Friday, March 17, 2017

The Luck of the Dairy Industry: Go Green—and Clean—for St. Patrick’s Day 2017

“Top o’ the mornin’ to ya’,” which is how non-Irish folks like me—trying to sound like the real deal—say “good morning to you on this St. Patrick’s Day!”

(Pictured: Kellogg Company is serving Green Goodness Parfaits in New York City’s Times Square starting today, St. Patrick’s Day, through April 1. The parfaits are made with Greek yogurt mixed with moringa green vegetable powder, Special K cereal, banana, dark chocolate chips, honey, mint and pistachios.)

As I enjoyed a McDonald’s Shamrock Shake on Thursday afternoon while sorting through the stack of materials collected at Natural Products Expo West a week ago, I reflect on the “luck of the dairy industry.” Yes, indeed, the dairy industry is in a very good place.

Though Expo West had ample share of dairy alternatives in fluid, cultured and frozen formats, I do believe there was more REAL dairy at the exhibition this year. And why? Because dairy is inherently, simple, pure and nutritious. It’s just what many consumers want.

Now, as anyone in the food industry knows, distribution and retail merchandising puts stress on foods, dairy foods included, and additives are often necessary to maintain quality and ensure safety. It’s paramount that those ingredients be chosen wisely in order to keep labels clean and simple.

Research from Ingredion reveals what consumers want to see—and not see—on food and beverage labels. U.S. consumers aren’t just reading labels, they’re scrutinizing them. Standing in the grocery aisles with heads bent and products in hand, they are searching for claims and ingredients that make their buying choices easy.

This product goes in the cart; this one goes back to the shelf. Is your product making the cut into the cart? And after that, does it pass the taste test and make it into the cart again and again?
Ingredion’s research shows that the drive for clean and simple continues to expand, with nearly three-quarters of U.S. consumers finding it important to recognize the ingredients used in the products they buy. While the majority of consumers look at front-of-pack claims, many also are interested enough to turn packages over to look for the ingredients that led to the claim—and to see if they can find other reasons to buy or not. Interestingly, the ingredient list helps justify price in the minds of consumers and is of particular interest to shoppers over age 30. This is important to note. It’s not just a millennial thing!

Forty percent of survey respondents ranked the descriptor “natural/all natural” number-one in terms of appeal on the front of packaging. “No artificial ingredients” came in second (31%). This is challenging for marketers who know the term natural is ambiguous and can stir up controversy with watch-dog groups.

However, what is encouraging is that data also showed that 58% of consumers ranked “no artificial ingredients” as the claim most likely to make them consider switching brands. 
(For detailed survey results, please contact Ingredion at 1-866-961-6285.)

Many of the innovations that debuted at Expo West included claims of “natural,” “organic” and “no additives/preservatives.” In fact, all products exhibited at Expo West must meet certain criteria established by the event organizer, criteria that in fact renders the product clean label. It’s like Expo West organizers are the clean-label police.

According to Supermarket News’ Whole Health Survey 2017 of retailers, wholesalers, manufacturers and sales agencies, clean label was the strongest wellness trend in 2016, followed by organic, then natural/organic private label. It’s no wonder the expo floor was packed full of buyers and brokers from around the country and beyond.

Dairy ranked third in terms of the greatest increase in consumer demand for natural/organic/green products. Produce ranked first, while grocery/snacks came in second. Meat was fourth.

Seventy-five percent of respondents said sales in health- and wellness-related categories increased this past year. And here’s something to take note of: only 29% of respondents said that conventional products remain strong in the dairy category. It’s no wonder there were so many new—and improved—dairy products at Expo West. Here’s a sampling.

Lifeway debuted Ceremonial Matcha Organic Kefir. This new kefir variety is packed with protein—11 grams--and 30 milligrams of caffeine (from the addition of organic matcha green tea powder) per 8-ounce serving. Matcha is an antioxidant-rich superfood known for its ability to boost memory, energy, alertness and mood. The product is naturally gluten free, low in fat and 99% void of lactose. The 15 to 20 billion colony-forming units (CFUs) of 12 live and active cultures may help support immunity and digestion.

The company fills the new variety of kefir, as well as its other kefir products, in bottles that are made of plant-based materials. This renders them 100% recyclable.

On Thursday, my friend Julie Smolyansky, CEO of Lifeway, spoke with other industry leaders on the role of “big food” in today’s food world at the Good Food Festival & Conference in Chicago.

“Today’s consumers have lost trust in big food, rightfully so,” she said. “So much so that big food lost 20 billion dollars last year, with many consumers migrating to smaller, community driven, nimble, innovative companies that have soul and passion.”

This includes companies such as Lifeway, as well as most of the other Expo West exhibitors.

“Big food is risk averse, and scaling clean ingredients is challenging, and frankly, they are incapable of innovation for a variety of reasons,” she said. “But what they have is efficiency. They have incredible supply chain know-how and they have incredibly smart multi-national teams. If big food wants to regain the trust of today’s consumer, they are going to have to take a long hard look at themselves, hold themselves accountable and own what they have contributed to.”

This includes obesity and diabetes epidemics, climate change, and malnutrition and famine around the world.

“We have a billion people in the world who are obese and a billion people in the world who are malnourished; 20 million people in the world are at risk for famine this year,” she said. “In 2017, we have the ability to prevent catastrophic starvation of people. Now more than ever we need big food to step up and help solve the greatest challenges of our time in a sustainable way. They need to take the long view and make some investments in local, national and international communities.”

These are many of the communities represented at Expo West.

Straus Family Creamery, the first 100% certified organic creamery in the U.S., is expanding its line of premium organic Greek yogurt. The yogurts are made with simple organic ingredients and live active cultures. The vat-set yogurt is carefully strained, which gives it a thick and creamy texture without the addition of thickeners or stabilizers. New Lowfat Plain and Whole Milk Vanilla are joining Nonfat Plain and Whole Milk Plain. Strauss uses sweet cream buttermilk in its Greek yogurts to add an extra touch of deliciousness.

Last year the company added two refreshingly simple ice cream flavors--Lemon Gingersnap and Strawberry—to its frozen dessert lineup. Both flavors are made from organic milk and cream supplied by local family farms in Marin and Sonoma Counties.

The Lemon Gingersnap features smooth, creamy organic lemon ice cream, blended with gluten-free cookies from Ukiah, California-based Pamela’s Products. The Strawberry ice cream combines organic strawberries with a sweet cream base made from only a few simple, organic ingredients: cream, milk, sugar and egg yolks.

“We are excited to introduce new ice creams made with milk from local family farms,” said Albert Straus, Founder and CEO of Straus Family Creamery. “When consumers enjoy our ice creams, they are also helping to sustain family farming, revitalize rural communities and support a thriving regional food system.”

Organic Valley, the U.S.’s largest cooperative of organic farmers and a leading organic brand, is growing its Grassmilk Yogurt line. The yogurts are made from milk produced by cows that are 100% grass-fed, with no supplemental feed, grain or soybeans in their diet, just lush, fresh pasture and dried forages, according to the company. This diet produces milk that naturally contains calcium, conjugated linoleic acid and omega-3 fatty acids.

Crafted in small batches, the yogurt is minimally processed, cream-on-the-top yogurt made from non-homogenized whole milk. Black Cherry and Peach are now part of the 6-ounce single-serve cup lineup, which debuted a year ago in Plain, Strawberry, Vanilla and Wild Blueberry flavors.

JC’s, a brand known for dreaming up classic frozen treats and decadent candies with a modern twist, added Coconut Cream and Chocolate Peanut Butter to its JC’s Pie Pops frozen novelty line. The brand’s signature JC’s Pie Pops combine the taste of classic pie favorites, topped with crumble, all on a stick. The new flavors join Banana Cream, Caramel Apple Crumble, Caramel Turtle, Chocolate Silk, Key Lime, Mint Chocolate Chip, S’mores and Strawberry Cream.

Morinaga Nutritional Foods introduced Alove, a yogurt snack that contains real bits of aloe. The yogurt is made using Morinaga’s proprietary process of removing fresh aloe from aloe plant leaves, the best and tastiest parts. This then gets mixed into creamy yogurt. The product is made in the U.S. using locally sourced California milk. It does not contain high-fructose corn syrup, artificial flavors or gluten and is a good source of protein and calcium. Alove comes in Blueberry, Original Aloe and Strawberry flavors.

Morinaga Nutritional Foods is the U.S. arm of Japanese dairy giant Morinaga, which has been successfully selling aloe yogurt in Japan for years. Consuming aloe is associated with internal healing, cleansing and repair. Some studies show an association with boosting immunity and heart health.

Dreaming Cow Creamery, the maker of grass-fed and 100% pasture-raised cream-top yogurt, is introducing a new line of products. LUSH is a nutrient-dense yogurt drink made from the same milk used for its yogurts and combined with fruits, one full serving of vegetables and more than 20 billion probiotics (Bifidobacterium-12), which have been clinically shown to promote immunity and digestive health.

LUSH is a full-fat yogurt drink that contains antioxidants, vitamins A and C, iron, calcium, potassium and B vitamins. It comes in a square-round 12-ounce plastic bottle designed for merchandising in either the refrigerated produce section or the yogurt aisle. The four varieties are: Blueberry, Boysenberry, Purple Carrot & Beet; Lemon, Passionfruit, Carrot & Pumpkin; Peach, Ginger, Pumpkin & Carrot; and Strawberry, Raspberry, Purple Carrot & Beet. A single bottle contains 230 to 250 calories, 9 to 11 grams of fat, 11 to 13 grams of protein and 15 to 23 grams of sugar, depending on variety. LUSH is made with only natural ingredients, without any preservatives or stabilizers.

“We spent some time over the past few years in research and development to define and create a product that aligns with the tastes and attitudes of today’s health-conscious consumers,” said Kyle Wehner, co-founder and CEO. “We found that most Americans are not getting enough fruit and vegetables a day, but they are more thoughtful than ever before about what they’re putting into their bodies. Flavor and convenience seem to be the biggest obstacles. Seeing a major void in the market, our vision and purpose behind LUSH is to bring a convenient and delicious ‘wellness on-the-go’ yogurt drink with noticeable nutritional increases that everyone can enjoy anytime. It’s like a Farmer’s Market in a bottle.”

Dreaming Cow is the only national yogurt brand that exclusively sources its whole milk from its own family dairy farms, which have been focused on the humane treatment of cows and sustainable farming since 1993. Dreaming Cow’s cows are not treated with artificial growth hormones.

“As Millennials become a bigger buying segment in the marketplace, they are demanding better nutrition from the foods they eat. They are driving companies to be more innovative and are challenging the status quo in nearly every category throughout the grocery store,” says Jason Therrien, national account director. “They also want to see complete transparency of how the food they eat is made, and who makes it. We strive for transparency by communicating our commitment to the humane treatment of cows and sustainable farming through our packaging, website and social media platforms.”

It’s time to go clean and green. That includes Big Food, too. May the luck of the dairy industry be with you.

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