Thursday, January 26, 2017

Functional Dairy Foods Made Simple with Dairy Proteins

FACT: Dairy proteins are multi-functional ingredients that can assist with making dairy foods a leading clean and simple functional food. 

Hmmm, I think it is safe to say it’s been an interesting week. At times all that keeps me going is my passion for all things dairy. The industry is my happy place and I feel rather certain many of you share this sentiment.

Pardon this digression, but can you believe Nick and his guests visited a Wisconsin dairy farm? That made my Monday! If you know what I am referring to, please link HERE and send me a quick email with a thumbs up. I can sure use one.

Now back to the facts. I’ve said it many times and I could not be more thrilled to see many dairy foods formulators taking action by putting dairy proteins back into dairy. From beverages to cottage cheese to yogurt, dairy proteins, namely whey protein concentrate and whey protein isolate, are being added to these products for nutrition and performance. (You will see some recent innovations highlighted during the next few weeks as a Daily Dose of Dairy.)

FACT: Dairy proteins are multi-functional ingredients that may help make dairy foods a leading clean and simple functional food. (Yes, I know I am being repetitive. But this is HUGE!)

The concept of functional foods—with clean, simple and as close to what Mother Nature intended—appears to have resonated with consumers.  Protein, namely dairy proteins, are a major driver of this platform.

Consumer interest in protein, sustainability and functional foods are among 2017’s top U.S. food and nutrition trends, according to the International Food Information Council (IFIC) Foundation. Drawing from its in-house survey research and health professional expertise, along with other data and observations, the IFIC Foundation has identified several hot topics for the New Year. I’ve included some below, including the role of dairy proteins in the product platform.

A Functional Place for Foods
Once a little-known concept among the public, functional foods—or foods with health benefits beyond basic nutrition—are becoming a subject of high interest and high demand. The IFIC Foundation’s 2016 Food and Health Survey found that nearly half of consumers said that “weight loss/management” is a health benefit they are interested in getting from foods. About one-third of Americans listed “increased energy,” “cardiovascular health,” “healthy aging” or “digestive health.”

In addition, Google cited “Food with a Function” as one of its top-five food trends in 2016. Searches for functional foods and ingredients such as turmeric, jackfruit and kefir were reported to have especially high volumes.

A “Healthy” Debate
Food labeling has been more broadly discussed and debated in the past several years, from organic certification and “absence labeling” to changes in Nutrition Facts labels. In 2017, the spotlight will shine on what qualifies a food to be marketed as “healthy.” The FDA is currently working to redefine what qualifies as a “healthy” nutritional claim on package labels.

The 2016 Food and Health Survey found that for more than one-third of consumers, a “healthy” food is defined in part by what it does not contain rather than what it does contain. That’s where multi-functional dairy proteins come into play. They not only provide protein, they assist with texture and mouthfeel, and can assist with simplifying labels by allowing for the removal of chemical-sounding ingredients.

The Acceptability of Sustainability
When it comes to the factors that play into consumers’ food and beverage purchasing decisions, the 2016 Food and Health Survey found that “sustainability” marked its largest increase since the question was first asked in 2011. In 2016, 41% of consumers listed it as a factor influencing purchasing decision compared to 35% in 2015. About three-quarters believe it’s important that food products be produced in a sustainable way.
Milk and products produced from milk have a great sustainability story. Tell it. Talk about local farmers and their production practices.

Protein Still a Powerhouse
There are no signs that the health halo around protein will be knocked off in 2017. According to the 2016 Food and Health Survey, nearly two-thirds of Americans are trying to consume more protein or as much as possible, up significantly from 54% in 2015 and 50% in 2014.

One-fifth of Americans view plant protein as more healthful than they did the previous year, compared to 8% who see it as less healthful. Views of animal protein, however, were split, with 12% perceiving it as more healthful than the previous year and 15% perceiving it as less healthful.
Now’s the time to talk about the healthfulness of dairy protein. Don’t just add it to your products, communicate to consumers why you are adding it.

Weight Loss Making Gains
The 2016 Food and Health Survey showed glimmers of hope in America’s “battle of the bulge.” There was a significant uptick over 2015 in the number of Americans trying to lose weight—57% vs. 52%—at the expense of the number of people trying merely to maintain their weight, which fell significantly to 23% in 2016 from 29% in 2015. In addition, according to the survey, the number of overweight and obese Americans (as judged by body mass index) fell to 60% in 2016 from 64% in 2015.

Photo source: Starbucks
When it comes to weight loss, Americans clearly have the will. But will they find a way? Dairy proteins can assist. Explain this to consumers, judiciously, using positive language such as “keeps you fuller longer” rather than “diet” or “weight loss.” Again, explain the healthfulness of dairy proteins. Consumers want to add healthful foods to their diet.

“Despite the fact that we’re seeing such a widespread and growing interest in healthy foods, relatively few Americans believe their diet is healthy. With consumers largely wary of even regulator-approved health food options, marketing healthy foods to skeptical consumers requires far more than merely an on-pack promise,” says Billy Roberts, senior food and drink analyst at Mintel. “The key to attracting these consumers is convincing them that products actually deliver on the healthy attributes they promise and that they are truly good for consumers and their families.”

Mintel data show that today’s health-conscious consumers are staying away from products containing high-fructose corn syrup (50%), sugar (47%), trans fat (45%) and saturated fat (43%). What’s more, over one quarter (28%) believe a food is unhealthy if it has artificial ingredients, with consumers actively avoiding products with elements described as “artificial,” such as artificial sweeteners (43%), artificial preservatives (38%) and artificial flavors (35%).

While genetically modified (GM) appears farther down on the list of ingredients consumers avoid when shopping for healthy foods (29%), consumer dislike of GM foods nearly matches their dislike for foods with artificial ingredients. More than one in five (22%) Americans say that they would not feed GM foods to people in their household. What’s more, nearly half (46%) agree that GM foods are not suitable to eat, rising to 58% of consumers with a household income under $50,000.

Well ahead of other ingredients, consumers are interested in protein (63%), fiber (61%) and whole grains (57%) when purchasing foods they consider to be healthy. Protein is particularly of interest to more than half (54%) of iGen (between the ages of 9 and 21 years) consumers, while consumers age 71 and older are most interested in whole grains (50%).

When making food purchase decisions, more than one quarter (27%) of consumers say that health concerns influence their choice of food and nearly as many (23%) indicate that they are more likely to buy food with a health claim on the package than food without. Looking at American families, Mintel research reveals that fathers are more likely to purchase food with a health claim (30%), as compared to 23% of mothers.

“While many consumers are avoiding certain ingredients when purchasing better-for-you foods, Americans are seeking out foods with added health attributes, namely protein, fiber and whole grains, indicating an opportunity for foods with added-health attributes to target consumers with health claims on-pack,” concludes Roberts.

Remember, it’s a FACT. Dairy proteins are multi-functional ingredients that may help make dairy foods a leading clean and simple functional food.

I hope to see many of you in Orlando this coming week for the Dairy Forum. The program is packed with informative presentations. A must-see session takes place Tuesday from 10:45am to noon.

Panelists partaking in the “The Dairy Nutraceuticals Boom” will discuss how dairy companies are well poised to benefit from the rapid growth of the booming nutritional and nutraceutical ingredients market. Through innovation, companies are using dairy ingredients, namely dairy proteins, in value-added products for infants, athletes and the elderly.

Hope to see you there.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Cultured Dairy Product Trends 2017: Whole-ly Cow!

Photo source: USDEC

As the great Harry Carey would have said, Holy Cow, 2016 was one heck of a year. And 2017, Whole-ly Cow, it’s going to be a grand one for cultured dairy products.

The cultured dairy products sector includes fermented dairy foods such as cottage cheese, cream cheese and sour cream. Though it does not include yogurt and similar cup and drinkable products, it does include products made from yogurt, such as dips and spreads. It also is a category that’s on fire.

Here are the top-five trends and 10 recent innovations that complement them.

1. Whole Milk and Cream. Fat is back. When you formulate many cultured dairy foods with whole milk and cream you can often eliminate some or all stabilizing ingredients. Culture selection is paramount. Cultures not only ferment lactose to lactic acid, and thus lower the pH, which in turn coagulates the milk proteins, cultures can also produce exopolysaccharides, which influence product viscosity. The right combination of cream and cultures allows for a very clean and simple ingredient statement, right on par with what today’s consumer is looking for.

2. Worldly Inspiration. Have it be bold and spicy flavors, ethnic herbs and veggies, or simply a recipe from a foreign country, today’s consumer is seeking out food adventure. The simplicity and naturalness of cultured dairy foods melds well with a touch of the unknown or unexpected. Remember, in sweet products, make efforts to keep added sugars as low as possible.

3. Snackable Protein. Cultured dairy foods lend themselves very well to individual portion sizes, with most being concentrated sourced of protein, the macronutrient today’s consumer cannot get enough of. The opportunities to innovate in the snacking space are immense and should not be ignored by any cultured dairy foods manufacturer. High-protein snacks---made with high-quality dairy proteins—have the ability to increase satiety and improve muscle mass. This can assist with life-long weight management and aged-related muscle depreciation. The calcium in these products is an added bonus.

4. Probiotics. These beneficial bacteria have really been resonating with consumers. So much so that the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN), and the International Probiotics Association (IPA), an international membership organization of probiotic companies, issued scientifically based best practice guidelines in early January for the labeling, storing and stability testing of dietary supplements and functional foods containing probiotics. The guidelines serve as a roadmap for companies producing and marketing these products to ensure that they meet consistent, high-quality standards. You can access them HERE.

Stressing the importance of providing meaningful information to consumers, the guidelines recommend that the quantitative amount(s) of probiotics in a product should be expressed in colony forming units (CFUs). Labeling probiotic products in CFUs gives consumers the best information possible when it comes to the viable microorganisms present in the product throughout shelf life, according to experts at the organizations. 

Additionally, the guidelines’ stability testing recommendations are designed to ensure that the stated shelf life of a given probiotic product is scientifically supported. Storage and handling recommendations advise manufacturers to consider individual product formulations and packaging, as well as storage and transport environments.   Photo source: Chr. Hansen

5. Simply a Better-for-You Option. Many cultured dairy products can be flavored and packaged in such a way to serve as a more healthful alternative to similar products, such as high-fat dressings and oil-based dips and spreads. Seasoned whipped cottage cheese makes the perfect protein bread or bagel spread and can right the coattails of the popular avocado toast. Non-dairy companies recognize these opportunities. It’s time for dairy processors to get busy.

Recent Innovations

That fifth trend is best exemplified by this product that was just announced yesterday by Campbell Soup Company, which owns the Bolthouse brand. Bolthouse Farms MAIO is a new line of refrigerated, yogurt-based spreads made with clean ingredients. It is scheduled to hit grocery shelves beginning February in Northern California Safeway stores. The MAIO spreads are available in three craveable flavors—Chipotle, Garlic and Plain--and have the same creamy, rich texture people seek in a traditional mayonnaise but with lower fat and calories. Each product in the line contains only 20 calories and 1 gram of fat per serving, and most importantly, delivers on taste, according to the company.

“The popularity of traditional mayo has remained flat over recent years as consumers have steadily turned to alternative options, but they aren’t always satisfied with what they can find on shelf,” says Suzanne Ginestro, general manager, C-Fresh Innovation. “People like mayonnaise for the rich flavor and creamy texture, but are hesitant to indulge because of the calorie and fat content. Our new line of MAIO offers consumers a guiltless, better-for-you, creamy option without the sacrifice.”

The MAIO spreads are non-GMO, gluten free, contain no artificial flavors, have 0 grams trans-fat. They come in 8-ounce bottles with a suggested retail price of $2.99.

Kraft Heinz is rolling out Philadelphia multi-grain bagel chips and cream cheese dip snacks. The 2.5-ounce dual-compartment pack varies in flavor of cream cheese dip. There are four. They are: Brown Sugar and Cinnamon, Chive and Onion, Garden Vegetable and Strawberry.

With snacking now ubiquitous--more than three in five (64%) consumers agree that snacking is necessary to get through the day, including 77% of millennials, according to research from Chicago-based Mintel—cheese marketers such as Kraft Heinz are aggressively developing what they believe will be a winner with the growing number of snackers. Mintel data also show that millennials are more likely to be motivated by healthy snack options (68%); and that three in four (73%) consumers are willing to pay extra for snacks made with high-quality ingredients.

A&M Gourmet understands snacking. The company now offers simply simple low-fat cottage cheese blended with herbs and spices into a smooth dip and spread. Two varieties of 8-ounce cups are already in the marketplace. They are Chipotle Lime and Herb & Garlic. More are in development. Both flavors also are available in 2-ounce single-serve portion containers sold in four packs. The 2-ounce portions are currently part of the brand’s Protein Pickup refrigerated snack pack, which also contains quinoa crackers and an energy bar. All of the simply simple dips and spreads are made with GMO-free ingredients and are gluten free.

Muuna cottage cheese is a new concept in curds and whey. The brainchild of Gerard Meyer, the former CEO of Soda Stream North America, Muuna is set to modernize the cottage cheese industry by offering a new taste and creamy texture experience by combining innovative dairy technology with a proprietary recipe and high-quality ingredients, according to the company. The 150-gram cups come in plain, as well as five fruit flavors, all made with 2% milk. Free of artificial colors, flavors and sweetener, as well as gluten, the cottage cheese gets a protein boost from the addition of milk protein concentrate.

“Cottage cheese has been around forever, and mainly thought of as a diet food. The same was true for yogurt, but yogurt innovated while cottage cheese remained stuck in the past,” says Meyer. “At Muuna, we decided to reimagine cottage cheese, inside and out, down to our unique, beautiful cup. Today’s consumers want good food that tastes delicious, but cottage cheese has developed a reputation as boring and bland. So we spent years creating a proprietary recipe that delivers a melt-in-your-mouth, creamy cottage cheese combined with premium, real pieces of fruit, which will surprise and delight your taste buds.”

Seattle’s Darigold just gave its Mexican-style Sour Cream (Crema Agria Mexicana) a makeover to differentiate on shelf and attract home cooks. This topper and cooking cream is not hot or spicy, rather it has a tangy flavor with a thick and rich flavor. The co-op encourages use in dips and savory dishes as well as a garnish.

WhiteWave Foods Co.’s Wallaby brand offers a European-style organic sour cream that prides itself on being made with only two ingredients: cultures and fresh organic cream. This simple recipe yields an ultra-rich sour cream, with luxurious taste and creamy texture. It’s sour cream without the sour, refreshingly redefined, according to the company.
Real sour cream is the name of the game in two new lines of boldly flavored dips. Prairie Farms launched Chef’s Splendor Dips, a specialty dip line that is on-trend with evolving food cultures. The bold and spicy dips, made with simple ingredients, are bursting with flavor and are sure to instantly accelerate taste buds from 0 to 100, according to the company. They are made by blending real sour cream with different vegetables and spices to achieve a delicious, thick and creamy texture. The three varieties are: Roasted Red Pepper, Spicy Ranch and Tzatziki. The full-flavored dips are crafted in small batches with milk and cream from cows not treated with artificial growth hormones, use natural ingredients and are gluten free.

According to Prairie Farms’ Chef Rob Lagerlof, “They’re not just for dipping. I’ve been busy creating quick and easy recipes and serving suggestions using Prairie Farms Chef’s Splendor Dips for my new video series. My tasty signature recipes for Spicy Ranch Chicken Sandwich, Tzatziki Burger and Four Layer Dip will disappear bite by bite, guaranteed!”

“We’re thrilled to add the new dip flavors to our growing line of Prairie Farms Chef’s Splendor specialty products,” says Rebecca Leinenbach, vice president, marketing and communications at Prairie Farms. “The foodie movement is all about creativity in the kitchen, and our specialty line of products provides options for our customers to experience incredible new taste sensations from their favorite brand that has been trusted for over 75 years and is instantly recognized throughout the Midwest. Our line of specialty products will also increase opportunities for new distribution in specialty food stores.”

Lakeview Farms recently introduced Kitchen Crafted Dips. The new line comes in 12 culinary-inspired varieties. They are: Artichoke Jalapeno, Buffalo Blue Cheese, Creamy Jalapeno, Cucumber Garlic Ranch, Dill, Fire Roasted Red Pepper, Mango Peach Salsa, Mediterranean, Salsa Sour Cream, Spicy Three Pepper, Spinach Parmesan & Bacon, and Sweet Onion & Bacon. The dill variety is based on whole milk and cream, while the others are made with real sour cream, with some also including cream cheese. Mediterranean is a unique blend of artichokes, feta cheese, olives, peppers and more.

The Yoplait yogurt brand has extended itself into the interactive snacking sector with Yoplait Dippers. The dome-style container includes sweet or savory nonfat Greek yogurt in one part and crunchy dippers in the other. The new single-serve packs come in six varieties. They are: Caramelized Banana Greek Yogurt and Choco-Drizzled Pretzels, Chipotle Ranch Greek Yogurt and Tortilla Chips, Coffee Chocolate Chunk Greek Yogurt and Cinnamon Crisps, Raspberry Chocolate Chunk Greek Yogurt and Choco-Drizzled Pretzels, Toasted Coconut Greek Yogurt and Honey Oat Crisps, and Vanilla Bean Greek Yogurt and Honey Oat Crisps.

And lastly, Snøfrisk is not a new product, in fact it was introduced by Norway's Tine Dairy during the Winter Olympic Games at Lillehammer in 1994. However, it is rather new to the States. It is being imported by Norseland.

Snøfrisk is a white, unripened cream cheese made from 80% goat’s milk and 20% cow’s cream with only 1.5% salt added. It is easy to spread and can be used on bagels, with crudites or as a dip or spread. The plain variety is now being joined by Dill, Horseradish, Ramson Garlic and Red Onion & Thyme, flavors indigenous to Norway.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Commit to Sugar Reduction in 2017

If you think sugar is under attack now with the many sugary drink taxes being implemented and more restrictions being placed in school meal programs, just wait. There may be many uncertainties awaiting the food and beverage industries in 2017, in particular in the U.S. with its many unknowns regarding the new administration, but there’s one thing for sure, “added sugars” will continue to be scrutinized, demonized and avoided by many.

This is particularly true in beverages but will trickle down to all foods, including flavored milk, yogurt and quite possibly, even ice cream. The former two are nutrient-dense foods, so reducing sugar further increases nutrient density. Because ice cream is usually considered a dessert or treat, sugar content is typically less of a concern; however, if it can be lowered---and there are companies doing it—this may be an attractive selling point in our growing sugar-phobic society.

Sara Petersson, nutrition analyst at Euromonitor International said, “2016 highlighted the pivotal role of the ever-increasing consumption of sugar in the obesity crisis. The recent World Health Organization (WHO) recommendation for a minimum 20% tax on all sugary soft drinks not only reinforced this message, but also created a platform for further discussions around the importance of good nutrition.”

That’s right, in case you missed it, this past October, WHO wrote that taxing sugary drinks can lower consumption and reduce obesity, type 2 diabetes and tooth decay. Fiscal policies that lead to at least a 20% increase in the retail price of sugary drinks would result in proportional reductions in consumption of such products, according to the report titled “Fiscal policies for Diet and Prevention of Noncommunicable Diseases (NCD).”

Reduced consumption of sugary drinks means lower intake of “free sugars” and calories overall, improved nutrition and fewer people suffering from overweight, obesity, diabetes and tooth decay, according to WHO. Free sugars refer to monosaccharides (such as glucose or fructose) and disaccharides (such as sucrose or table sugar) added to foods and drinks by the manufacturer, cook or consumer, and sugars naturally present in honey, syrups, fruit juices and fruit juice concentrates.
 Infographic source: EcoFocus Worldwide and Evergreen Packaging

“Consumption of free sugars, including products like sugary drinks, is a major factor in the global increase of people suffering from obesity and diabetes,” said Douglas Bettcher, director of WHO’s Department for the Prevention of NCDs. “If governments tax products like sugary drinks, they can reduce suffering and save lives. They can also cut healthcare costs and increase revenues to invest in health services.”

In 2014, more than one in three (39%) adults worldwide aged 18 years and older were overweight. Worldwide prevalence of obesity more than doubled between 1980 and 2014, with 11% of men and 15% of women (more than half a billion adults) being classified as obese. In addition, an estimated 42 million children aged under five years were overweight or obese in 2015, an increase of about 11 million during the past 15 years. Almost half (48%) of these children lived in Asia and 25% in Africa. This is a global concern.

Link HERE for additional statistics on global obesity.

Photo source: Barry Callebaut

The number of people living with diabetes has also been rising, from 108 million in 1980 to 422 million in 2014. The disease was directly responsible for 1.5 million deaths in 2012 alone.

“Nutritionally, people don’t need any sugar in their diet,” said Francesco Branca, director of WHO’s Department of Nutrition for Health and Development.
That’s a very strong statement, in fact, a bit unsettling. It makes a consumer really question the added sugars in their everyday foods.

“WHO recommends that if people do consume free sugars, they keep their intake below 10% of their total energy needs, and reduce it to less than 5% for additional health benefits,” said Branca. “This is equivalent to less than a single serving (at least 250 milliliters) of commonly consumed sugary drinks per day.”

In the U.S., yogurt processors need to be aware of new draft guidance issued this week by FDA regarding the use of fruit and vegetable ingredients and their contribution to a product’s added sugars, which must be listed in the upcoming new Nutrition Facts Panel.

Simply, FDA explained in the draft guidance that if sugars in the processed fruit or vegetable ingredient are in excess of what would be expected from 100% fruit or vegetables, those sugars must be declared as added sugars.

The FDA guidance states:
“If the ingredient contains all of the components of a whole fruit or vegetable, but has been processed so that the plant material is physically broken down into smaller pieces or water is removed, we would not consider the sugars contributed from the portion of the fruit or vegetable that is typically eaten which is used to make such an ingredient to be added sugars. However, if a fruit or vegetable is processed in such a way that it no longer contains all of the components of the portion of a whole fruit or vegetable that is typically eaten (e.g., the pulp from the fruit has been removed) and the sugars have been concentrated, the sugars in such an ingredient are consistent with how we have considered the sugars in fruit juice concentrate because the ingredient is a concentrated source of sugars and contributes additional calories to a food when added as an ingredient without additional water.”

The labeling of added sugars is included in FDA’s mandatory nutrition labeling revisions that were published on May 20, 2017. FDA made changes to the content and format of the Nutrition Facts label as well as to the reference amounts that determine the serving sizes of conventional foods. The final rule changes “sugars” to “total sugars” in the Nutrition Facts Panel and requires the amount of “added sugars” to be indented and appear below “total sugars.”

The compliance date for manufacturers with more than $10 million in annual food sales is July 26, 2018. For manufacturers with less than $10 million in annual food sales, they get an additional year to get their labels in order.

The final rule defines added sugars as sugars that either are added during the processing of foods, or are packaged as such, and include sugars (free, mono- and disaccharides), sugars from syrups and honey, and sugars from concentrated fruit or vegetable juices that are in excess of what would be expected from the same volume of 100% fruit or vegetable juice of the same type. The final rule excludes whole fruit, fruit pieces, dried fruit, pulps and purees as meeting the definition of added sugars.

For additional details from FDA, including examples of calculating added sugar when using fruit and vegetable ingredients according to the new draft guidance, link HERE.

Dairy foods formulators must remember that replacing sugar is not a simple substitution. Sugar, and sugar-type ingredients including syrups, provide more than sweetness. They often impact the body and mouthfeel of a food or beverage.

“Sugar is under pressure, although it remains the key ingredient delivering the sweetness and great taste that consumers are looking for,” said Lu Ann Williams, director of innovation at Innova Market Insights. “The quest to combine taste and health is driving new product development, as the industry faces the challenge of balancing public demand to reduce added sugars and create indulgent experiences, while at the same time presenting clean-label products.”

Commit to sugar reduction in 2017! In this scenario, going low makes sense.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Dairy Foods 2017: Make it a Resolution to Own the Year!

Happy New Year!

This past year was an interesting journey, and because we cannot hit a re-do button, it is time to embrace 2017 and own it. That’s right. The dairy foods industry is well poised to own the year.

Butter is back. Whole milk is, too. Cheese and ice cream have never fallen out of favor. Now upscale, specialty and unique varieties are increasingly sought out by consumers and they are willing to pay a premium for them. Fresh and minimally processed have always been dairy’s mantra. Local is the name of the game. The dairy industry has everything going for it in 2017. It’s time to commit to owning the year and I have just the resolutions to assist.

If you aren’t on board yet, then maybe the Real California Milk/California Milk Advisory Board float in this year’s Rose Bowl Parade is the motivation you need. When you read about the dedicated farmers and industry members who volunteered time and resources to make this float a reality, it will hopefully move you. Their passion for dairy is impressive and inspirational.

The float’s message resonated with today’s consumers. The 20-feet high, 18-feet wide and 65-feet long main float featured California cow’s milk pouring into a giant cereal bowl to represent breakfast and the importance of protein to start the day. The float also showed how this milk serves as the base for favorite foods, such as butter, cheese, ice cream and yogurt. 

Five families--from grandkids to grandparents (including twin 80-year-old brothers)--representing the multi-generational history of California dairy rode the float. These families represent California’s 1,300-plus dairy farm families, of which 99% are family owned. This is the kind of farm-to-fork story today’s consumers want to hear.

There was also a small satellite float featuring a life-sized animatronic Holstein dairy cow representative of the 1.8 million California dairy cows that help make California the number-one dairy state. In fact, California dairy cows produced enough milk in 2015 to fill 58 Rose Bowl Stadiums.

Here’s some interesting trivia about decorating the floats that participate in the Rose Bowl Parade. The body of the float is constructed early but the actual decorating takes place only days before the parade. This is because all decorations must be organic, dry or fresh materials, with fresh flowers one of the most common decorations. This year, the Real California Milk/California Milk Advisory Board float was more than 85% fresh flowers.

Every surface of the float must be covered and no coloring of any kind is allowed. Thousands of volunteers spend their days after Christmas working on the floats from dusk to dawn.
In addition to fresh flowers, the dairy float materials included foods that dairy cows eat, co-products of food and fiber production, such as almond hulls and cottonseed. These are items that would end up in landfill but cows as ruminants can turn into nutritious food. This is a beautiful sustainable story that seldom is told. Let’s start telling it.

The float was designed to get consumers thinking about how milk is—with minimal processing—transformed into the delicious dairy foods they eat every day, namely butter, cheese, ice cream and yogurt.

With that, here are three resolutions I urge ever dairy industry member to make for 2017.

1. Communicate to consumers the story of the milk that goes into the dairy products your company manufactures and distributes. Be as transparent as possible. Showcase farmers on your packages and on your website.
Remember Elsie? Though fictitious, Elsie is recognized as one of the most famous marketing mascots ever created. Interestingly, she once led the Rose Bowl Parade! Want to read more about Elsie’s origins, link HERE.

Photo source: Starbucks

Celebrities and athletes can turn into controversial spokespeople. Maybe the time is right to create a mascot, your company’s personal spokesperson. Think about consumers’ fascination with Pokémon this past summer. Think about the digital world we live in. Millennials are social media addicts and Millennials like cartoon characters.

2. Emphasize dairy’s inherent nutrition as much as possible. Though I believe dairy proteins can live harmoniously with plant proteins—in fact I think there’s a great deal of opportunity of mixed protein products, namely beverages--dairy needs to up its game and create a positive story about protein.

Photo source: 7-eleven
It was not that long ago when the dairy industry was constantly defending itself. Programs like Got milk? and “3-a-day” (I really wish 3-a-day returned to the States) helped changed how we marketed dairy and in turn how consumers viewed dairy. Recent headlines about the dairy industry fighting for control of the term “milk” brings back memories of playing defensively. We are better than that. Let’s use those resources to better communicate the power of the protein and essential vitamins and minerals inherent to milk, and the products made from milk.

Flavorful, ready-to-drink protein beverages are all the rage right now. These are the type of beverages that gyms, schools and sporting events want to sell. Do you have a fresh offering in your product line up? Remember to emphasize the source and quality of the protein. The plant protein folks are.

Also, don’t forget to emphasize dairy’s inherent nutrition when you are outside of work. When you order your latte, stress that you want real milk. Make sure it’s butter on those pancakes and real blue cheese in your wing dip. The power of positivity is contagious. You will be amazed at how such simple conversations with your barista or your server resonate with them, and they in turn share the message.

3. Innovate on a regular basis. Limited-edition and seasonal products attract consumers and keep them interested in a brand. Today’s consumers have a growing selection of food channels to choose from and they are seeking services and experiences in addition to just purchasing groceries. The desire for innovative new products makes them want to go shopping.

Photo source: What's in Store 2017, IDDBA

According to What’s in Store 2017, a recently released publication from the International Dairy-Deli-Bakery Association, despite the growth of e-commerce in food retail, brick-and-mortar stores are most important to the digital-savvy Millennials and Gen Zers, with food retailers being the number-one source for convenient meal solutions, outpacing both restaurant delivery and online meal/ingredient kit channels. Convenient physical stores, a feature-rich website with services such as online purchasing, and mobile apps are critical to attracting and keeping customers. Retailers must have effective and engaging in-store technology, a 24/7 service mentality, real-time knowledge on current inventory in each store, and price and product consistency to achieve a total retail experience. They rely on their suppliers—you—to provide them with products to sell.

Fresh format stores are experiencing the most growth in the brick-and-mortar space. Dairy foods are fresh foods and need to better compete in this space. A recent visit to Fresh Thyme left me very disappointed with dairy’s presence, as did the fresh meal solutions area of Trader Joe’s and the Fresh & Ready department in Walgreen’s.

Would you like to read more about how convenience, experience and freshness is attracting supermarket shoppers, link HERE to an article I recently wrote for Food Business News.

Here’s a new product concept to get you thinking. In February 2017, PepsiCo will be rolling out its new LIFEWTR premium bottled water line, which the company says fuses creativity and design to serve as a source of inspiration, as well as hydration, to usher in a new era of thirst quenchers. Fluid milk processors need to think this way!

The beverage is described as purified water that is pH balanced with electrolytes for taste. (It’s water!) It comes in a plastic bottle enrobed in art. That’s right, the bottle serves as a canvas for art and design and features rotating label motifs created by emerging artists. The brand’s biggest equity--the label--will serve as a platform for emerging and developing artists to be seen and discovered on a broad scale, and their work will serve as a spark of creativity and dose of inspiration and creative uplift.
Released in a series of three, and changing several times a year, LIFEWTR is all about having an authentic connection with the consumer, at a premium. It will be available in two sizes. The 700-milliliter bottle with sports cap will sell for about $2.06, while the one-liter bottle will go for $2.70.

That product concept should get your creative juices flowing. But, if you need more product development inspiration, link below to the six forecasts I wrote for 2017.
Ice Cream Flavor Trends
Clean Process and Clean Ingredients
Dairy Protein Beverages
Cheese Snacks
Functional Dairy Foods 
Dairy-Based Beverages
Happy New Year!