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 Pok√©mon 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!

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