Thursday, May 6, 2021

Fad vs. Part of the New Norm: Don’t Let Another Chobani Sneak Up on You!


A few weeks ago when I spoke on fad vs. trend at the International Dairy Foods Associations’ Ice Cream Technology and Yogurt and Cultured Innovation conferences, I took attendees back more than 30 years to discuss prioritizing product development and marketing today by looking at what worked, what did not work and what might be the way to go as we enter the post-pandemic world. I apologize in advance if I offend a few with my theories, but please remember, I’ve been reporting on dairy foods trends and innovations since 1993! That’s 28 years, longer than I want to admit and more years than the age of many of you reading this. (By the way, today is my birthday, so pardon the liberties I take in today’s blog. I feel like ruffling a few feathers with some observations I have made through the years.) 

Facts with Opinion

  • Birth rates are down but pet adoptions--and pet food sales--are up. (This does not mean dairy processors should all be making doggy ice cream nor does it mean you should stop focusing on developing nutrient-dense products for babies, toddlers and tots.)
  • While plant-based innovations are all over the media—business, consumer, social and even political-- U.S. meat consumption is at an all-time high. Further, U.S. beef and pork exports established new records in March 2021. (This does not mean you should stop making plant-based dairy-wanna-be products and go into butchering. More on this later.)
  • Pet rocks were a fad. Fidget spinners were a fad. Mobile phones are here to stay. (Just in case you were wondering.)
  • Fat-free was one of the longest living fads in the food industry, starting out in the late 1980s and in full force by the early 1990s. (I know from my formulating experience during my tenure at Kraft from 1990 to 1993 that the words “fat-free” do not belong in front of the word “cheese.” Challenge me. I dare you!) 
  • Gluten-free foods are a necessity for those with celiac disease and gluten intolerance, giving this label claim longevity. (But, gluten-free dieting is a fad for many, thanks to unproven celebrity endorsements and media hype.) 
  • Complete protein is necessary for development and biological function, as well as overall health and wellness. (Yes, it is!)

More on Protein 
A protein is considered nutritionally complete when it contains the nine amino acids essential in the human diet in a ratio that matches the requirements of the body. Dairy-based protein sources are nutritionally complete; however, the majority of plant-based protein ingredients are not. The most noteworthy exception is soy, which has long been the plant of choice for dairy alternatives. Other complete plant proteins include amaranth, buckwheat, chia seed, hemp seed, quinoa and spirulina. 

In addition to amino acid profile, another consideration is the quality of the protein, which reflects amino acid bioactivity, among other attributes. Currently protein quality is measured by the Protein Digestibility Corrected Amino Acid Score (PDCAAS), which is an adjustment for the quality of the protein. It is based on the types and amounts of amino acids in the food as well as the overall digestibility. The PDCAAS values range from 0.0 to 1.0, where values are truncated to a maximum score of 1.00, which cows’ milk, casein, whey, eggs and soy protein all possess. Most plant protein sources have much lower values. 

Some Fact, Some Theory 
Phil Dunphy is the patriarch of Modern Family. He developed quite a list of Phil’s-osophy advise over the show’s 11 seasons, including "pourenting." When my husband—Timothy—shares his grand insights to me and our sons, we refer to it as Tim’s-otheory. It works! You are stuck with Donna’s Dose of Dairy today. 

Let’s talk clean label and plant based. These are two concepts currently fueling product innovation, and rightfully so. After all, a diet with fewer artificial and chemically processed ingredients, along with more fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and whole grains makes nutritional sense. These two terms; however, should be limited to your internal communications.  

They are not legally defined. They are cousins with “natural” and have an attitude. While many food and beverage marketers may be using these descriptors on their products, please don’t. They are an invitation to a class-action lawsuit. 

Clean-label and plant-based formulating will be part of the new norm, just proceed with caution. I am not as worried about clean label as I am plant based. The term is being over used and causing confusion in the marketplace, because the descriptor is appearing on everything from vegetable oil to dried spices to bagged lettuce to wine! These products have always been plant based. Nothing has changed.

“Plant based” is sitting in a space similar to “healthy” near the end of the fat-free movement. This resulted in the development of the “jelly bean rule” by FDA in May 1994. It says that just because foods are low in fat, cholesterol and sodium, they cannot claim to be “healthy” unless they contain at least 10% of the Daily Value of vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, protein, fiber or iron. The FDA also made a policy that companies could not fortify foods with the sole intent of making that claim.

I would like to see plant-based labeling mean the product contains whole plants, such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and whole grains. 

The dairy industry is in a good place when it comes to nomenclature. We can use words such as “non-dairy” to assist those avoiding dairy with enjoying like products simulated from plants. Even vegan is a safer term than plant based. 

Consumers want non-dairy options. Oatly avoids “plant-based” language on its packaging and most marketing materials; however, my preference would be not to include “dairy alternative” language on the label. But the company is not a dairy, so I get it. Chobani focuses on the ingredient used in the non-dairy dairy-like product. 

That brings me to my headline: Don’t Let Another Chobani Sneak Up on You. This is not a reference to Chobani’s non-dairy products, rather it’s where the dairy industry was in 2005 when Chobani was started.

This is the year that Activia yogurt debuted, and the big buzz word was probiotics, and soon prebiotics, yet, not only were these terms new to consumers, but processors were also unsure on how to use them. And while everyone was obsessed with figuring out digestive health, and getting pitched by suppliers to start “cleaning up labels,” Hamdi Ulukaya, founder and CEO of Chobani, bought Kraft’s yogurt factory in Upstate New York…and, well, the rest is history. 

What’s my point? Don’t get hung up on “plant based” just because it’s all over the media. Include non-dairy options in your product portfolio. Think of dairy and non-dairy bases as carriers for nutrients and functional, beneficial compounds that the post-pandemic consumers wants to include in their diet. 

This week HealthFocus International provided a sneak peek to insights from its 2021 USA Trend Study “Shoppers’ Journey Towards Living & Eating Healthier.” (Check out the infographic above.) I suggest you focus on functional ingredients for health and wellness. Add them to your dairy and non-dairy bases. 

Here's something to ponder from IRI. “Due to recent cost increases and shopper behavior shifts stemming from COVID-19, CPG manufacturers--especially premium players--need to strengthen their margins and justify their price positioning,” said Ray Florio, executive vice president and partner of IRI Growth Consulting. “Shoppers have become far more cynical about product claims and benefits, requiring brands to take a more sophisticated approach to communicate their true value and avoid commoditization.”

Friday, April 30, 2021

Explore the Pop Up Grocer for Food Innovation Inspiration


Photo source: Pop Up Grocer

Tomorrow is May Day, a secular public holiday that makes Spring official and Summer imminent. While I won’t be dancing or singing in a garden of early-blooming flowers as the day historically was celebrated throughout Europe, I plan to attend a “food event.” That’s right. Chicago, a foodie destination, is opening up again. 

The event—the Pop Up Grocer—is the world’s first-ever traveling pop-up grocery store concept. Since launching two years ago, Pop Up Grocer has opened shops in New York, Los Angeles and Austin, Texas. A portion of profits from sales are donated to The Pop Up Grocer Fund, which supports emerging consumer brands. 

The Pop Up Grocer is best described as an experience-oriented grocery store and a destination where shoppers discover new products from the “buzziest brands on Instagram,” according to founder Emily Schildt. 

She told my colleague Monica Watrous at Food Business News that there are three criteria when choosing products to sell at the Pop Up Grocer. The first and most important is the product’s uniqueness and its story. If it’s a food product, nutrition, ingredients and responsible sourcing are evaluated. And last, aesthetics matter. To read more, link HERE.

The Chicago installment of this event shows that dairy foods and dairy proteins are an important component of the future of food. 

Clio Snacks is at the Pop Up Grocer. The company’s most recent innovation is the Clio Granola and Yogurt Parfait bar. The refrigerated product combines Clio’s signature creamy Greek yogurt with a layer of crunchy granola, transforming the traditional parfait into a ready-made hand-held product that functions as a convenient breakfast, satiating snack or better-for-you dessert. Available in two varieties--Strawberry wrapped in yogurt and Coconut wrapped in chocolate—each bar is packed with 10 grams of protein from dairy in the form of yogurt, nonfat dry milk and whey.

The Granola and Yogurt Parfait bars join the original Clio Greek Yogurt Bars, which debuted a little more than two years ago and are the creation of Sergey Konchakovskiy, founder and CEO of Clio Snacks. While prepping a Greek yogurt rub for a lamb roast, Konchakovskiy put the rub in the refrigerator and forgot about it until several days later when his kids discovered the highly strained yogurt. It had developed a feta-like consistency and in an a-ha moment, he realized that this textured yogurt would be a great way to get his kids to eat yogurt, especially if it was wrapped in chocolate. 

To his surprise, Konchakovskiy learned that no U.S. dairy companies had the capabilities to make this yogurt bar. He leveraged his savings to purchase cheese-making equipment from Europe and after two years of learning, research and development, Clio Snacks was born. This is the type of story Pop Up Grocer wants to include in its product lineup.  

The original Clio Greek Yogurt Bars consist of creamy, whole milk Greek yogurt wrapped in chocolate. They combine the nutritional benefits of yogurt with the convenience of a bar. Varieties are: Blueberry, Espresso, Hazelnut, Honey, Peanut Butter, Strawberry and Vanilla. A 50-gram bar contains 140 calories, 6 grams of fat, 10 grams of sugar and 8 grams of protein. (The peanut butter flavor is 170 calories, 8 grams of fat and 13 grams of sugar.) 

About a year after rolling out the original line, the company introduced Clio Less Sugar Greek Yogurt Bars in Mixed Berry and Peach flavors. With 100 calories, 7 grams of fat, 1 gram of sugar and 8 grams of protein, the Less Sugar bars deliver the same rich dairy flavor and cheesecake-like texture. The inside of the bars are made with whole milk yogurt enriched with whey protein and sweetened with allulose, erythritol and stevia leaf extract. The bar is enrobed in a no-sugar-added chocolate coating.

Cloud & Joy is also at the Pop Up Grocer. This brand entered the retail ice cream freezer with a better-for-you treat right before the pandemic shut the world down. It still managed to get distribution in a number of East Coast markets. The ice cream is all about having a low sugar content, and with some varieties, no added sugars. None of them contain sugar alcohols.

The innovative base starts with organic non-fat milk that is combined with various gums and tapioca flour. Sweetness comes from a unique blend of allulose, organic agave inulin fiber, stevia leaf extract, monkfruit and mushroom extract. The five varieties are: 

Boozy Bee Vanilla is vanilla with bourbon and honey swirls.
Cafecito Coffee & Cocoa Nibs is reminiscent of thick, sweet Cuban coffee with added cocoa flakes.
Peppermint & Brownies is peppermint ice cream with hazelnut-infused dark chocolate brownies with hazelnut slices. This variety also contains spirulina superfruit for a health benefit.
Sea & Smoke Chocolate is dark chocolate ice cream with cherrywood smoke flavor, sea salt and roasted, glazed, salted pecans.
Summer Camp is a s’more inspired mix of vanilla ice cream with chocolate and cinnamon spice graham cookies. 

Part of Cloud & Joy’s story that got it into Pop Up Grocer is how 10% of profits go to Heifer International, which helps support the core of the company: dairy. Heifer International’s mission is to end hunger while caring for the environment. It is a perfect fit for Cloud & Joy and Pop Up Grocer. 

Picnik is at the Pop Up Grocer, too. This Austin, Texas-based company markets an array of functional beverages, many of which are made with grass-fed butter and whey. The company says grass-fed butter fuels the body with a sustained, clean energy that satiates appetite and reduces cravings, while the grass-fed whey protein absorbs rapidly into the body to reduce hunger and sustain muscle growth. 

You will also find whey proteins in some unlikely applications at Pop Up Grocer. Kodiak Cakes, for example, prioritizes protein in many of its grain-based products. The Power Cakes flapjack and waffle mix includes whey protein concentrate and milk protein concentrate, along with buttermilk powder for a rich, homemade taste.  

One of the company’s most recent introductions is a line if no-bake protein ball mixes. Available in dark chocolate and oat chocolate chip varieties, the dairy-protein enriched mix gets combined by the consumer with water, honey and nut butter and rolled into a dozen balls that pack in 10 grams of protein per serving.  

Grass-fed butter and grass-fed mozzarella are key ingredients in Snow Days Pizza Bites, also at Pop Up Grocer. The company uses only organic, unprocessed, clean ingredients, protein and vegetables to make this classic “stuck at home because of snow” treat. 

This past year, for many, it was “stuck at home because of the pandemic.” Each bag of the treats carries the message: “Today is gonna be a good day.” 

Get inspired to kick off May by browsing the Pop Up Grocer website showcasing the more than 400 new products that will be on sale by linking HERE.

The Pop Up Grocer is currently open in the Wicker Park neighborhood of Chicago from April 30 to May 30 at 1555 N. Milwaukee Avenue. Hours are 9AM-7PM daily. (I don’t live far. Let me know if you plan a visit. I would love to visit.)

Friday, April 23, 2021

Mindful Breakfasting Innovation Opportunities


Photo source: The California Milk Advisory Board

The concept of mindful snacking became mainstream a few years before COVID-19 disrupted our lives. The pandemic moved it into high gear as more folks founds themselves nibbling throughout the day of their new-norm office and classroom. 

Mindful snacking is all about choosing better-for-you foods as mini meals, rather than traditional snacks from years ago, which tended to be high-carb, high-fat, nutrient-void treats. Now let me introduce you to mindful breakfasting. But first, some wise words to ponder as we move into the post-pandemic phase of life.

“Health is a state of complete mental, social and physical well-being, not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” World Health Organization, 1948

A healthful breakfast helps with all five states. That’s why it is often called the most important meal of the day.

The California Milk Advisory Board (CMAB) recognizes that the pandemic has put a lot of pressure on the morning meal. The CAB has introduced an array of marketing campaigns showcasing the importance of dairy and quality protein for breakfast. During August and September, for example, there was a back-to-school “Mornings Mean More” retail flashpoint with fluid milk in the spotlight. And in October, the CMAB rolled out two “:30 Day Can Wait segments.” You can view “Video Conference” HERE and “Emails” HERE.

The commercials focus on the importance of taking a moment with family for breakfast before the hustle, bustle and technology of the day begins. Produced by Deutsch LA, the spots graphically showcase the digital distractions that often start in the early mornings, from email notifications to ringing phones and video calls, compared with the satisfying and calming elements of enjoying California dairy for breakfast.

“Despite breakfast being the most important meal of the day, it often gets lost in the rush of morning and all of our pending commitments,” says John Talbot, CEO of the CMAB. “With more people working remotely, recent findings showcase that breakfast is back. With dairy at the heart of many breakfast items, Real California Milk continues to help families make mornings mean more with California milk and dairy foods.” 

This is breakfast messaging that dairy processors across the country need to communicate. It also invites innovation.

A few weeks ago I shared insights from Chris Riddell, an innovation and futurist speaker from Australia. It is appropriate to reemphasize them now as it relates to breakfast innovation. 

“You cannot have a finite mindset [in the way you approach your business],” he said. “Innovation is no longer a luxury.”

He explained that we now live in a non-linear world, as no one stays in their lane anymore. And, if you are staying in your lane to maintain legacy—the way it was always done—you will not make it. 

It is time to reinvent experiences that consumers crave. This includes the breakfasts they might have been enjoyed at the coffee shop after dropping kids off at school, dashboard dining through a drive-thru or the office building buffet.

Breakfast during the pandemic is decidedly central to how consumers boost their resilience, and consequently it’s become more complex, according to The Hartman Group. 

“Even before the pandemic, we were noting some distinct characteristics and shifts within the breakfast occasion, namely, that health needs tended to be more elevated at breakfast relative to other dayparts, with consumers focusing on sustained energy and an overall desire for breakfast to ‘do more,’” said Danielle Kanter, a consultant with The Hartman Group, during the recent podcast “Breakfast: Reliably Routine and Becoming More Complex.” “Fast forward through the effects of the pandemic, and breakfast has taken on several characteristics that include a heightened need for convenience, as consumers report that ‘busyness’ has actually increased with their hectic work/life schedules during COVID-19.”

Along with another Hartman Group consultant—Abby Cullinan—the two discussed how needs that relate to health and wellness, such as an increased desire for fresh and less processed, and moderation have increased significantly during breakfast occasions as consumers look to proactively support their health and immunity with food and beverage choices. You can listen to the 11-minute podcast HERE.

The two explained how health needs are more elevated at breakfast than any other daypart, presenting innovation opportunities for dairy processors to target the morning meal. Consumers might need it spelled out to them, too. Don’t shy away from marketing specific dairy foods as being powerhouse products to jump start the day. 
“Morning occasions like breakfast and early-morning snacks are much more likely to be focused on health, a focus that declines throughout the day,” said Kanter. 

Breakfast has become the most routine meal of the day. Many consumers have finite options on hand that provide convenient, sustained energy without feeling the pressure to cook. Moderation is paramount with the convenience factor, so single-serve units are desirable. Consumers are looking for just enough fuel to get them settled into their day.  

Jon Nudi, president-North America Retail for General Mills identified three food trends that will likely stick post-pandemic. (See infographic.) He believes that more time at home will be an ongoing part of consumer routines, which means there are more opportunities for at-home eating. 
Recognizing the room to play in this space, Chicago-based Dutch Farms Inc., has entered the refrigerated egg bites category. The company jumped out of its lane and is using sous vide technology to produce its new egg bites. This culinary technique involves vacuum-sealed food that is immersed in water and cooked at a precise, consistent temperature to lock in flavor. Milk, cheese and eggs are the dominant ingredients. 

Need some innovation inspiration? MilkPEP is here to help. The education program funded by U.S. milk companies and dedicated to educating consumers and increasing consumption of fluid milk, is getting ready to roll out “You’re Gonna Need Milk For That (YGNMFT). The new marketing campaign is bolder than ever before. This extensive program comes with a lot of details and information. To ensure you know all the ways to leverage YGNMFT for your brands, MilkPEP is hosting a deep-dive workshop on its do’s and don’ts.

At the “Bringing YGNMFT To Life” webinar on April 29th at 1:30pm EDT, presenters will highlight toolkit assets and how to use them; examples of logo and layout management, digital, social, packaging and more; and powerful new ways to talk about milk, including USDA-approved messaging.
Register HERE.

Breakfast is back! Be part of the morning ritual. 

Friday, April 16, 2021

Refrigerated Desserts—Dairy and Non-Dairy—are poised to do well in the post-COVID marketplace


Photo source: Pots & Co

The time is right for refrigerated desserts. Two major marketers—Kraft Heinz and General Mills--are vested in their success and will drive consumers to this supermarket space. I’ve written many times that refrigerated desserts are one of the most underdeveloped categories in the U.S. marketplace. Hopefully, that is changing. Throughout most of Europe, and in developed regions of South America and Asia, puddings, parfaits, cheesecakes, flan and more have been booming for years. The time is right for the U.S.

With consumers entering the revenge spending period of the pandemic, they want to play and they are willing to pay. There’s a lot of pent up energy to explore. There’s money to be spent and consumers want to indulge to make up for lost time. 

While more than 20 million jobs were lost during COVID-19, the stimulus payments, unemployment checks and the simple hoarding by those who have been working overtime, have made around 80% of Americans flush with cash. They want to premiumize their diet. They are trading up. They are experimenting. 

That’s why it is time for dairy foods marketers to pivot once again, to reinvent the refrigerated dessert space. This includes offering dairy and non-dairy based indulgent desserts, so that there is something for every consumer who discovers this small—but growing—retail space typically sandwiched between yogurt and cookie dough. 

General Mills gets it. This week, 301 INC, the venture capital arm of the Minneapolis-based company, led a multistage investment of up to $20 million in Pots & Co, in partnership with other investors. Pots & Co, the London-based food company best known for its extensive range of hand-crafted potted desserts in the U.K., will leverage the investment to propel its growth strategy. This includes expanding its product range and distribution in the U.S. 

While Pots & Co’s U.S. packaging is different than what’s in the U.K., the product concept is the same. All of the refrigerated desserts are handmade using only ingredients you can pronounce and contain no preservatives. They are carefully crafted by Michelin-trained restaurant chefs using only the finest ingredients, with each concept having unique depth and a creamy texture. 

The investment into Pots & Co is supported by increased retail distribution in the U.S. focused on the West Coast and Rocky Mountain region. Pots & Co will initially supply its range of unique potted desserts and has longer-term plans to also offer its new savory, Mezze-style dips range.

All products distributed in the U.S. are currently handmade in Pots & Co’s London-based factory. This investment will also enable the business to explore manufacturing capabilities in the U.S. as well as invest further into marketing and distributing the brand.

“We want to create one of the world’s leading food brands and we are thrilled that General Mills has invested in Pots & Co, enabling us to speed up the growth of our business and creating fabulous products for the American consumer,” says Julian Dyer, founder of Pots & Co. 

John Haugen, founder and managing director of 301 INC, says, “Our mission is to discover new and emerging food brands with a remarkable offering. Pots & Co fulfils that mission with its focus on natural ingredients to create desserts of restaurant quality. As our first overseas investment and first investment in a U.K. company, we believe Pots & Co will deliver substantial growth with an increasing range of desserts and with its move into savory products. We’re excited to partner as the brand expands its presence in the U.S. market.”

Don’t believe this is an opportunity for you yet? The numbers speak for themselves. Pots & Co has generated rapid growth since it was founded in London in 2012. It produced sales of nearly $2.8 million in 2014, which increased to $19.5 million in 2020, a 700% increase over six years. Pots & Co currently produces 16 million handmade desserts a year. In the U.K., it is also famous for its signature ceramic pots spun by a family business in Valencia, Spain.

Kraft Heinz gets it, too. Earlier in the year, the company introduced Colliders. The new line of dairy-based desserts comes in three different formats, each offering a unique texture and flavor combination. In total, there are 12 varieties, all of which sell in packs of two. Some are available as single containers.

Chopped: The four varieties include a flavored dairy dessert with candy pieces. Varieties are: Hershey’s Chocolate (chocolate dessert with dark chocolate pieces), Hershey’s Mint (mint dessert with dark chocolate pieces), Hershey’s S’mores (marshmallow dessert with milk chocolate pieces and graham cracker crumbles) and Reese’s (peanut butter dessert with milk chocolate pieces).

Layered: The four varieties are a layer of candy-flavored dairy dessert with a layer of rich milk chocolate topping. Varieties are: Mounds (coconut), Reese’s (peanut butter), Rolo (caramel) and York (peppermint).

Twisted: The four varieties are all based on a vanilla-flavored dairy dessert and include crumbles of candy. Varieties are: Heath, Hershey’s Cookies ‘n’ Cream, Kit Kat and Reese’s.
The company also rolled out Philadelphia Cheesecake Crumble. Each 6.6-ounce boxes contain two single-serve cheesecake dessert cups. Varieties are: Cherry, Chocolate Hazelnut, Original and Strawberry. With Philadelphia-brand cream cheese the number-one ingredient, these desserts come complete with a graham crumble in a dome top, which mimics a graham cracker crust. The separate container prevents it from getting soggy.

Reina Desserts, a refrigerated desserts company from Houston, Texas, has long been a player in this space and with much success, especially with the many authentic international products offered. To stay current with the evolving consumer, the company now offers two plant-based desserts: Chocolate Pudding and Rice Pudding. 

St. Benoit Creamery is known for its Pots de Crème (“poh-deh-krem”). These rich, spoonable clean-label puddings have only 200 calories (or less) in each jar and are made without fillers or excessive sugar. The desserts come in sustainable glass packaging for a healthy, convenient treat that’s delicious and fun for kids and adults. Flavors include elevated versions of nostalgic classics like Vanilla and TCHO Chocolate, which won a 2020 sofi Award (specialty outstanding food innovation) for best new product in the other dairy category. Snickerdoodle captures the taste of the classic buttery cinnamon cookie without the gluten and carbs while Salted Caramel combines richly flavorful caramel with a savory hint of sea salt.

To view more refrigerated dessert concepts introduced the past few years, link HERE.

Friday, April 9, 2021

Positioning Your Products for Revenge Spending

At the International Dairy Foods Association’s Ice Cream Tech conference this week---it was so nice to virtually interact with many of you—I introduced attendees to the emerging “revenge spending” movement we are now entering after saving money typically spent on social activities this past year of the pandemic. Bloomberg estimates that Americans stashed away $1.7 trillion dollars and now are ready to put it back into the economy. 

Fully vaccinated folks are booking vacations—at a hefty price—and exploring restaurants once again. They are craving flavor adventure and are looking for new foods to satisfy. (Not sure what the fashion industry was thinking, but this year was not the one to bring back 80’s styles. That’s the last thing Boomers and Gen X want to revisit. It’s like extending the pandemic nightmare.)

So what does this all mean for dairy foods? For starters, it is paramount that we continue to communicate the “Power of Dairy Protein” message. This includes talking quality not just quantity. 

To make a “good source of protein” claim, a product must provide more than 10% of the Daily Value (DV) of protein per serving (5 grams), while products making an “excellent source of protein” claim must contain more than 20% DV (10 grams). It’s important to note that making these claims does not simply translate to 5 grams and 10 grams of protein per serving. It’s 5 grams and 10 grams of “high-quality” protein. 

The Percent Daily Value for protein is currently determined using the Protein Digestibility Corrected Amino Acid Score (PDCAAS), which is an adjustment for the quality of the protein. It is based on the types and amounts of amino acids in the food as well as the overall digestibility. The PDCAAS values range from 0.0 to 1.0, where values are truncated to a maximum score of 1.00, which cows milk, casein, whey, eggs and soy protein all possess. Most plant protein sources have much lower values. Thus, a nutrition beverage containing 10 grams of milk protein may make an “excellent source of protein” claim. A vegan product with 10 grams of protein from pulses or grains most likely only qualifies for a “good source of protein” claim. When making or implying any protein content claim, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration requires the inclusion of the % DV to support the protein claim.  

This week, the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) published a statement titled: Dairy—Tough to Live Without It. Here it is:

The misguided, fringe argument that dairy isn’t important to human diets would be laughable if it weren’t dangerous. Is it possible to live without dairy? It’s possible to live without many things--sunlight, for example--but that doesn’t make it healthy, wise or preferable.  

While a dairy-free life is possible, it isn’t wise, unless, maybe, you’re severely allergic or perhaps work in sales for a nutritional supplement company. A few facts:

Scientific studies have linked dairy consumption to numerous health benefits, including reduced inflammation, improved digestive health and healthy immune systems. 

According to last year’s final scientific advisory report of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, which sets the Dietary Guidelines for Americans every five years, 88% of Americans have insufficient dairy in their diets. 

Infographic source: HealthFocus International

Dairy is especially important to pregnant women as a source of iodine, as well as for infants and toddlers, who beginning at six months can benefit from yogurt and cheese, and at 12 months gain nutrition from dairy milk.

The Advisory Committee also recommended dairy for consumption within all three healthy eating patterns featured in its report: the Healthy U.S. style eating pattern, the Healthy Vegetarian Style pattern and the Healthy-Mediterranean pattern.

Research shows that healthy eating patterns that include dairy foods are linked to reduced risk of chronic diseases, including cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.

And what about dairy’s inclusion in the Healthy Vegetarian pattern? Why is it vegetarian, and not vegan? Because when you get rid of dairy, you need supplements to make up for the lost nutrition. Dairy foods are often recommended as part of plant-based diets because they contain high-quality proteins and under-consumed nutrients like calcium, vitamins D and B12. 

Those aren’t the only under-consumed nutrients milk provides. Others include potassium, phosphorus, magnesium and vitamin A.

In total, dairy packs in 13 essential nutrients. For a reference list, see the infographic.

Dairy isn’t only essential. It’s also affordable. According to recent retail data, a gallon of conventional milk cost 56% less than a plant-based beverage, while yogurt was 59% less expensive than its imitators, many of which are nutritionally inferior in terms of protein quality.

Speaking of plant-based beverages, their attempts to trick consumers into believing they’re nutritional equivalents to dairy may have tragic consequences for specific populations, as detailed by the American Academy of Pediatrics, members of whom have observed child malnourishment caused by reliance on plant-based imitators by parents who mistakenly thought, because of a lack of labeling integrity, that they were getting dairy’s unique nutrient package. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans also cautions against plant-based substitution, noting that most plant-based beverages lack nutritional equivalence. 

Further, according to NMPF, simplistic views of plant- versus animal-sourced foods may have unintended consequences for human health. Removing animal-sourced products from diets would force much of the world’s population to rely on supplements to make up for nutritional shortfalls.

That leads into the final point: Dairy’s sustainability. By providing nutrition efficiently through environmentally sustainable practices, dairy is a part of the long-term solution to planet health as well as human health. 

Listen to a podcast on this topic HERE.

Skeptics can look to, among many other things, the sector’s Net Zero Initiative and its sustainability goals, along with other literature, such as modeling published in the Journal of Dairy Science that assessed the impacts of completely removing dairy cows from the U.S. and removing dairy from all American diets. The results showed a lack of presumed environmental benefits, but a notable threat to human health.  

Make sure dairy stays on the shopping list during revenge spending. Retail sales data from pandemic spending showed that consumers appreciate the value and nutrition of dairy foods. After all, dairy’s unique nutrient package is hard to replace. 

While they can live without it, why on Earth would they want to? Maybe because they are into supplement pills, or like living a less-nutritious lifestyle. There’s a very good chance they are simply ill-informed. We can help with the third item by continuing to communicate the 13 essential nutrients found in dairy along with the “Power of Dairy Protein” message. Remember, the latter includes talking quality not just quantity. 

Friday, March 26, 2021

Fast and Ferocious Is the Future of Innovation


Remember when it was impossible to attend two conferences at the same time? Ahh, the good ol’ days. For the past seven days I’ve been interacting with my computer screen while attending SXSW (South By Southwest, usually in Austin, Texas), RCA+ (the Research Chefs Association’s annual conference that was scheduled to be in Atlanta) and AMC (the Annual Meat Conference that was scheduled to take place in Dallas). I will share some key highlights. 

Chris Riddell, an innovation and futurist speaker from Australia, kicked off AMC by telling attendees to expect massive disruption, continued uncertainty and an unlikely return to the “old normal.” In other words, if you thought 2020 was insane, the next 12 months or so will bring even more change as some businesses—and ways of doing business--go away while others start up to reinvent experiences that consumers crave.

“The question becomes what’s going to replace [the old normal]? The truth is, we actually don’t know,” he said. “And this…is the most important thing we have to get used to going into the future. It’s this constant level of uncertainty about the future.”

“You cannot have a finite mindset [in the way you approach your business],” he said. “Innovation is no longer a luxury.”   

Ridell described 2020 as simply a warm-up act for what is to come. Businesses must brace for seismic shocks. Most of these will be technological in nature and will have a profound impact on how we live, learn and work.

“Here’s my view for the future. If it took a decade for digital to become normal, then the real disruption is yet to happen,” he said. “Strap in and brace yourself for the next decade, because we’re going to see fundamental disruption in health and energy and food and agriculture.”

He explained that we now live in a non-linear world, as no one stays in their lane anymore. And, if you are staying in your lane to maintain legacy—the way it was always done—you will not make it.  

He closed by emphasizing that “If you are planning beyond 2021, make sure you have elasticity, be obsessive about creativity, create as much velocity as you can and push yourself toward being brave and innovate with as many new ideas as possible.”

At SXSW, many of those businesses of tomorrow provided a sneak peek to their future. All I can say is: watch out plant based, the future is looking more like cell-cultured food. And, as a dairy scientist, I find this quite easy to understand, as it reminds me of growing vats of cultures used for fermentation to make cheese, kefir and yogurt. 

The rise of cell-cultured foods was affirmed by McKinney’s Food Trends Report, which was released this week. In writing this report, Jasmine Dadlani, head of strategy, focused on determining why something is trending and what it means at a deeper level, rather than just listing what's “in” and “out.” To explore the report in detail, link HERE.

At RCA+, the consensus was that it is paramount we keep consumers excited with food innovation while they are on this ride of a life time. The continuum of changing consumer behavior must always be part of your innovation plan. After all, we are now much closer to being the Jetsons than the Flinstones, and there is no going back.  

Consumers are going to expect more from everything and everyone. When it comes to ice cream, complexity is key. You cannot just have a new flavor. You must hit on all the senses--flavor, texture, aroma and visual appeal—and you must have a story. Did I mention you must do this fast and frequent?

Photo sources: Hanna Barbera Productions

Andrew McBarnett, the co-founder of Neale’s Sweet N’ Nice Ice Cream in Toronto, Canada, gets it. Launched in 2015, Neale’s Sweet N’ Nice Ice Cream offers six fruit-based, all-natural ice cream flavors available in several different sizes for retail stores and restaurants. The company is looking to expand its presence in Canada while moving into the U.S. and European markets.

McBarnett’s grandfather, Charles Neale, founded the original ice cream company in the 1940s in Trinidad, with recipes he developed himself using local fruits. By the time he passed in 1986, his children and their families were scattered around the world. One of his daughters, now settled in Canada, and her growing family—including Andrew—eventually decided to restart the company using his Caribbean-inspired recipes that include whole fruit ingredients in order to satisfy the senses. Varieties are: Coconut, Guava/Passion Fruit, Mango, Pineapple Coconut, Rum n’ Raisin and the most recent addition, Banana Chocolate. 

“It’s essentially homemade ice cream made for the masses,” said McBarnett.

To get to the masses, “Innodelice is assisting with our expansion plans in a number of ways,” he said. “They are supporting our U.S. expansion by doing an extensive U.S.-based co-packer search and interview process. This includes assessing the co-packers’ ability to produce our unity product and also confirming the co-packer has capacity for future production needs as we grow in the U.S. They are also supporting our international expansion by adding us to their network platform and introducing us to other importers internationally.”

To learn more about Neale’s, link HERE.

“Innodelice has the relationships and expertise to assist us in connecting with suppliers in the target markets that we want to grow in,” he said. “They have the relationships that would take us months to acquire. They have the processes to ensure and manage the contracting and exporting process.”
They are an example of being fast and ferocious and the new way of doing business.  

Opportunities to Meet with Colleagues to Collaborate and Innovate

There are a number of events taking place virtually over the next few months that may assist with your innovation efforts. I highly encourage you to participate in order to engage with colleagues. All of these events were cancelled last year because of the pandemic, and the regulars are anxious to get together and welcome new people. It just so happens I will be speaking (different presentations) at all of these events. (Yes, there's some overlap. Speaking from experience, the virtual element allows you to attend more than one conference at a time.)  

Global Dairy Congress. June 22-24. 

got a winning innovation? World Dairy Innovation Awards

Dairy processors around the world continue to amaze with their innovation efforts. Here’s a chance to receive recognition: enter The World Dairy Innovation Awards 2021. The U.K.-based FoodBev Media organizes and presents this award. This year the judges will be selecting winners in 20 different categories. Typically, the finalists and winners are announced at a special gala dinner held during the annual Global Dairy Congress in mid-June. This year’s event has been canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the winners will be announced in a virtual ceremony in June.
Link HERE for more information.

Friday, March 19, 2021

Yogurt Innovation: Five “Must” Attributes in New Product Development


I start this blog on a somber note by sharing news on the passing of probiotics pioneer Dr. Todd Klaenhammer, a North Carolina State faculty member for 40 years and the first food scientist to be elected to the National Academy of Sciences. He is best known for his research group’s sequencing of the complete genome of Lactobacillus acidophilus NCFM (North Carolina Food Microbiology) in 2005. Today, most L. acidophilus strains used in yogurt share the same genetic fingerprint as NCFM.

Klaenhammer died on March 6th at age 69. He retired in 2017 as William Neal Reynolds Distinguished Professor of Food Science. He was a masterful storyteller and knew how to hold his audience’s attention when explaining science, whether speaking to sold-out sessions at an international research conference or sharing his knowledge on campus with students in the lab and in the classroom. 

I was fortunate to hear him speak on a number of occasions and even enjoy personal conversation at various industry events. He was a one-of-a-kind guy and will be remembered dearly.

“Despite all of his accomplishments and being sought out by people across the world, he always had time for his team. He also sported a welcoming smile, had a great sense of humor, and enjoyed life beyond work with his family and friends,” says K.P. Sandeep, Head of Department of Food, Bioprocessing and Nutrition Sciences at North Carolina State University and longtime colleague.

“Todd was a larger-than-life figure in the scientific field of genetics of lactic acid bacteria. For those of us fortunate enough to work closely with him, it was a privilege to witness his mind at work, making those leaps in understanding in real time as he furiously forged ahead of the data while designing strategies to test his theories. He saw the potential for probiotics when few others were interested,” wrote Dr. Mary Ellen Sanders (a graduate student in the Klaenhammer lab from 1978 to 1983) and Dr. Colin Hill (a postdoc in the Klaenhammer lab from 1988 to 1990). Both are board members of the International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics (ISAPP), an organization that Klaenhammer was a founding member and served on the board from 2002 to 2016. “Todd seemed especially happy when he was able to help young scientists succeed in science. His ‘work hard, play hard’ ethic and his fierce dedication made positions in his lab coveted.” 

Rest in peace Todd. I believe he was pleased with how far probiotics have come, especially in yogurt and other fermented dairy foods. 

1. Probiotics. Without a doubt, probiotics are the number-one attribute that new yogurt products should possess. These beneficial bacteria are associated with improving gastrointestinal health, which in turn helps boost immunity, among other health and wellness functions. 

2. Simple. With numerous yogurts already in the market touting simple, clean labels, as well as limited ingredients, new products cannot go backwards. Fillers and artificial ingredients are no longer acceptable.

Lactalis-owned siggi’s, a pioneer of lower-sugar yogurt with simple ingredients, kicked off National Nutrition Month (March) with the launch of a new lower sugar 2% low-fat yogurt line that contains 50% less sugar than the leading Greek yogurt. With 2 grams to 8 grams of sugar per 5.3-ounce cup, varieties are Blueberry, Black Cherry, Coconut, Key Lime, Mixed Berries, Strawberry, Vanilla, Vanilla & Cinnamon, and seasonal Spiced Apple. There are also 24-ounce cups of Plain and Vanilla and four packs of Mixed Berries, Strawberry and Vanilla.

“At siggi’s, we believe in using real fruit in our products instead of artificial flavors and sweeteners,” says siggi’s founder Siggi Hilmarsson. “We are proud to introduce a new product line with even lower sugar to further reinforce our mission of pushing sugar levels in yogurts lower.”

3. Sugar Content. Enough comparisons have been made regarding the amount of sugar in a cup of yogurt and a candy bar. Keep added sugars low, preferably at zero. Learn to work with milk’s inherent sugars and those naturally occurring in fruit.

4. Fruit. Speaking of fruit, consumers are wanting more of the real deal. Highly processed sugary variegates are no longer acceptable. 

5. Package. One year after the onset of the pandemic and overuse (an understatement) of packaging, container recyclability will soon be in the spotlight. The good news is that many yogurt processors have been active in this space for some time. 

New York-based Trimona Bulgarian Yogurt speaks to most of these trends. The no-added-sugar probiotic yogurt comes packed in the fully recyclable K3 cardboard-plastic combination. The light-weight thermoformed cup is made from polypropylene and uses up to 33% less material than a conventional direct-printed, thermoformed cup of the same size. It is wrapped with a cardboard outer layer, made from virgin board. The packaging solution has an improved carbon footprint and it can be recycled efficiently, as the cardboard and plastic can be easily separated. 
“Trimona introduced America to Bulgarian-style yogurt 10 years ago, and now we’ve gone to the next level of probiotic dairy evolution, or as we call it: Yogurt 2.0,” says Trimona Bulgarian Yogurt founder and CYO (Chief Yogurt Officer) Atanas Valev. 

I will end on a hopeful note: Go Illini! 

Friday, March 12, 2021

Dairy Foods Innovations Must Intrigue and Entice as We Take Baby Steps and Reenter Society


Photo source: Target Corp.

It’s a year from that historic Friday the 13th when many packed up their corporate desks and moved into a home office. This past Monday my husband and I received our first Pfizer vaccine. Our arm was a little sore and we had fatigue for a few days…but now, we have started the journey of reentering the world. 

While waiting for our vaccines at a Meijer store—we arrived a half hour early and they were running about 15 minutes behind schedule—I chatted with the other masked patients anxiously awaiting their injection, many of them much older, some even with a caretaker. And the consensus was that they were tired of living in fear and want to start doing things they use to do. For many, that includes in-person grocery shopping. 

I’ve not stopped exploring supermarkets this past year. While I love Amazon Prime for household and office-type items, even non-perishable staples like the herbal tea I cold brew and the 5-pound bags of specialty roasted whole coffee beans I grind myself, I only used home delivery of perishable and everyday foods twice during the pandemic. The first time was when I had no car and decided to host an impromptu outdoor driveway Halloween party because the weather cooperated. After all, Halloween was on a Saturday and temps were in the 50s in the Midwest. That is worth celebrating. The other time is when my eldest son and I tested positive for COVID-19 and had to quarantine. 

Many of those folks waiting for vaccines shared with me that they plan to ditch their COVID-19 ways and take baby steps back to doing what they like to do and how they like to do it. A key activity is grocery shopping. 

I recognize there is tons of data showing that once we are behind the pandemic we will be in a new norm of a world where online shopping and curb-side pick-up reign. I’ve even written as much. But now that I can see the light at the end of the tunnel, and so many others can, too, I don’t think that will be the case. I believe we will find news ways to do old things, but we want to live. We want to explore. We want to be intrigued. It’s up to marketers to entice. In-person shopping does a much better job of that.  

I spoke with a 40-something-year-old teacher with school-aged children who said she wants to delete her recurring weekly shopping list for home delivery and looks forward to returning to her Saturday morning supermarket excursion after the gym, with grande latte in hand. She said she never thought she would miss shopping as much as she does and is craving the time away from the computer screen and the house. 

A neighbor with two young daughters recently said, “We are using COVID-19 to create our story for how we live the rest of our life.” That’s quite profound. And from what my fellow patients shared, they just want to move on. They have a whole new appreciation for walking the aisles of the supermarket and exploring what’s new and deciding if they want to try it. It’s not the same as a popup on your screen. In fact, one woman I spoke with, albeit older and likely more set in her ways, said she doesn’t trust those algorithms that direct products to her online shopping experience. Her words stayed with me. “I’ll decide what I want to buy.”

Make sure you include intrigue in your current innovation efforts. Consumers want to be enticed on their own time. 

Ice cream marketers have long been players of people’s emotions by creating flavors, using colors and crafting trivial names and descriptions. Here are some recent innovations in this space. It’s time to join them!

Target Corp., is growing private-label business with the launch of the Favorite Day brand, which features indulgent products designed to entice. The company wrote on its website:

“Each of Target’s more than 45 owned brands starts the same way: with a deep understanding of our guests’ needs, desires--and in this case, tastes. Good and Gather serves up great food made for real life (think dairy, produce, ready-made pastas, meats and more), but our guests were craving sweet and savory treats for special moments, too. And it turns out there’s no food and beverage brand designed around celebration and indulgence that spans such a wide variety of categories. So, in true Target style, we decided to make one from scratch.”

Developed by Target’s internal team of food science and developers, the Favorite Day assortment will include more than 700 items across bakery, trail mixes, ice cream, snacks, beverage mixers, candy and cake decorations. Favorite Day products will be available in all Target stores and online at beginning in April.

“Premium ice cream is incredibly popular right now, and with Favorite Day, we aimed to create more trend-forward, gourmet options for Target guests,” said Allen McGee, food scientist. “We went through multiple rounds of research and connected with more than 11,000 guests to perfect our recipes. An overwhelming taste-tester favorite: our caramel cold brew ice cream made with Colombian cold brew coffee, caramel swirl and espresso chocolately chunks with real bits of coffee grounds that melt on the tongue for a boost of flavor. It’s a coffee lover’s dream, in frozen form.”

Take note: First there was cookie dough. Then there was sea salt caramel and its many derivations. I believe coffee concoctions will rule in 2021. (There’s a lot of cookie concepts rolling out, too.)

Graeter’s Ice Cream is already on it. The company just revealed its annual Mystery Flavor and it is Caramel Macchiato. It’s a blend of caramel and coffee ice cream with milk chocolate caramel truffles and Heath toffee pieces. 

Perry’s Ice Cream Company Inc., a Great Lakes regional brand and Upstate New York’s number-one ice cream, is enticing consumers through their love of hometown sports. The company’s latest ice cream flavor—Doughing, Doughing, Gone!—was developed in partnership with the Cleveland Indians and is made up of chocolate cookie dough ice cream with crushed cookie swirls and cookie dough pieces. The flavor is available in family size, 1.5-quarts for retail and three-gallon tubs for foodservice and scoop shop customers. The 1.5-quart package features a special letter to the fans, calling out memories of 455 consecutive sellouts and the longest win streak in the American League.

“We’re thrilled to join the ‘Big Leagues’ through this partnership with the Cleveland Indians. As Perry’s continues to broaden our expansion in Ohio, this is an exciting opportunity for us as well as our retail and scoop shop partners to bring Tribe fans their first, very own ice cream flavor,” said Robert Denning, president and CEO of Perry’s Ice Cream. “Moreover, we are pleased to see a portion of the sales of Doughing, Doughing, Gone! benefit Cleveland Indians Charities. By making a purchase, Cleveland fans can directly impact many valuable community programs, youth organizations and non-for-profits.”

Blue Bell is putting an “enticing” twist on a popular frozen snack that many may remember from school. Cookie Cone fans meet your new favorite ice cream: Cookies ’n Cream Cone. The flavor is a creamy vanilla ice cream combined with chocolate crème filled cookie crumbles, chocolate cone pieces coated in dark chocolate and a chocolate fudge sauce. 

“Some of you will remember our Cookie Cone, which inspired this flavor,” said Joe Robertson, executive director of advertising and marketing for Blue Bell. “Imagine our Cookies ’n Cream Ice Cream, then add in cone pieces and a fudgy swirl. It’s an ice cream with all of the delicious ingredients of a Cookie Cone. It’s your favorite cone, but in a carton.”

Cookies ’n Cream Cone is available in the half gallon and pint sizes for a limited time. Blue Bell introduced the Cookie Cone in 1997, and it was mostly sold in school cafeterias. The product has not been available since 2015. 

“We have heard from many of our fans on social media that the Cookie Cone was a popular lunchtime treat in school,” Robertson added. “Cookies ’n Cream Cone is a new twist on an old favorite that we know Cookie Cone fans will enjoy.” 

Unilever is growing its Talenti Gelato Layers brand, which comes packed in a jar and contains gelato, flavorful pieces and sauces. The six new offerings are:

Chocolate Pretzel: salted pretzel gelato followed by chocolatey waffle cone pieces and layered with a salted pretzel sauce then a layer of vanilla gelato and finished with a layer of chocolate chunks.

Confetti Cookie: vanilla gelato followed by vanilla cookie pieces, a pink cream cheese frosting, more creamy vanilla gelato and a final full layer of sprinkles. 

Cookies & Cream: cookies and cream gelato followed by chocolate cookie pieces, a one-of-a-kind dulce de leche sauce, creamy vanilla gelato and cookie crumble pieces.

Honey Graham: vanilla gelato swirled with sweet wildflower honey and golden graham cracker pieces.

Strawberry Shortcake: strawberry gelato made with fresh strawberries, followed by buttery shortbread pieces, a strawberry rhubarb sauce layered with another layer of strawberry gelato and then a final layer of shortbread pieces.

Vanilla Peanut Butter Swirl: vanilla gelato that brings out a creamy roasted peanut butter swirl with mini peanut butter cups. 

Turkey Hill has its own take on enticing through visual layers of deliciousness. New Turkey Hill Layered Sundae Cups combine Turkey Hill Premium Ice Cream with inclusions and sauces in a variety of layered combinations.

The eight offerings are:
Caramel Brownie: chocolate and vanilla ice cream with brownie brittle, caramel sauce, chocolate cookie crumble and chocolate flake topping.

Chocolate Cream Pie: chocolate pudding ice cream mixed with graham cracker pieces, topped with whipped cream sauce and chocolate flakes.

Cookies & Cream: chocolate and cookies n’ cream ice cream with chocolate cookie crumble and fudge.

Cookie Dough Delight: vanilla cookie dough and chocolate cookie dough ice cream with cookie dough pieces, fudge and chocolate chip cookies.

Party Cake: vanilla ice cream with cake pieces, vanilla cookie crumble, blue frosting and rainbow sprinkles.

Peanut Butter Cup: chocolate and peanut butter ice cream with peanut butter cups, chocolate cookie crumble, peanut butter sauce and mini chocolate chip topping.

Strawberry Shortcake: vanilla custard and strawberry ice cream with graham cracker pieces and strawberry sauce.

Ultimate Fudge: vanilla ice cream with fudge swirls, chocolate cookie crumble, and topped with whipped icing and mini chocolate chips.

It’s time to entice through intrigue!