Thursday, March 12, 2015

Dairy Foods at Expo West 2015

Photo source: Tate & Lyle

The 35th annual Natural Products Expo West took place less than a week ago in Anaheim, CA. And what an amazing Expo it was!
Having attended this show annually for the past decade and occasionally the decade before, I can honestly say that this year dairy products had the strongest presence ever. (But so did dairy alternatives...more on this later.)

As the world’s largest natural, organic and healthy products event, Expo serves as a reunion for many of the industry’s original players. I was not there in the beginning, but I do remember the early days…like the one “clothing optional, fig leave acceptable” year.

Not sure what year was my first, but I do remember there were only three dairies with booths larger than a tabletop. They were Stonyfield Farm, where Gary worked the booth in jeans and Birkenstocks; Organic Valley, which was then still referred to as CROPP, where George, in his predictable jeans and flannel shirt, was advocating for national organic standards; and Horizon, still owned by its founding fathers, Mark and Paul, was the newbie in the trio, and had grand plans in place to make organic milk available nationally.[timestamp]

Congrats to all three and the many, many more dairy companies selling everything from cheese to ice cream to kefir to yogurt. You all shined at this year’s Expo.

This past week, the Daily Dose of Dairy began featuring new products that debuted at the show. This will continue, most likely, for the next month, as there were so many innovations. Below is a sneak peak of what’s to come.

But first, some general show highlights. 

The 2015 event grew 7.2% from the previous year, bringing together more than 71,000 industry members, more than 2,700 exhibiting companies and 634 first-time exhibitors.

These are some of the macro trends influencing the marketplace. 
  • Transparency: Consumers are increasingly demanding to know what is in their food, and brands are responding by using technology and other innovations to provide greater transparency and traceability for their products.
  • Ancient Wisdom Gets Wiser: Brands continue to innovate by producing simple, delicious products that take minimal processing to new levels and contain short lists of nutrient-dense ingredients.
  • Packaging Innovated: From edible cups to packages featuring famous cookbook authors, the packaging innovations made advancements in sustainability, consumer education and shelf stability.
  • Protein Invasion: Responding to consumers’ insatiable hunger for protein, natural and organic brands are packing new offerings with protein in every conceivable form.

Many companies were recognized with awards at Natural Products Expo West, including one dairy product. Noosa Yoghurt LLC’s Vanilla Yoghurt was a runner up in the “Best of West: Press Award.” Congrats!

Noosa is a whole milk yogurt described as Aussie style. It is made using fresh Colorado milk at the family-owned Morning Fresh Dairy in Bellvue, Colorado. Noosa partners with Colorado-based Beyond the Hive to lightly sweeten its yogurt with golden Clover Alfalfa honey.

Most recently the company began offering its two most popular flavors—Blueberry and Tart Cherry--in four packs of 4-ounce cups. Each 4-ounce cup contains 140 calories, 5.5 grams of fat, 14 grams of sugar (including milk’s inherent sugar) and 7 grams of protein. The convenient on-the-go cups join the 8- and 16-ounce containers.

As mentioned, both dairy products and dairy alternatives were trending at Expo. Dairy processors should be aware of the competition, and that includes manufacturers and marketers of dairy alternatives. To read an overview of the dairy alternatives category and view product examples in a slideshow, link HERE to an article I wrote for Food Business News this week.

Something I point out in the article is that some of these alternatives rely on ingredients that you would not find in grandma’s pantry, which contradicts the clean-label trend. Dairy processors are fortunate to be starting with a highly functional and all-natural base material—cows milk—and have many clean-label ingredients readily available to them in order to provide health- and wellness-seeking consumers with products close to what Mother Nature intended.

To read more about formulating clean-label yogurt and other dairy products, link HERE.

Here are some product highlights from Expo. Remember to watch for more as a Daily Dose of Dairy the next couple weeks.

McConnell’s showed attendees that sea salt goes with more than caramel. Handcrafted in Santa Barbara, CA, Sea Salt Cream & Cookies Ice Cream starts with a base of dense, velvety smooth and creamy sweet cream ice cream. This gets layered with a hint of local sea salt and bountiful bits of chewy, house-made, Guittard chocolate chunk cookies.
Both Tillamook and Organic Valley rolled out cheese sticks designed for adult snacking. Organic Valley’s packages state “made with milk from our pasture-raised cows.” In addition to sporting the USDA Organic seal, the company wants to make sure consumers understand that “organic is always non GMO” and that it never uses “antibiotics, synthetic hormones, toxic pesticides or GMOs” and states so on the package. Organic Valley’s (0.75-ounce) sticks come in Medium Cheddar and Pepper Jack varieties. They are sold in bags of six.

Tillamook’s cheese sticks are also 0.75 ounces and come in 10 packs. Marketed as “a natural snack for kids of all ages,” there are two varieties: Colby Jack and Medium Cheddar. These varieties have long been part of the 0.75 ounce Tillamoos cheese portion packs. The company is growing this line with three adult-centric varieties: Hot Habanero Jack, Sharp White Cheddar and Smoked Black White Cheddar. (The latter is incredibly delicious!)

The good culture company used Expo to officially launch its namesake line of sweet and savory single-serve organic cottage cheese cups. The initial rollout includes five varieties: Blueberry Açaí Chia, Classic, Kalamata Olive, Strawberry Chia and Sundried Tomato. The single-serve containers come in convenient, on-the-go 5.3-ounce packs. For more info link HERE.
Stonyfield also used Expo West as its official launching pad for Oh My Yog! This tri-layer yogurt made its soft launch at the Fancy Food Show in January and has started rolling out to the retail marketplace. The top layer is cream, the middle layer is honey-sweetened whole milk yogurt and the bottom is flavorful fruit, or in the case of the Madagascar Vanilla Bean variety, vanilla-infused yogurt. The fruit varieties are: Apple Cinnamon, Gingered Pear, Orange Cranberry, Pacific Coast Strawberry and Wild Quebec Blueberry. Each 6-ounce cup contains 190 calories, 5 grams of fat and 7 grams of protein. For more information, link HERE.
WhiteWave Foods showcased many innovations, for both the refrigerated and ambient dairy cases, as well as grocery. Let’s focus on dairy.

The company made its official industry debut of yulu Aussie Style Yogurt at Expo, which Daily Dose of Dairy was first to write about in February. This is an Australian-style yogurt, which is known for its velvety texture and creaminess as well as inclusion of large, identifiable pieces of fruit. For more information, link HERE.

Under the company’s Horizon label, is an industry first in the U.S. New Super Squeeze is shelf-stable pouches of milk and real fruit. The highly viscous product is made with organic milk and organic fruit purees, with each pouch containing 100 calories, 5 grams of protein, 15 grams of sugar, 2 grams of fiber and no fat. For more info, link HERE.
My friends at Lifeway Foods have been very busy this year. In case you missed this week’s Daily Dose of Dairy on the company’s new Lifeway Protein Kefir, a line extension designed to aid in muscle recovery after exercise, you can read about it HERE.

Other innovations from the company include Lifeway Pretty Plain ProBugs. It’s the first no-sugar-added flavor in Lifeway’s popular line of organic whole milk kefir smoothies designed for younger children, and it comes in the same fun 4-ounce sippy pouch as the rest of the ProBugs family. That means an easy grip for little hands along with a no-spill spout--exclusive to Lifeway--that makes it car-safe.

Personified on the package by a cartoon bug character named Pretty Plain Pearl who “likes her life clean,” the new product joins ProBugs’ Sublime Slime Lime, Orange Creamy Crawler, Goo Berry Pie, Strawnana Split and Kiwi Kale Critter varieties, each with its own giggle-inducing persona to keep kids entertained. 

Also new for this summer is Lifeway Lowfat Watermelon Kefir. Scheduled to hit store shelves in June, this summertime special is lightly sweetened with only 8 grams of additional sugar and has just 20 fat calories in each 140-calorie serving. It’s also 99% lactose-free, gluten-free and all-natural with 12 live and active probiotic cultures, 11 grams of protein and 30% of your daily recommended calcium, plus the natural watermelon flavor everyone loves. No melon carving needed!

The folks over Smari Organics have also been super busy and are growing their line of refrigerated Icelandic namesake yogurts. Smari yogurt debuted about two years ago and was written about first by Daily Dose of Dairy HERE.

Smari yogurt is made with milk from grass-fed Jersey and Guernsey cows, with each 6-ounce cup delivering 20 grams of protein. The original line is four fat-free options: Blueberry, Pure, Strawberry and Vanilla. Now the line includes fat-free Peach, Pure Whole Milk, Vanilla Whole Milk and low-fat Coconut.

Mark your calendars for Natural Products Expo East 2015, which will return to the Baltimore Convention Center, September 16 to 19, 2015, in Baltimore, MD. For more info, link HERE.

Natural Products Expo West 2016 is scheduled to take place March 11 to 13, 2016, at the Anaheim Convention Center in Anaheim, CA. Details will be available later in the year.[timestamp]

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