends and Drivers of Behavior in China’s Dairy Food Market.”

This growth comes as western influence makes its impact and the aging Chinese population grows more concerned about bone health. Although dairy is not part of the traditional diet in China, more Chinese are exposed to fast-food outlets, travel and experience of global cuisines and media coverage of western tastes. This leads to more Chinese consuming dairy, such as milk and cereals for breakfast or cheese in pizza and on burgers. As lactose intolerance is widespread in Asia, Canadean predicts that lactose-free and low-lactose products will be particularly popular in China. Yogurt and fermented dairy foods are inherently no to low sources of lactose.

Despite China being on its way to becoming the largest dairy food market in terms of volume, the average Chinese consumer enjoys only 209 dairy products per year. In contrast, the average UK consumer eats and drinks 1,040 dairy items, which indicates room for high growth in China. Canadean sees a big potential in consumers aged 55 and older. Those consumers are increasingly mindful of their health and are starting to turn to dairy with higher protein or calcium content to prevent gut and bone diseases. However, the health benefits of dairy are still widely unknown in China. Veronika Zhupanova, analyst at Canadean, says, “Knowledge of osteoporosis is limited, which means brands need to educate consumers about dairy’s role in aiding bone health via packaging, advertising and awareness campaigns.”

The Chinese dairy market is developing rapidly. Imported products from certain areas are benefiting from a higher level of trust. Chinese consumers view them as enforcing more stringent product safety regulations than domestic producers, but manufacturers should not only bet on their reliable image. Zhupanova adds, “In the near future, foreign manufacturers need to adjust their strategies to target the unique features of the Chinese market. For instance, a significant proportion of Chinese households still does not have a refrigerator, which is driving the importance of ultra-pasteurized dairy products.”  For more information on the report, link HERE.

Appeal of Yogurt on the Rise

Global research by DSM Food Specialties identifies a growing demand for yogurt as health-conscious consumers make it a regular habit. A recent survey reveals that during the past three years, more than half of respondents increased their yogurt consumption. The increased appetite is led by markets such as China, Brazil and Turkey where 67%, 61% and 60%, respectively, of the respondents indicated that they are eating more yogurt than three years ago. Two out of three consumers say they are doing so because they are more conscious of their health.

The survey, which was completed by more than 6,200 consumers in U.S., China, Brazil, Turkey, France and Poland, showed that around the world an increased focus on a healthy lifestyle is the major driving force behind the rise in yogurt sales. Especially in Turkey (86%) and China (82%), respondents listed health as the main reason for their increased consumption, above other options such as “the availability of more varieties,” “yogurt is better than before” and “dietary reasons.”

Health concerns, such as bone health and gastrointestinal health, were clearly identified as key reasons for eating yogurt. Women in particular (55%) are more conscious of bone health compared to men (47%).

The survey also identified regional differences. While Chinese consumers indicate that gastrointestinal health is the key influencer (76%), Turkish and French respondents cited bone health as their main concern (72% and 59%).

Consumers are well aware of the vitamins and minerals that naturally occur in yogurt and link it clearly to the health benefits they demand. Besides calcium, consumers are also looking for proteins and probiotics. In particular, Chinese consumers are looking for probiotics in yogurt (83%), as health claims have started to impact perceptions on gut health in the region. For dairy producers, the natural health aspects of yogurt carry some distinct advantages, however, consumers are also willing to pay extra for enriched yogurt, especially in China.

Innovations Debuting in China

To get an idea of recent innovative food products rolling out in the Chinese marketplace, take a look at the list of winners from the SIAL China Innovation 2014 competition, which took place during SIAL China this past May. There were 63 selected innovative products from 48 companies from 20 different countries. There were numerous dairy foods. To view the list, link HERE.

For more information on SIAL China 2014, link HERE.

One company stands out on this list. It is China-based Inner Mongolia Yili Industrial Group Co., Ltd. (Yili), which also happened to be the only Asian dairy enterprise to rank among the world’s top-10 in 2014, according to Rabobank, the Dutch multinational banking and financial services company. For more on Rabobank’s 2014 Global Dairy Top 20 Report issued on July 9, link HERE.

This is the best achievement by a Chinese dairy producer in the report’s history and is the highest ranking attained by an Asian dairy manufacturer. Rabobank analyst Tim Hunt regards Yili’s entry into the top 10 as a landmark event showcasing the fast development of Asian dairy. This achievement can be partly ascribed to the huge market demand by China’s economic development; robust expectations for growth across the dairy sector allows producers in emerging markets to accumulate enough capital, develop the motivation to participate, become an influencer and even improve the industrial chain globally, giving them the final say in resource allocation. Another influential factor is the public’s rediscovery of the power of Chinese businesses as international consumers re-assess made-in-China products and services, and move them into their list of “want to have” items. Gradually these products and services are evolving into an indispensable part of day-to-day life.

The jump in ranking has another implication for Yili; the producer’s role as a sponsor of the Olympic Games 10 years ago caused Yili to radically raise the bar in terms of its own expectations for both quality and brand awareness, as well as to undertake a full-scale restructuring of the enterprise. From milk source management to upgrading of products, from quality control systems to innovative research and development, from a globalized presence to localized market penetration, from the high level of demand in the world’s fastest growing market to the aura of the Olympic Games, all of these factors and events have combined into an overwhelming level of strength, allowing Yili to win in the competitive international dairy market as well as provide an admission ticket to its standing among the dairy industry’s global top 10. Finally, Yili entered the ranks of the world’s top-10 dairy manufacturers for the first time this year, two years ahead of Yili’s own expectations.

Yili started to create an overseas footprint last year by investing in a milk powder project in New Zealand and by entering into a strategic cooperation with the U.S.’s largest milk cooperative, Dairy Farmers of America, and the Italian dairy produce firm, Sterilgarda Alimenti S.p.A. At the beginning of this year, Yili expanded its research and development efforts abroad by establishing a European R&D Center with Wageningen University, a top-level university in the Netherlands. The two parties have also entered into a strategic agreement to set up the first Sino-Dutch food safety guarantee system. Industry insiders deem these overseas moves as having comprehensively improved Yili’s control over the industrial chain and its own brand influence globally, further helping it become a dairy giant worldwide. These moves all factor into how Yili successfully jumped into the world’s top 10.

Some recent innovations from Yili include Yili Mei Yi Tian, a fruit juice-flavored cultured milk drink enriched with probiotic cultures and dietary fiber. It is intended for digestion and intestinal health.

For young consumers, there’s Yili QQ King Yogurt, an all-natural functional dairy drink for children between 3 and 8 years old.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Clean Label Series: Opportunities in Dairy Desserts

The beauty of anything dairy is its natural, healthful halo, which is why dairy foods formulators are smart to keep labels clean when getting creative. You don’t want some chemically sounding ingredient or an artificial additive to tarnish an ingredient legend.

The category of dairy desserts is one that is very underdeveloped in the U.S. Elsewhere in the world, refrigerated dairy desserts are a booming business that continues to grow in both the pre-packaged refrigerated case and at the bakery/confection counter of mainstream supermarkets.

In the States, pre-packaged products have limited shelf space and fresh products are limited to select finer, specialty food retailers. In some scenarios, retailers with limited experience with refrigerated dairy desserts are not even sure where to merchandise them.

For example, while in Michigan this week, I did what I always do when out of town, I explored the grocery story. Lo and behold, Stonyfield’s new Petite Crème line was at Meijer…in the yogurt section! Petite Crème is not yogurt. It is a thick, yet silky low-fat, high-protein fresh cheese, as it is made with cheese cultures. It is best compared to crème fraîche.

I guess it’s the seven flavors--Belle Blueberry, La Vie en Strawberry, Mon Cherry Amour, Ooh LaLa Peach, Plain, Strawberry-Banana Menage and Vive La Vanilla—that resemble yogurt flavors that have retailers merchandising it in that part of the refrigerated dairy case.

Back at home, I went to Mariano’s yesterday. I found Kemp’s Greek Mousse near the refrigerated puddings…but its Greek Cottage Cheese was there, too. That should have been with the other cottage cheese products.

So here’s what we need to do in the States: develop more dairy desserts so that retailers can create a space for them in order to better grab consumers’ attention. There is so much opportunity for innovation, especially as the millennial consumer seeks out impulse, indulgent products made locally with premium ingredients. Remember, keep labels clean and simple. I encourage use of clear packaging so that consumers can view what’s inside. Clean and clear go very well together.

Land O’Lakes, which in recent years acquired Kozy Shack, is working to build the brand and its purity. With taglines like “Real food. Real good. Simple ingredients in every spoonful,” “Count to six. That’s the number of ingredients in our rice pudding” and “Made with ingredients you know,” Kozy Shack is all about promoting milk’s goodness.

From the company’s website, I learned Kozy Shack is as young as me. Just like fine wine, we both will continue to improve with age. The company recently redesigned its flan packaging to give it a more updated look. The package invites consumers to indulge in this traditional, creamy custard topped with caramel sauce. It’s gluten free and made with natural ingredients. It’s also a good source of calcium. Nutritional value is always a perk in dessert, which is part of the beauty of dairy desserts.

Let’s look at some dairy dessert concepts from around the world.

In Australia, the Cole’s supermarket chain offers private-label pouring vanilla custard. It comes in different sizes, but in the same packaging—gable-top and blow-mold plastic—as its fresh milk.

Drinkable custards are quite common in Europe. Arla Foods’ Melkunie brand of drinkable custard recently welcomed a waffle syrup variant that contains inclusions designed to mimic waffle bits.

Custard also comes in cups...and with fruit. Pauls Custard & Fruit Snack Packs are made with fresh full cream milk and real fruit. Varieties include Strawberry, Exotic Fruit Salad and Apple & Rhubarb.

Here’s a different spin to rice pudding. It’s made with semolina (wheat). In France, the Le P’tit Gallo brand markets organic 4 Semoules Au Lait à la Vanille dairy dessert.

For more than 40 years, Danone has been marketing in select European markets a line of puddings with loosely-light icing under the Dany label. More recently, there’s the Dany Sahne line, which is a layered dessert consisting of two flavors of pudding. The first offering was Chocolate Vanilla in 2012. Soon after, Chocolate Hazelnut and White Chocolate Hazelnut were rolled out. Most recently joining the Dany Sahne family is Dany Sahne ToffeeKuss. It is pudding topped with two soft-melting toffee Islands.
ToffeeKuss come in Chocolate Toffee and Vanilla Toffee flavors.

Zott’s Monte brand debuted in April 1996 and at the time was described as a completely new kind of dessert. It still is quite unique. Under development for more than two years, Monte is a combination of fresh milk-cream, chocolate and hazelnuts. This past year the brand expanded with a new concept and additional flavors.

The new concept is Monte Plus. The plus is extra indulgence. The product starts with the original Monte combination and adds a layer of sauce. There are three varieties: Cappuccino, Caramel and Chocolate.

The company is growing its dual compartment concept. Monte Butter Biscuits and Monte Cappuccino Balls joins Monte Crunchy and Monte Cherry.

The Cadbury brand is growing its presence in the refrigerated dairy case. The Bubbles of Joy mousse line is serving up a limited-edition orange chocolate variety.

For something more entertaining, there’s Marvelous Mix-Ups, which is Cadbury dairy milk chocolate dessert with fruity jelly popping candy inclusions.

The opportunities are infinite in the dairy dessert category. Remember, keep formulations clean and simple.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Cheese Trends: Portion Packs for Back-to-School…and Beyond

Though most of the U.S. is still waiting for the summer heat up (Chicago’s Lake Michigan just reached 50F this week), retailers are already marketing back packs, pencils and uniforms for back to school. Foods for lunchboxes and after school activities will soon be specially merchandised in supermarkets. Make sure your cheese snacks are part of the excitement.

Cheese Snacks in Schools
On July 1, 2014, USDA’s Smart Snacks in School nutrition standards went into effect. Published last year, these are science-based mandatory guidelines for all foods and beverages sold to students during the school day. U.S. cheese marketers should be working closely with school foodservice providers to ensure that cheese snacks--mainly string mozzarella cheese, but others are possible—qualify as a “smart snack” and will be sold in vending machines, school stores, snack carts and a la carte lines come this September.

For more information on Smart Snacks in School, link HERE.

You can determine if your snack is a Smart Snack using the Alliance for a Healthier Generation Smart Snacks Product Calculator. This calculator has been determined by the USDA, Food and Nutrition Service to be accurate in assessing product compliance with the federal requirements for Smart Snacks in Schools. The calculator can be used on all food and beverages. You can access it HERE.

If you market beverages to schools, you may want to read “Lighter back-to-school beverages,” to learn about the new calorie restrictions. The article focuses on innovative sweetening solutions to keep calorie counts compliant with the new regulations. You can access the article HERE.

Snacking TrendsIn addition to selling cheese snacks in schools and packaging them for lunchboxes, single-serve portion packs of cheese make great sense for parents to keep on hand at home—for kids and adults. After all, snacking is now about half of all eating occasions, according to findings in the report “Modern Eating: Cultural Roots, Daily Behaviors” from The Hartman Group Inc.”

Rather than a treat or bridge between meals, snacking has become a routine part of daily eating habits. Consumers want their snacking to be as healthy as their meals, and cheese, a source of quality protein and natural calcium, makes for the perfect snacking food. Interestingly, according to the report, early morning snacking is an emerging opportunity space for food and beverage companies, retailers and restaurants. Cheese has long complemented this day part…on a bagel, with eggs or all by itself.

According to The Hartman Group, consumer eating behavior continues to change and evolve in relation to shifts in lifestyle dictated by any combination of factors: demands of work, commuting to and from work, raising families, social interaction, holidays, kids’ after-school and weekend activities. Given these factors, traditional views of mealtime can pretty much be thrown out the window. The imprint of these dynamic cultural changes is the blurring of the boundaries between “snack” and “meal,” with snacks being less of a break from healthy eating and more a continuation of it.

This report explores the cultural and psychological drivers lying beneath the emerging new eating landscape and dives deep into three occasions having the most impact in the food industry. They are:
  • Immediate Consumption represents 15% of eating occasions, and they’re not just on-the-go snacks.  About two-thirds (65%) of immediate consumption occasions that are not going to restaurants take place at home.
  • Alone Eating is not simply a result of more people living alone; it’s about how they’re living. About half (47%) of eating occasions are now alone. Eating alone is no longer about being lonely; it’s just a different way to experience food: 43% enjoy eating alone as a way to catch up on other activities.
  • Snacking represents 50% of eating occasions, with 80% taking place at home. Snacks are bound by fewer rules than meals. However, as consumers expect them to do more for them than ever—in terms of the physical, emotional, social and cultural experiences they offer—the lines between meals and snack are blurring. Cheese is a perfect snack.

The report notes what consumers want more of is fairly basic:
  • Less processed food
  • In smaller-sized packages
  • That can be eaten on the go
These attributes help address their needs in the three major eating categories. Cheese can be all three.

Cheese Trends
Today’s consumers, children and adults alike, are more willing than ever before to explore new flavors and forms of common foods. This includes cheese.

According to Cheese: Natural and Specialty Cheese in the U.S. and Global Markets, 5th Edition, a recent report by market research publisher Packaged Facts, retail dollar sales in the $16 billion natural and specialty cheese market are forecast to grow by a compound annual growth rate of 4% during 2014 to 2018.

“The broadening of the American palette beyond traditional favorites--cheddar and mozzarella--is driving growth of higher priced specialty and ethnic cheeses,” says Packaged Facts Research Director David Sprinkle. “Consumers are generally looking for products that are more indulgent, with new tastes and experiences, or healthier, more nutritious indulgences that still taste good.”

On the indulgent side, flavors of some newly launched cheeses continue to be more robust, with smoky, peppery and gourmet varieties most prevalent. On the health side, marketers have continued to promote cheese as fundamentally nutritious and good tasting, despite its high fat content. Sodium as well as fat content are challenges to growth, and marketers have been addressing consumer health and diet concerns with better-tasting reduced salt and fat cheeses, and cheeses made from healthier milk. Various recent healthier, better-for-you cheese launches address other needs and desires such as low lactose/lactose free and organic ingredients.

Cheese sales have also benefitted from the snacking trend. Marketers are introducing products that cater to hectic, busy consumers looking for convenience in the form of products that are easy to use and store while also good for on-the-go consumption. These and other products also address the needs of the growing single or dual household segment that wants smaller sizes that are easier and more affordable to purchase and consume. Meanwhile, moms perhaps are the real heroes when purchasing cheese products, as they drive sales of snack-friendly forms such as string/stick cheese given to their kids. For more information on this report, link HERE.

The Specialty Cheese CategoryBefore we explore some recently introduced innovative snacking cheeses, accolades go to Wisconsin cheesemakers who produced 640 million pounds of specialty cheese in 2013, an increase of 29 million pounds over 2012, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service, USDA. Specialty cheese now accounts for 22% of Wisconsin’s total cheese production. Of the state’s 126 cheese plants, 93 manufactured at least one type of specialty cheese during 2013. Feta continued its steady increase, accounting for the largest share of specialty cheese production at 13% of the total.  Other growing varieties include Hispanic types, gorgonzola, asiago, specialty cheddar and specialty colby. All of these can be made into single-serve portion packs for easier snacking.

“The specialty growth is an indicator of the state’s historic commitment to quality and diversity in the cheese industry,” says James Robson, CEO, Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board. “Specialty cheeses continue to be responsible for the growth in the total cheese category over recent years, and Wisconsin’s artisan and specialty types have received a growing number of awards in domestic and international competitions, a tribute to the excellence of our state’s cheesemakers.”

Specialty cheese is defined as a value-added product that commands a premium price. The Wisconsin Specialty Cheese Institute also describes specialty products as having one or more unique qualities, which include exotic origin, particular processing or design, limited supply, unusual application or use and extraordinary packaging or channel of sale. Wisconsin is the No. 1 producer of specialty cheese in the U.S., crafting 46% of the nation’s total specialty cheese. For more information about Wisconsin Cheese, link HERE.

Seven Recent Innovations from Wisconsin

One of the most innovative new cheeses to hit the marketplace comes from Sun Prairie, Wisconsin. Cow Candy was created by cheese industry veteran Danyel O’Connor. Inspired by her son, nieces and nephews, she wanted to introduce cheese snacks to kids in a playful and delicious way. The result is a colorful snack offered in whimsical candy flavors without all of the sugar.

Made with all-natural Wisconsin cheese, Cow Candy tempts little taste buds with the fruity flavors of Fruit Punch, Grape, Green Apple, Orange and Strawberry. It’s a fun snacking option for kids of all ages. Each 0.75-ounce stick contains 75 calories and 5 grams of protein. They are available in 8-, 10- and 12-count retail packs and 16-count club store packs.

BelGioioso now offers Fresh Mozzarella Snacking Cheese in convenient 1-ounce packs containing three 0.33-ounce mozzarella balls sealed without water in an easy-open thermoform package adorned with a smile. The brand’s tagline is “A Smile with Every Bite.” The 1-ounce bags are sold in 6- and 16-count packs. Each 1-ounce bag contains 70 calories.

Schreiber Foods expands its American Heritage brand to now offer consumers a handy fridge pack containing 24 1-ounce string cheese for easy snacking. The packs tout the fact that a single string contains 7 grams of protein.

Burnett Dairy Cooperative’s new Everyday Artisan collection includes natural string cheese in Plain, Homestyle Ranch and Smoked varieties.

Omega Valley Farmers, a group of family-run dairy farms following a strict certification feeding program that results in milk naturally higher in omega-3 fatty acids, has Nasonville Dairy turn that milk into omega-3 rich cheese. The farmers feed their cows a natural, land-based palatable combination of linseed and legumes mixed under controlled temperatures. This results in cheese where a 1-ounce serving contains 415 milligrams of omega-3 fatty acids and 7 grams of protein. 

Cheese varieties are: Buffalo Jack, Chipotle Jack, Colby Jack, Garlic Herb Jack, Horseradish Chive Jack, Jalapeno Pepper Jack, Monterey Jack, Tomato Basil Jack, White Cheddar and Yellow Cheddar.

All varieties are available in 7-ounce chunks, with select flavors now offered in single-serve portion packs. Both 1.75- and 2-ounce portions debuted in late 2013. The company is currently rolling out convenient 24-packs of 1-ounce portions in shelf-ready merchandising boxes.

Old Fashioned Foods is getting in the snacking cheese business. At FMI Connect in June, the company showcased a line of pasteurized process cheese snack sticks in a range of flavors, including BBQ, Brewhaus Beer, Cheddar, Garden Veggie, Habanero, Jalapeno and Pepper Jack. The 0.8-ounce sticks are sold in packs of three.

This final product line is not necessarily single-serving portions, but each cheese could easily be consumed by an individual with the right bottle of wine and bread or crackers. New Sargento Tastings are specialty snack chunk cheeses that come in 3.25- to 3.95-ounce packs.

“Specialty cheeses are now accessible and conveniently located in the dairy aisle,” says Chris McCarthy, director of marketing for the Sargento Consumer Products Division. “With Sargento Tastings, everyone can explore a variety of specialty cheeses from a name they know and trust. They are perfect for a casual get-together or a satisfying solo snack.”

Sargento Tastings are cut from real block cheese and come in eight varieties to satisfy everybody’s palate, every day. Some of the cheeses are familiar, while others are completely new. They are: Aged Wisconsin Cheddar, Aged Vermont White Cheddar, Bruschetta Jack, Creamy Havarti, Fiesta Pepper Jack, Medium Asiago, New Zealander and Parmentino.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Beverages Innovations…for the Lazy Days of Summer

Non-carbonated beverages, such as ready-to-drink (RTD) iced tea, flavored water and juice, provide fluid milk processors incremental sales. These beverages can be processed and packaged on the same equipment as fluid milk and distributed and merchandised alongside the white and brown stuff.

As with all food and beverage categories, innovation is paramount. Today’s blog reviews some recently introduced beverages as well as beverage formulating trends.
I recently wrote a number of trending articles for Food Business News on formulating beverages.

To learn more about protein-fortified beverages, there’s “Raise your glass to protein,” which can be accessed HERE.

If you are Interested in coloring beverages, you may want to read “A clean-label approach to coloring beverages,” which can be accessed HERE.;109824580;t

If you market beverages to schools, you may want to read “Lighter back-to-school beverages,” to learn about the new calorie restrictions that went into effect July 1 in the U.S. public school system. The article focuses on innovative sweetening solutions to keep calorie counts compliant with the new regulations. You can access the article HERE.

The regulations dictate what foods and beverages can be sold in elementary and high school across the country. They apply to products sold in vending machines, school stores, snack carts and a la carte lines. All schools may sell plain water (with or without carbonation), unflavored low-fat milk, unflavored or flavored fat-free milk and milk alternatives (as permitted by the national school breakfast and lunch programs), 100% fruit or vegetable juice and 100% fruit or vegetable juice diluted with water (with or without carbonation) and no added sweeteners.

Photo source: Aramark

There are no sugar or calorie restrictions on these products; however, portion size is regulated. Elementary schools may sell up to 8-ounce portions, while middle schools and high schools may sell up to 12-ounce portions of milk and juice. There is no portion size limit for plain water.

Beyond this, the standards allow additional “no-calorie” and “lower-calorie” beverage options for high school students. This is where sugar reduction ingredient technology comes into play, as the only way to reduce calories in sweet flavored beverages is to replace sugar and other nutritive sweeteners with high-intensity sweeteners, which can be nutritive or not. There are also no restrictions on type of sweetener, so both those considered artificial and natural are fair game.

For more formulating information, link HERE.

On the retail side of the beverage business, formulators are exploring reduced-sugar formulations, as well as innovative flavors and product positioning.

For example, Target Corp., markets private-label RTD tea under its recently relaunched Simply Balanced brand. Sold in 16-ounce shelf-stable bottles, calories and sugar contents are kept low through the sweetening power of stevia extract combined with real sugar. An 8-ounce serving contains 25 calories and 6 grams of sugar. Flavors include: Hibiscus Green Tea, Lemon Back Tea and Orange Blossom White Tea.

There’s also a line of Simply Balanced flavored waters in flavors such as Black Cherry, Blood Orange, Coconut Pineapple, Peach Lemonade and Strawberry Watermelon. These rely on the same sweetener combination, along with all-natural sweetness from some added fruit juice. An 8-ounce serving contains a mere 10 calories.

For more information on Target’s Simply Balanced initiative, link HERE. This private-label brand follows strict formulating guidelines, maintaining a list of unacceptable ingredients, much like Whole Foods Market.

Ito En also combines sugar with stevia extract and real fruit juice to keep calories at 50 per 8-ounce serving of its Tea’s Tea Plus line. These RTD green tea-based beverages come in plastic 16.9-ounce bottles in six different flavor profiles: Acerola Cherry, Coconut, Grape, Green Apple, Lemonade and Peach.

 The company recently introduced a limited-edition specialty RTD shincha: Ito En Oi Ocha. Craft brewers have their young summer ales. France has its Beaujolais Nouveau. For centuries, Japan has had its shincha: the year’s very first harvest of green tea, celebrated for its fresh and lively flavor, naturally sweet finish and smooth umami character.

Accessible for only a few months, the much anticipated first harvest is being introduced to Americans for the very first time in convenient RTD bottles, capturing the season’s most refined flavors.

In Japanese, “shin” means new and “cha” means tea. Shincha’s singular character derives from its harvest starting in early April, when young green tea leaves contain naturally higher concentrations of nutrients and vibrant flavors, the result of wintertime dormancy. Fresh shincha leaves are distinct from latter-harvested green teas, with a subtle sweetness attributed to a higher content of the amino acid L-theanine and a lower caffeine content. The rich and vividly green tea leaves are not only fragrant and fresh in taste, but higher in vitamin C and catechin antioxidants than regular green tea.

“Americans’ evolved palates are appreciating the flavor nuances among green teas, making this the optimal time to introduce shincha in a modern and convenient way,” according to Rona Tison, senior vice president of corporate relations of Ito En (North America) Inc. “Authentically brewed and bottled to preserve the young green tea’s essence, Oi Ocha’s Shincha is an experience like no other.”

Available in limited quantities, the RTD tea comes in sold in 16.9-ounce recyclable bottles at select retailers and at via the company’s website.

Turkey Hill Dairy continues to grow its RTD single-serve tea line with Turkey Hill Organic Tea. The four iced tea flavors—Mint Organic Green Tea, Organic Green Tea, Peach Organic Black Tea and Organic Sweet Tea--are free of synthetic additives and dyes and processed according to USDA organic standards. The tea leaves used to brew the drinks are certified as grown and processed without artificial fertilizers and pesticides. The flavors are sweetened with organic cane sugar and organic honey.

“Many of our products and flavors have started based on ideas and input from our fans, and this one is no different,” says John Cox, president at Turkey Hill Dairy. “Organic iced tea was a request we’ve heard many times over the years, and we felt the time was right for our first organic product.”

Turkey Hill Organic Teas are available in 16-ounce bottles and distributed throughout central Pennsylvania and northeastern Pennsylvania.

Real Brands Inc., owner of the worldwide license for HillBilly Brand non-alcoholic beverages, beer and malt beverages, recently launched an extensive line of namesake RTD beverages, including a variety of iced teas and lemonades. The bottles feature the same unique camouflage design characteristic of the brand.

“We are very excited about the launch of the HillBilly drink line,” according to Mike Abbaticchio, president and co-founder of HillBilly Brand. “We have created some great-tasting classic country flavors that will appeal to everyone that has a little hillbilly in them.” The “Born Country - Raised Outdoors” positioning of the HillBilly Brand has helped grow the local South Florida clothing line into an internationally licensed brand with a rapidly expanding lineup of consumer products.

HillBilly Brand is a Shark Tank success story. You can read more about this HERE.

The Karoo Red Tea company markets RTD rooibos tea under the Karoo Red Tea brand. Rooibos, commonly known as red tea, is a full-flavored tea grown in South Africa that has been consumed for generations. Through in depth research on the RTD category, Karoo Red Tea Founder and President Tom Bonaventura was astounded by the amount of calories many of his personal favorite beverages contained. In evaluating diet drinks, the artificial sweeteners and chemicals created a deeper concern. Others in the category that professed a “healthy” low-sugar option were equally disappointing for their lack of flavor. As a consequence, Tom’s resolution was to create his own beverage company that could deliver a product that produces taste without compromise.

“I know consumers will love the quality of our original Karoo Red Tea and our blended flavor options as well. Our flavored blends use real fruit with just a touch of organic cane sugar. People will be amazed just how good all natural and nothing artificial can really taste,” says Bonaventura.

The line includes 80-calorie Original and three 90-calorie flavors: Peach-Mango, Plum and Raspberry. The teas come in 14-ounce bottles and are labeled in a very distinct color pattern inspired by its South African roots. The teas are currently in distribution in convenience stores throughout Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and New York.

Third Street, makers of the first Fair Trade Certified chai, are now also in the RTD iced tea and lemonade business. Sold in 14-ounce bottles exclusively at Whole Foods Market, the nine organic, gluten-free, non-GMO and fair trade varieties include unsweetened black and green teas, slightly sweetened black and green teas, peach and raspberry black teas, mint & honey green tea, lemonade and half and half lemonade. The teas are micro-brewed from tea leaves hand-picked from the lush region of Nilgiri, India, according to the company.
Califia Farms kicked off summer with the launch of three refreshing flavors of Aguas Frescas: Kiwi Cactus, Strawberry Basil and Watermelon Ginger Lime. Sold exclusively at Whole Foods Market, and only for the summer months, the beverages are based on a traditional Mexican recipe combining fresh fruits or flowers with sugar and water. Califia’s take on the classic beverage uses less sugar, containing 90 or fewer calories per serving. The Kiwi Cactus Agua Fresca includes antioxidant-rich green tea, highlighting the more traditional aguas flavor notes.

“Whole Foods Market asked us for a new kind of juice for their dairy sets because they knew that Califia’s version of an agua fresca would be something really special,” said Greg Steltenpohl, CEO of Califia Farms. “We’ve consistently broken the status quo and we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to change the game in the grocery industry again with another one-of-a-kind product line. Califia Farms is the leading beverage company when it comes to flavor innovation, so creating a premium version of the Mexican classic was right up our alley.”

All three flavors are Non-GMO Project Verified, an important stamp the bright, festive labels bear proudly. Inspired by Mexican mural art and Día de los Muertos designs, the eye-catching packaging invites Whole Foods Market shoppers across the country to experience the sweet, refreshing drinks inspired by South of the Border, but made with a California twist at Califia’s eco-friendly juice plant in the San Joaquin Valley.

Earlier this year, Califia Farms introduced single-serve citrus juices and beverages. Sold in 10.5-ounce bottles, the line includes: Lemonade, Lemon Limeade, Orange Juice and Tangerine. Locally grown, juiced and bottled in the groves of California, every bottle is packed with the freshest, tastiest and truest flavor of oranges, tangerines lemons and limes, according to the company.

“This California citrus line extension is really exciting for juice fans,” says Steltenpohl. “The juice business has become crowded with lots of me-too products that all look the same, which is why we’re confident that our straight-from-the-farm California Citrus flavors will stand out in the crowd. The convenience of single serve is a sweet spot for the ultra-premium category, and with the only tangerine single serve on the market, these offerings are attracting new consumers to retailers’ and foodservice’s grab-n-go coolers.”

And, finally, if you have not heard, Starbucks is shaking up its beverage portfolio with sodas, smoothies and shaken iced teas. The coffee chain just unveiled its Fizzio line of handcrafted carbonated beverages in select markets. Made without artificial flavors, preservatives or high-fructose corn syrup, each Fizzio soda contains 100 calories or fewer per 16-ounce serving. Flavors include Spiced Root Beer, which blends cinnamon, nutmeg, clove and star anise; Golden Ginger Ale, made with real ginger, citrus and brown sugar; and Lemon Ale, featuring lemon juice with hints of apricot and ginger. With the new carbonation machine, customers may add fizz to other beverages on the menu for an extra fee.

“We have heard from our customers that they’re looking for more refreshing, cold beverages, especially during the warm summer months,” says Cliff Burrows, group president, U.S., Americas and Teavana. “Fizzio Handcrafted Soda is unlike any soda in the marketplace because it’s handcrafted and made-to-order each time. The addition of Fizzio and Teavana Iced Teas gives our customers more refreshing beverage choices made with the premium ingredients they expect from Starbucks.”

From its Teavana brand, Starbucks also is introducing a line of iced teas that are slightly sweetened and vigorously hand shaken with ice 10 times to ensure ingredients are mixed and cooled quickly. Varieties include Blackberry Mojito Tea Lemonade, featuring blackberry, mint, green tea and a splash of lemonade; Iced Peach Green Tea Lemonade, with sweet peach and ginger notes and lemonade; and Iced Black Tea Lemonade, made with a combination of three Teavana black teas and lemonade.
Starbucks also has begun testing in select markets new made-to-order Greek yogurt smoothies under the name Evolution Fresh Cold-Pressed Juice Smoothies Inspired by Dannon. The product line is part of a partnership with Paris-based Danone, which will eventually include items for the grocery channel.

Made with Evolution Fresh cold-pressed juice and Dannon Greek yogurt, the smoothies are available in three varieties: Sweet Greens, a fruit and vegetable-based smoothie with mango and banana; Strawberry, a fruit smoothie with apple and banana; and Mango Carrot, a fruit and vegetable smoothie with pineapple. A 16-ounce smoothie has 170 to 230 calories.