Friday, May 29, 2020

Summer Inspiration Series: Create a Category

Photo source: Organic Valley

The “Summer Inspiration Series” of Friday blogs is all about stepping out of our comfort zone in terms of innovation. Why not? We’re already operating in an unprecedented manner. Some blogs may explore new concepts in “other” food and beverage categories and discuss how they may apply to dairy, others may focus on new consumer behaviors and brainstorm on how dairy foods processors may respond in coming months.

Let’s talk about creating a new category. This is not just a new formulation, such as high-protein ice cream, nor is it as simple as new packaging, such as yogurt in a pouch. Think of it as a concept that IRI, Nielsen and Spins do not know how to categorize. Recent examples among dairy processors would be refrigerated dairy bars.

In the U.S., Kraft kicked off the category in 2011 with MilkBite bars. The concept was ahead of its time and was discontinued less than a year later. Then in 2017, Prairie Farms introduced Milk Snack Bars, which is alive in the marketplace. Take note, similar refrigerated dairy-based snack bars, with fillings ranging from whipped dessert to quark, have been around in Europe for some time. Prairie Farms’ Milk Snack Bar is a two-layer whole milk crème-filled chocolate cake bar dipped in chocolate.

Clio Greek Yogurt Bars debuted in early 2019. Each bar—in full and mini size--is creamy, whole milk Greek yogurt wrapped in chocolate. Varieties are: Blueberry, Espresso, Hazelnut, Honey, Peanut Butter, Strawberry and Vanilla.

Earlier this year, Danone North America announced the rollout of Oikos Pro Bars, which has since been delayed. The bars deliver on-the-go nutrition with 20 grams of protein and 8 grams or less of sugar per 60-gram bar. Made with a Greek yogurt and nut butter base, varieties are: Blueberry Cashew, Chocolate Peanut Butter and Salted Caramel Almond.

That’s creating a category.

Another new category emerging is cheese wraps. Lotito Foods was first to market in June 2016 with Folios, which are par-baked sheets of cheese made from Cheddar, Jarlsberg or Parmesan all-natural cheeses. Folios are free of carbs, gluten and sugar. They presented a new way to eat cheese, as they can be used as a wrap, much like one would use a tortilla or flatbread or they can be the cheese slice in the wrap. They can also be warmed and molded into a crispy cheese bowl. The standalone bowl can be used to serve a cold salad or the cheese bowl can be served in a bowl and be used to serve hot foods, such as chili, pasta or soup. As the bowl starts to melt, it gets consumed with its contents.

Since late 2019, Crystal Farms has offered Cheese Wraps in Marble Jack (Colby and Monterey Jack) and Mozzarella varieties.

One could argue that the many variations of cheese snack packs now in the market are a new category. Some contain hard boiled eggs, nuts, dried or fresh fruit, crackers, spreads, meats and more. They qualify as a new category because, like I mentioned up front, IRI, Nielsen and Spins are not sure how to categorize them and they really need their own grouping.

Dutch Farms, for example, rolled out Protein Packs in the fall of 2019. Designed for consumers seeking high-protein, low-carb snacks, On-the-Go Protein Packs join Dutch Farms’ On-the-Go Snackers and On-the-Go Snack Packs. They come in two varieties: String Cheese with one hard-cooked peeled egg, and pepperoni; and Pepper Jack cheese stick with one hard-cooked peeled egg, and Genoa salami.

So, let’s talk egg bites. Starbucks cafes have been selling eggs bites since early 2017. These fully cooked portable breakfast items warmed by the barista quickly became a hit because of their protein content and premium quality. Consumers who have come to appreciate these flavorful, nutritious mini meals can now choose from a number of retail brands and prepare them at home.

To read more about this emerging new retail category, link HERE to an article I wrote earlier this week for Food Business News titled “Egg Bites Emerging as a Retail Food Trend.”

The newest player is Organic Valley, with the only nationally distributed organic egg bites product in the U.S. The refrigerated heat-and-eat product is made with organic free-range eggs from the cooperative’s small family farms, along with Organic Valley cheese and Organic Prairie meat. The two-bite, 4-ounce package contains 14 to 16 grams of protein and less than 250 calories. They can be popped in the toaster oven or microwave and ready to eat in less than 90 seconds. Varieties are: Feta and Chive, Sausage and Pepper Jack, and Uncured Ham and Swiss. They will start shipping July 27 and have a suggested retail price of $3.99 per pack.
Put your thinking caps on and let’s create more categories. It’s time to get busy in your kitchen.

Chef Nelson Serrano-Bahri (pictured below), innovation and culinology manager, Emerging Business for Ingredion Inc., hosted a Zoom meeting on May 7 (my birthday, what a good time during a pandemic!) titled “Ingredion At Home: The Basics of Recipe Development.”

Chef Serrano-Bahri and The Hatchery will be offering this free event again on June 11, 1:00-2:00pm CDT. Link HERE to register.

He normally is based at The Hatchery, a non-profit food and beverage incubator based in Chicago. Since the stay-at-home orders, he has been working out of his home kitchen. He shared with viewers the tools and tricks to bring your concept to life and get it market ready during quarantine.

He identified the following tools to equip your kitchen for commercial innovation projects.

Blenders and Food Processors: A commercial-grade food processor works better than a blender when working with ingredients, such as fruits and vegetables (to make puree), dough, nuts and dried fruit. Blenders are best for creating emulsions and mixing wet ingredients.

Bowls: Invest in stainless-steel bowls because they are sturdier and less likely to break if they fall. Plastic bowls tend to be more reactive to acids. Weigh the bowls and mark them. You can never have enough. Invest in many sizes.

Mixers: A mixer with a larger motor, such as 600 watts, provides more capacity and more flexibility. A paddle attachment is useful when adding ingredients during the mixing process.

Photo source: Ingredion Inc. 

Pot Holders and Towels: Cotton towels may function as both pot holder and cleaning tool. Slightly dampened, pot holders and towels help keep bowl and cutting boards in place during mixing and chopping. Color-coding pot holders and towels helps to prevent cross-contamination.

Power Cords and Strips: Water-resistant outdoor-style power cords are less of a fire hazard. Avoid power strips, as they may overheat.

Scales: Most home cooks use volumetric measuring devices such as cups and spoons; however, the industrial world is all about weight, so you may as well start your innovation project using the right measurements. Invest in a scale. While an inexpensive kitchen scale should suffice for major ingredients, a more precise scale is important for those “less than 2%” ingredients, which includes colors, flavors, high-intensity sweeteners, preservatives and functional ingredients.

Spatulas and Spoons: Like bowls, you can never have enough mixing utensils. Serrano-Bahri prefers rubber spatulas, as wooden kitchen tools can break or chip.

And last, yet most important, is proper sanitation. Cleaning and washing is on top of mind in this pandemic world we now find ourselves in. To save costs with cleaning solutions, Serrano-Bahri combines one-third a cup of bleach with a gallon of water. He cautions that bleach is reactive and should not be mixed with degreasers, which may create fumes. Properly label all homemade solutions in spray bottles to prevent misuse.

In celebration of June being National Dairy Month, Dairy Management Inc. (DMI) and state and regional checkoff teams around the U.S. are showcasing dairy’s resilience and community impact during the COVID-19 pandemic. The efforts begin on June 1--World Milk Day--with a “Raising Gallons” video that DMI created in partnership with state and regional checkoff organizations. You can view it HERE.

The video features Olympians, NFL players, famous chefs and others raising a gallon of milk to show their appreciation for dairy farmers while supporting the checkoff’s goal of getting nutritious dairy to food-insecure Americans through its Feeding America partnership. The video fittingly is kicked off by Pennsylvania dairy farmer and DMI Chair Marilyn Hershey and concludes with Feeding America’s Director of Dairy Supply Chain Partnerships Jerod Matthews, who encourages consumers to post their own “raising gallons” photo using #UndeniablyDairy. MilkPEP will match donations to its GiveAGallon campaign up to $100,000.

“This pandemic has shown just how essential Feeding America and dairy farmers are to helping feed those in need,” says Hershey. “We’re working toward a common goal, and our checkoff strategy of getting dairy into the hands of those who need it wouldn’t be possible without Feeding America and its nationwide network of 200 local food banks.”

Additional checkoff-led efforts nationally and locally will promote “30 Days of Dairy” throughout June. Each day of the month will be filled with virtual farm tours and content that celebrates the role dairy plays in people’s lives while illustrating dairy farmers’ resilience and contributions to their communities, tagged with a newly created “30 Days of Dairy” badge.

“The celebration of National Dairy Month has taken on new meaning this year given the global pandemic,” says Heather Oldani, executive vice president of communications for DMI. “Despite challenging times, farmers have shown a tireless commitment to waking up each morning to ensure a safe, nutritious supply of dairy is available at our grocery stores, in our homes and in community food banks. The essential role farmers have played has made it possible for the rest of us to continue to enjoy the dairy foods we all love.”

The James Collective, an integrated marketing communications company, provides five “Crisis Communication Tips for Food and Beverage Brands.”

1. Be transparent and communicative with your audience, in any way you can. While brands should be careful with how they cover topics and announcements that are related to a crisis such as the pandemic, it is important to use owned channels (such as newsletters, websites and social media) in addition to other channels as appropriate (such as traditional/digital media) to communicate the company’s commitment to safety, their consumers AND their employees. If your company has put particular programs in place for the health, safety, physical/mental wellbeing of employees, tell people. Communicate the safety procedures you are practicing in your manufacturing and logistics, and explain what that looks like to your consumers. From new sanitation policies at warehouses and manufacturers to updates on takeout options at restaurants, consumers are smart and eager to see how their favorite companies are adjusting service to reach them in these strange times.

2. Be truthful. Now more than ever, it is vital that brands communicate with their audiences in a way that is authentic and honest. Your audience will know and care if the information you share, say and post is true. The trust you build with your audience now will exist long after this crisis is behind us, so take the time now to build it. Tell your audience the what and why behind the actions your company is taking. If you’re using the time to give back to your community and those in need, share the feel-good details. If your business has had to make difficult decisions to weather the storm, explain them with empathy. Now more than ever, people are choosing to support businesses that they feel align with their own beliefs and values, so make sure that your brand is clearly communicating where their values lie.

3. Invoke your company’s voice and spirit wherever possible. While the world is collectively experiencing hard times (and will continue to be for the foreseeable future), that doesn’t mean your messaging needs to be all doom and gloom. If your brand voice is fun and cheeky, use that. If you celebrate beauty, find ways to celebrate the beauty of the current moment. Now is a time to find ways to engage and celebrate your community, consumers and buyers. This could be with grocery retailers, in partnership with non-profits, influencers, your loyal consumers and more. Despite everything going on in the world around us, people are still looking to their favorite brands to provide services and entertainment that speak to the current moment. Get as creative as you’d like.

4. Be proactive and realistic about the future of your business. For many food and beverage companies, the current global health crisis has offered a glimpse into a future where direct-to-consumer (DTC) reigns supreme and the brands that use that glimpse to tailor their business strategy now are the ones that are setting themselves up for security and success down the line. If your company was not utilizing DTC channels prior to the pandemic, now is an excellent time to heed the requests of your customers and find a way to deliver your product to them directly. If your business was already operating DTC, use this time to build on that strategy. Tell your story on all of your owned channels. Surprise and delight. Make customers want to keep interacting with your brand and establish loyalty to your product. This could be anything from providing digital resources/recipes, providing creative and exceptional customer service, aiming for speed in shipping, anything to establish the value your company provides, and to allow your audience to feel that by supporting your business, they are a member of a community. Even once the economy begins to reopen, these trends are unlikely to disappear. Prepare now in a way that ensures you keep customers coming back.

5. Create an emergency plan. If you didn’t prepare for crisis before, do so now. If this crisis has taught one thing, it’s that there’s no such thing as overpreparation. Learn from the mistakes and successes you may have seen over the course of the past few months. Where did your brand unexpectedly exceed or grow? Where was your company left scrambling to quickly adapt to the new regulations and policies necessitated by the pandemic? Now is a time to future-proof your business by using the learnings of this pandemic to prepare for the next crisis. Create a strategic emergency communications plan now so that you’re prepared for any future crises that may come your way.

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