Friday, June 2, 2017

Farm-to-Fork: Ingredients that Resonate with Dairy Foods Consumers

Photo source: Bob Evans

The concept of “from the farm” vs. “developed in a lab” resonates with consumers and will be the focus of many exhibits at this year’s IFT, which is in less than four weeks in Las Vegas. This “farm” story is one that the dairy industry inherently is part of, which is why it is so crucial that dairy foods manufacturers use ingredients that do not dilute this natural and wholesome message.

It’s paramount that dairy foods formulators understand that for many of today’s consumers, food selection is based on a combination of nutrition and personal values. Looks and tastes still matter, but other criteria often come into consideration when deciding between two brands of similar product.


The International Food Information Council Foundation’s 12th Annual Food and Health Survey shows that more than half of consumers say it is very important or important that they recognize the ingredients listed on the package of the food they buy at retail. Half feel the same way about knowing where their food comes from. A growing number of consumers want to understand how a food is produced and to know that the manufacturer shares similar values in terms of sustainability, environment, food waste and more. 

Sourcing ingredients has become so much more than a numbers game. It’s important that ingredients can be traced back to the farm so this farm story can be communicated to consumers. Using “all-natural” phrases such as “sweetened with a touch of Texas-grown cane sugar” or “colored by sun-ripened tomatoes” appeal to today’s consumers.


A study published in the Journal of Food Science found that expectations of product quality, nutritional content and the amount of money consumers were willing to pay increased when consumers saw a product labeled “all-natural” as compared to the same product without the label.

Researchers at Ohio State University used virtual reality technology to simulate a grocery store taste-test of peanut butter. In one condition, consumers were asked by a server to evaluate identical products with only one being labeled all-natural. In the other, the server additionally emphasized the all-natural status of the one sample.

In the first condition, expectations of product quality and nutritional content increased, but not liking or willingness to pay additional for the all-natural product. However, expectations of product quality and nutritional content as well the amount of money subjects were willing to pay increased further when a virtual in-store server identified one of the peanut butters as being made with all-natural ingredients. This result was observed across a diverse group of subjects indicating the broad impact of the all-natural label.

Currently FDA has not provided a clear definition of the phrases “natural” or “all natural,” despite extensive use in U.S. product marketing. Prior research has indicated that consumers define “natural” primarily by the absence of “undesirable” attributes such as additives and human intervention, as opposed to the presence of specific positive qualities.
You can view the abstract HERE.

Formulating “all-natural” dairy foods often refers to eliminating chemical-sounding additives or any ingredient recognized as being artificial, most notably certain colors, flavors, preservatives and sweeteners. It is best to determine finished product labeling, sensory and shelf life goals prior to product development. This checklist can assist with identifying your toolbox of potential ingredients.

  • Colors: Any ingredient with the sole purpose of adding color to a food or beverage is a color additive, with all color additives requiring approval by FDA as a food additive. The FDA classifies color additives as either “certified” or “exempt from certification.” The former is commonly referred to as artificial or synthetic; and the latter, by default, is often characterized as natural. Because FDA does not consider any color added to a food as being natural, unless the color is natural to the product itself, such as strawberry extract boosting the red color of strawberries in yogurt, it is more common to use label claims such as “free from synthetic colors” or “colored with fruit and vegetable juice” rather than “all natural.” Determine your label claim up front. 
  • Flavors: Both natural and artificial flavors are manufactured through the blending of chemicals. The difference is when essential oils are used in the manufacture of the flavor, or when artificial chemicals are blended to simulate essential oils. The former is considered natural, the latter artificial. Based on the raw material, FDA is very clear on the labeling of flavors as either natural or artificial. Historically many natural flavors were considered weaker in flavor strength and less stable to processing than their artificial counterparts. Advanced technologies have significantly improved quality, but often with a cost. It is paramount that formulators determine flavor targets and budgets in order to have realistic goals.
  • Preservatives: The FDA defines a chemical preservative as any chemical that, when added to food, tends to prevent or retard deterioration. Ingredients excluded from this list include common salt, sugars, vinegars, spices or oils extracted from spices, as well as substances added to food by direct exposure, for example wood smoke. Consumers expect refrigerated dairy products to have a shorter shelf life, as they are perishable living systems. Chemical preservatives are usually not necessary, unless the goal is for a lengthy shelf life, as is the case with spreadable cheeses and even some cultured products. Determine the minimum expiration date necessary for your distribution system.  
  • Sweeteners: The FDA does not impose the descriptor of artificial to any sweetener, rather, there are six high-intensity sweeteners—acesulfame potassium, advantame, aspartame, neotame, saccharin and sucralose—approved as food additives in the U.S. Even though they are not legally classified as artificial sweeteners, this descriptor has become common language, making label claims such as “free from artificial sweeteners” increasingly popular in the clean-label movement. There are an array of sweeteners available to formulators, some of which have cleaner reputations than others. For example, agave, honey, monkfruit, pure cane sugar and stevia have all gained traction in the natural products channel as wholesome, naturally derived sweetening options. Formulators should identify all sweeteners to avoid prior to product development, as sweetener may impact product appearance, color, flavor, mouthfeel and other attributes. Remember to consider the sweeteners in ingredient systems such as fruit preparation and inclusions.

The “all-natural” position has some overlap with the “free from” platform. This is all about the elimination of certain foods and food ingredients based on personal values and avoidance diets, which may be for real medical reasons or perceived wellness benefits. To read more about “free from” formulating, please link HERE to an article I recently wrote for Food Business News.

Infographic source: Lycored

There’s also the whole GMO debate. The fact is, the way Americans eat has become a source of social, economic and political friction as people follow personal preferences reflecting their principles on how foods connect with their health and ailments, according to a 2016 survey by Pew Research Center, Washington, D.C. The Pew study showed that a sizable minority--39%--of Americans consider genetically modified (GM) foods worse for health than other foods. This compares with 48% of adults who say GM foods are no different from non-GM foods and 10% who say GM foods are better for health.

I just finished a special report on this topic for Food Business News. You can read it HERE.

World Milk Day
Yesterday (June 1) was World Milk Day, the kickoff to June being Dairy Month. To learn more about this annual event, link HERE.

Here’s some great news during a time when many of us dread reading consumer media headlines.

The public health case for the consumption of milk and other dairy foods is stronger today than ever. This is a fact that is increasingly recognized by health experts and consumers in the U.S. and across the globe.

“The undeniable good news about dairy products starts with its unmatched value as a superfood--no other food source comes close to providing the same nutrition,” says Jim Mulhern, president and CEO of the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF).

A glass of milk provides nine essential nutrients: calcium, potassium, phosphorus, protein, vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin B12, riboflavin and niacin.

Over the years, “this consistent nutritional package has earned dairy its unparalleled wholesome 
reputation--a healthy halo--that consumers recognize and trust. Meeting government nutrient recommendations is extremely difficult without including milk and dairy in your diet,” he says. “World Milk Day offers us a great opportunity to remind consumers here at home, and around the world, of the important benefits of real milk. It may have its imitators, but no other product can duplicate or replace the same unprocessed, natural goodness of the real thing.”

A few weeks ago, sort of a lead into Dairy Month, the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy--in partnership with America’s Dairy Farm Families and Importers--launched “Undeniably Dairy,” an innovative category campaign.

“We feel that now is the absolute right time to come together with one voice to share the community’s story--to celebrate the delicious, nutritious foods in the dairy aisle and the people who bring them to your table,” says Barbara O’Brien, president of the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy.

In addition to showcasing the undeniable taste and enjoyment that comes from dairy--like a warm slice of pizza or a yogurt parfait on a summer day--the campaign is spotlighting the undeniably positive role the dairy community—those farms that resonate with today’s consumers--plays in America today.  

“Despite dairy farms being in all 50 states and most of us living within 100 miles of a dairy farm, many people have never set foot on a farm,” says Beth Engelmann, chief marketing communications officer at Dairy Management Inc., which represents America’s nearly 42,000 dairy farmers and importers. “Undeniably Dairy is about reestablishing the connection between the enjoyment of the product and the hard work and pride of the people who make it possible. This campaign is unprecedented in that it unifies a vast and diverse dairy industry and array of dairy products behind a single platform.”

Today, farmers use 65% less water and 63% less carbon per gallon of milk produced. And for every $1 million of in-store U.S. milk sales, 17 new jobs are generated.  

“When you see a dairy farm, you’re usually looking at multiple generations of providing for the community, multiple generations of land conservation, multiple generations of business innovation,” says Amber Horn-Leiterman, a Wisconsin dairy farmer. “And that often means being an early adopter when it comes to new technology that allows us to advance and improve animal care, capture and reuse our resources and maintain a total commitment to producing products that are safe, healthy and nutritious.” 

To learn more about the Undeniably Dairy campaign, link HERE.

Be smart when you formulate dairy foods. Keep dairy undeniably natural and wholesome. Hope to see you in Vegas soon!


No comments:

Post a Comment