Friday, July 21, 2017

Chocolate Milk: Here’s How to Keep it on the Menu—in Schools, in Restaurants and the Kitchen Table

Among many disheartening news items this week, there was a story out of San Francisco announcing that The Golden City’s middle and elementary schools, effective this August, will have their flavored milk privileges revoked. In the spring, high schoolers will also no longer be able to enjoy the nourishment and rehydration of nonfat chocolate milk, the only type of flavored milk that had been served the past few years. The reason cited: sugar content.

The Los Angeles school district tried a similar ban in 2011, but after watching students dispose of either unopened or barely consumed white milk cartons, the school brought either nonfat chocolate or strawberry milk back this past school year. It’s been reported that school officials found waste was reduced by 23%.

San Francisco officials say they tested the new policy in some schools this past year and the waste was very minimal. The dairy industry knows better. Study after study has shown most school-aged milk drinkers prefer flavored—usually chocolate—milk.

Here’s something else the dairy industry knows. Low-fat milk, even as low as 1% milkfat, tastes better than nonfat milk. This is true for white and for flavored. And guess what? Delicious and healthful milkfat, as it contains many essential fatty acids, typically makes it easier to lower added sugar.

Here’s the good news. In case you missed the big announcement, on May 1, 2017, the USDA’s new secretary--Sonny Perdue—said the agency will provide greater flexibility in nutrition requirements for school meal programs in order to make food choices both healthful and appealing to students. This includes getting 1% low-fat flavored milk back on the menu.

“This announcement is the result of years of feedback from students, schools and foodservice experts about the challenges they are facing in meeting the final regulations for school meals,” Perdue said. “If kids aren’t eating the food, and it’s ending up in the trash, they aren’t getting any nutrition--thus undermining the intent of the program.”

The most important “flexibility,” as Perdue refers to this deregulation, for dairy processors is the ability to serve 1% low-fat flavored milk through the school meals programs. USDA is phasing this into the school milk policy.

Another flexibility worth noting for dairy processors, namely cheese marketers, is with sodium. For school years 2017 to 2018 through 2020, schools will not be required to meet “Sodium Target 2,” which was part of the current school nutrition policy. Instead, schools that meet Sodium Target 1 will be considered compliant.

Lastly, there’s now flexibility in meeting whole grain requirements. This is for schools experiencing challenges in finding the full range of products they need and that their students enjoy in whole grain-rich form.

Sounds great, right? Flexibility is one thing, school boards are another! There are a lot of parents who prefer to not believe the consumption studies and the nutrition facts and simply want to make sugar—and fat—the enemy.

Fluid milk processors need to invest in product development to produce a great-tasting, reduced-sugar 1% low-fat chocolate—and maybe other flavored—milks for school. There are technologies available to do this.

At the recent IFT held in Las Vegas, Kerry sampled a sugar-reduced chocolate milk solution that allows for up to a 30% reduction, while still delivering a rich, creamy taste. This solution works for flavored milk sold through all channels.

Source: IRI, provided to Dairy Management Inc., and courtesy of the Midwest Dairy Association

Flavored milk is one of the bright spots in the retail fluid milk case. Retail sales data from IRI provided to Dairy Management Inc., and courtesy of the Midwest Dairy Association, for the first quarter of 2017, show that flavored milk sales were up 3.5%. Whole-fat milk sales were also up (3.3%), as was lactose free (12%). These three formulations present a growth opportunity in the fluid milk category.

What the data from the first quarter also showed was that the retail decline for overall fluid milk was a bit more pronounced than we have seen in the past two years, with sales down 3.3%. Volume leader, white gallon milk, is driving overall fluid milk declines.

Other IRI data show that the volume of flavored milk sold through retail grew 15.8% between 2014 and 2016 and growth is continuing in to 2017. Flavored milk currently accounts for 10.5% of milk through all channels and 5.6% at retail. Four in 10 households purchase flavored milk during the course of a year. Flavor innovations, value-added formulations, and yes, lower sugar contents, may entice more households to give flavored milk a try.

It’s important to note the life stage that is indexing as high volume users. It’s households with families, both young families and those raising teens. In fact, usage of flavored milk by households with 12 to 17 year olds is 77% higher than the national norm. This data suggests there’s a huge opportunity to formulate for such households.

Something else to also consider when marketing flavored milk, as well as all food and beverage, is touting the product’s clean-label attributes. “All-natural,” “non-GMO” and “no additives or preservatives” are the most common product attributes consumers associate with clean label, according to new research from Kerry. These are also attributes of most flavored milks.

“Clean label has been a purchase driver for more than five years, yet confusion still abounds among consumers as well as manufacturers and brands looking to meet consumers’ needs,” says Renetta Cooper, business development director at Kerry. “Building on our legacy of market insights, we’re working to pinpoint consumers’ specific drivers as they relate to clean label and understand the commercial opportunities related to those drivers.”

While more than half of consumers surveyed reported being familiar with the term “clean label,” just 38% indicated a strong understanding of its definition. Respondents connected product attributes ranging from “farm grown” to “sustainably produced” to “minimally processed” and “made with real ingredients” to “clean label,” demonstrating what a truly multidimensional opportunity it is for food manufacturers and brands.

Keep inherently clean and simple farm-fresh flavored milk on the menu—in schools, in foodservice and the kitchen table.

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