Friday, January 29, 2021

Dairy Foods 2021: It’s Time to File Away the Strict Definition of Dairy Products


Congratulations to the International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA) for hosting the best virtual conference I have attended during the pandemic. (The bar has been set high.) The live presentations with Q&A, the “coffee break” rooms for networking, and the dueling piano opening reception with audience participation and texting banter made it almost feel like we were in Orlando at the previously scheduled in-person event. Thank you very much Team IDFA and all the speakers and attendees.  

Michael Dykes, president and CEO, IDFA, summed up the four-day “Dairy Forum 2021—Dairy Evolved” program. 

“We are a resilient, vibrant, and growing industry because of strong leaders who prioritize their people, strong partnerships and collaboration up and down the supply chain, and a strong desire to innovate through new technology, logistics, people strategies, and product development. We all know that we cannot stand still. Disruption will continue to be initiated by our consumers, markets, governments, and natural disasters. We need to stay ahead of the technology and innovation curve, be nimble and willing to adapt, and always strive to meet consumer demands both in the United States and abroad…Together, we are making a difference for dairy.”

The event ended on January 28 with a casual chat between Dykes and Patricia Stroup, senior vice-president and chief procurement officer for Nestle S.A. She summed up what was one of the biggest take-aways from this week, and not just from the Dairy Forum but also from products featured as a Daily Dose of Dairy. She said, “The strict definition of dairy products is not where the growth is.” 

I agree.

The Deep Dive session titled “Next Generation Marketing for Next Generation Dairy Consumers,” which was sponsored by milkPEP, included Michael Fanuele, president, Assembly Media. He suggested that when it comes to marketing milk—and really all dairy products--to young consumers, there should be a “little less biology” and a “little more benefit, more passion.” 

Marketing should explain “what milk allows you to do in your world.” This is the way young consumers relate to product pitches, have it be from influencers, social media chats or even old fashioned commercials. 

That’s not to say that we should not continue to educate the public about the great job the dairy industry is doing in terms of sustainability and delivering nutrition. This needs to be a constant in the messaging. It paid off in 2020. 

Source: IRI/DMI/MilkPEP/DFW/CMAB custom database for milk and cheese; syndicated database for other products, IRI DMI/MilkPEP/DFW/CMAB custom database, Total US Multi Outlet + Convenience

Retail dairy purchases, which jumped at the pandemic’s beginning, remained elevated throughout 2020. With more meals prepared at home, dairy provided comfort in uncomfortable times. Baking went better with butter. Coffee was complemented with real dairy cream or half-and-half. Milk remained essential to family nutrition. 

Source: IRI/DMI/MilkPEP/DFW/CMAB custom database for milk and cheese; syndicated database for other products, IRI DMI/MilkPEP/DFW/CMAB custom database, Total US Multi Outlet + Convenience

Milk consumption itself saw gains across categories. Buttermilk use grew with the baking revival, organic and conventional volumes of fluid milk rose, and lactose-free milk saw increases comparable to those of plant-based beverages. Milk sales grew nearly $1 billion, during the pandemic, while plant-based growth was less than $400 million. True, plant-based posted a larger percentage gain during the pandemic, as its total builds from a smaller sales base. But in sheer sales growth, plant-based beverages aren’t on the same playing field as milk.

With that said, there’s a great deal of innovation taking place in the blended space. This week Bel Brands USA introduced The Laughing Cow Blends cheese spreads, which combine the brand’s smooth and creamy cheese with legumes. The pre-portioned wedges, which are described as “cheesy plant-based goodness,” come in eight-wedge rounds. The three varieties are: Chickpea & Cheese with Herb, Lentil & Cheese with Curry, and Red Bean & Cheese with Paprika. One wedge contains 2 grams of protein and is a good source of calcium and vitamin E.

Shamrock Farms introduced Swirled, an elevated chocolate milk that blends creamy dairy and natural, plant-based ingredients. The indulgent hybrid offers the best of both worlds with real chocolate milk and the reduced sugar and healthy fats found in real coconut cream and almonds. The beverage comes in two flavors--Chocolate Almond Coconut and Chocolate Coconut—in single-serve 12-ounce bottles and multi-serve quarts bottles. Swirled contains nine essential nutrients and is free of artificial colors, ingredients, sweeteners and artificial growth hormones. Whole milk is the first ingredient. 

Shamrock Farms also announced that its Rockin’ Protein Builder beverage will now be offered in Kroger stores nationwide. This expansion follows Shamrock’s recent increased distribution in Dollar General stores nationwide in 2020.

None of these products meet the “strict definition of dairy.” These companies recognize that this is where the growth will be going forward.

The Rockin’ Protein Builder beverage is made with real milk and is low in sugar, carbohydrates and calories with 30 grams of high-quality protein (from milk protein concentrate and cream) to help build muscle and support an active and healthy lifestyle. Sold in the refrigerated dairy case, Rockin’ Protein Builder comes in 12-ounce ready-to-drink bottles in Chocolate and Strawberry flavors.

To shine a spotlight on the rockin’ good taste of Rockin’ Protein, the brand built a one-of-a-kind vending machine with an unexpected twist. Instead of accepting money, it only accepted jumping jacks. The vending machine challenged people to earn their protein drink. People seemed to like the challenge as every last Rockin’ Protein was gone from the machine in a matter of hours. Watch the video HERE.

This is what Fanuele was talking about when creating marketing promotions to reach Millennials and Gen Z.  

Isabella Maluf, engagement manager, McKinsey & Company, spoke at the Dairy Forum on “Embracing the Future of Dairy.” She cited data from a survey of IDFA dairy company members (n=44) showing the top-three areas of innovation going forward. First is sustainable package (56%), followed by the launch of protein-enriched products (39%). Convenience packaging (29%) came in third. 

“This is the year to shape the future,” said Ludovic Meilhac, partner at McKinsey. “Be confident, not complacent. Build the right future.”

Friday, January 22, 2021

Putting Biotics to Work in Dairy


Photo source: Springfield Creamery/Nancy's

Springfield Creamery, manufacturers of the Nancy’s brand of fermented dairy foods, is believed to be the first yogurt in the U.S. to use the probiotic Lactobacillus acidophilus with its rollout back in 1970. Since, the company continues to refine its meticulous, scientific approach to delivering the most essential probiotic health benefits in every cup. (A big thank you to my friends at the dairy who sent me an amazing care package of products to keep me and my family healthy during my positive COVID-19 diagnosis.)

Probiotic literally means “for life,” and for good reason, Springfield Creamery explains on its website. “These living microbial superstars stimulate the immune system and improve digestive function, for a balanced gut and good health.”

It took a pandemic for many consumers to finally start believing in this correlation, to believe in the science. Science shows that abundant, flourishing good gut bacteria promote a healthy immune system by staving off pathogens, such as foodborne microorganisms and viruses. It’s no wonder that foods designed to promote digestive health are forecast to be one of the hottest food categories in 2021. 

Around the world, “immunity” has become a buzzword, with Google searches for the term hitting a five-year high in March 2020, according to the just-released “The Future 100: 2021” report from Wunderman Thompson Intelligence. You can download a complimentary copy of the think tank’s annual snapshot of the most compelling trends for the coming year HERE.

The report charts 10 emerging trends across 10 sectors that include culture, tech, beauty and retail. For the first time, the report looks at work trends, as the dual forces of a mass shift to working from home and a rise in unemployment fueled by the pandemic has changed our professional lives. The report also includes 21 exclusive predictions from industry experts on what 2021 has in store. I highly recommend reading it. 

Immunity wellness is discussed, but not specifically from a food perspective. The report explores the emerging concept of wellness centers dedicated to educating and nourishing consumers with immunity-boosting programs. 

“Wellness offerings are expanding to incorporate immunity strengthening elements for consumers who want to boost their defenses against viruses,” according to the report. 

Dairy foods manufacturers need to be on board and own this market. That’s because as the immunity market grows, so is the fake news on the topic of probiotics. 

“Ongoing anxiety stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic is continuing to push consumers toward prioritizing their immune health,” says Lu Ann Williams, global insights director at Innova Market Insights. “Immunity-boosting ingredients will play a significant role for the coming year, while research and interest in the role of the microbiome and personalized nutrition as ways to strengthen immunity will accelerate.”

Education is key. The Probiotics Institute by Chr. Hansen’s is a comprehensive source of information for consumers, educators and manufacturers to better understand probiotics and their role in health and wellness. That’s because all probiotics are not created equal. This is something Springfield Creamery knows, which is why its fermented dairy foods contain a specially designed cocktail of cultures to supplement the trillions of bacteria that inherently reside in the gastrointestinal system. These are live microorganisms, most often lactic acid bacteria, which when consumed in adequate amounts, help create a better-balanced microbiome. This microbial community—the microbiome--has distinct physio-chemical properties that help regulate an array of bodily functions. 

In addition to all probiotics not being equal, there’s also confusion regarding probiotics and fermented foods. Probiotics can be delivered to the consumer in fermented foods, namely dairy products, but not all fermented foods contain probiotics. Yet some marketers of (non-dairy) fermented foods promote their products as being probiotic without scientific substantiation. 

The much-anticipated international consensus definition of fermented foods was published earlier this month in Nature Reviews Gastroenterology & Hepatology. First author Maria Marco, professor, Department of Food Science and Technology, University of California Davis, and board member of the International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics (ISAPP), produced a video explaining the differences between probiotics and fermented foods. It can be viewed HERE

She also wrote “The future is microbial: A post-pandemic focus on identifying microbes and metabolites that support health.” You can read it HERE

That word metabolites brings me to a new term that many of you have many not know. It’s postbiotics. 
Postbiotics do away with the need to add probiotics by being the healthy metabolites that the microbiome produce, the compounds that possess the actual health benefit. This includes an array of enzymes, peptides, organic acids, fatty acids and more. 

The ISAPP published a consensus definition on postbiotics at the end of 2020. The definition--a preparation of inanimate microorganisms and/or their components that confers a health benefit on the host--is designed to clear up ambiguities in the relatively new term. 

This essentially means that postbiotics are deliberately inactivated microbial cells or cell components, either with or without their metabolites, that confer a health benefit, according to Colin Hill, professor of microbiology, University College Cork, Ireland, who spoke at a recent Naturally Informed virtual event on the immunity and wellness market.

And don’t forget the other biotic in the functional ingredient world. That’s prebiotics, the fuel for probiotics to proliferate in order to positively impact the body. Remember, prebiotics are frequently equated with dietary fibers, but only a subset of dietary fibers actually qualify as prebiotics. Further, according to the broad scientific definition from the ISAPP, prebiotics need not be forms of dietary fiber. 

Chobani recently introduced Little Chobani Probiotic Yogurt Drinks and Pouches. The new line is promoted as containing “multi-benefit probiotics shown to aid immune and tummy health.” The yogurts have a diverse blend of scientifically confirmed probiotic strains: LGG, L. Acidophilus, Bifidus and Lactobacillus casei. The company’s research shows that today’s consumers are looking for immunity-boosting products but very few understand what probiotics are. Little Chobani Probiotic products are available in 4-fluid ounce drinks (six-packs) in Strawberry and Cookies & Cream flavors. Little Chobani Probiotic 3.5-ounce pouches (four-packs) are available in Strawberry Banana, Mixed Berry, and Strawberry & Grape flavors. The products contain no artificial ingredients and are a source of complete protein. (There’s an adult version, too. Look for it as a Daily Dose of Dairy this coming week.)

Biotiful Dairy has launched Immunity Kefir Shots to the U.K. marketplace. Described as the “perfect daily boost, that supports your immunity naturally,” each 100-milliliter bottle contains 30 billion active cultures. Available in single-serve and multi-pack formats, the shots come in four flavors: Acerola Cherry and Tea; Coconut and Spirulina; Original; and Peach and Turmeric. The shots are made by fermenting British milk with authentic live kefir grains. The shots are naturally high in protein and calcium, contain no added sugar, and are a good source of vitamins and minerals.

It’s time to put biotics to work in dairy foods. Educate the consumer to assist them with their health and wellness journey. 

Friday, January 15, 2021

Dairies are a Bright Spot in 2021


Personal note: I attribute my (thus far) very mild, almost asymptomatic case of COVID-19 on a healthful diet and exercise. That diet is dairy-centric, loaded with probiotics, vitamin D and essential fats, along with plenty of vitamin C and a few antioxidant supplements. Thanks for your well wishes and care packages. I am in the clear on Saturday. I also want to emphasize the importance of wearing a mask. My eldest son and I tested positive after he learned he was exposed to a positive carrier on New Year’s Eve. Had we not known, and if we were reckless with protection and sanitizing, we could have infected many. Just saying…

The Chicagoland Food & Beverage Network (CFBN) hosted its first event of the 2021 season this week. The virtual event provided an in-depth look at the State of the Industry. Dairies are a bright spot!

“With all of the challenges that 2020 brought to our industry and all of the optimism that 2021 promises--from the COVID vaccine rollout to projected city re-openings, and from interesting mergers and acquisitions activity on the horizon to consumer’s next moves and changing commerce models--there is a lot to discuss,” said Alan Reed, executive director of CFBN.

He emphasized that there are two things that will continue this year. Consumers want to eat healthier products and there will be more eating at home. Even though tourism and hospitality will likely explode in the second half of the year, consumers will remain cautious with what they fuel their body with and where they do it. 

My friend Leslie Bonci, MPH, RD, CSSD, LDN, shared insights on the best eating plans, which, of course, include dairy, and why they may be beneficial, especially for athletes and active people. Read her comprehensive article she wrote for the Northeast American Dairy Association HERE.

Industry authorities participating in the CFBN State of the Industry event emphasized that when the world starts opening up, there will be lots of pent up demand to explore new products. That’s why innovation must not stop.  

Need innovation ideas? Listen to the season two premiere of “The Dairy Download” featuring interviews with BerryOnDairy and Dairy Carrie, addressing efforts to connect American consumers with the stories behind their favorite dairy products…brands that also thrive outside of cows’ milk products.
Consumers today want to know “Where did that gallon of milk come from?” “Why is my local dairy making juice?” “Why are there so many ice cream flavors and cheese styles?” Link HERE to the 30-minute podcast. 

One of the biggest opportunities for dairy processors is the beverage section of the refrigerated dairy case, as well as the produce department. This has become a destination for beverage seekers who want premium, quality product that is minimally processed and free of artificial ingredients. Dairy processors are well poised to be making these juices, teas and coffee beverages.

This week Chobani expanded its refrigerated beverage business with new Chobani Coffee. (More on this rollout next week as a Daily Dose of Dairy.) Throughout 2020, Chobani successfully introduced a range of refrigerated fluid products, including plant-based beverages, creamers and functional wellness drinks. While the Chobani brand is best associated with Greek yogurt, the dairy recognizes the value in its brand and the appreciation and trust consumers have in it. That’s what dairies bring to the beverage category. 

Friday, January 8, 2021

Dairy is in a good place in 2021. Let’s keep it there!


The newly released Dietary Guidelines for Americans (2020-2025 edition) reaffirmed dairy’s central role in the diet, as dairy foods provide essential nutrients that are often under consumed. It is paramount that processors continue to offer the highest-quality, best-tasting dairy foods in order to keep consumers as customers. 

Highlights from the Dietary Guidelines:

  • A recommendation of three servings of dairy in the Healthy U.S. Eating pattern and Healthy Vegetarian Eating patterns, in keeping with past guidelines;

  • Dairy’s continued recognition as a distinct food group;

  • A recognition that Americans aren’t consuming enough dairy to meet their nutritional needs;

(#1 approach to keep dairy attractive to the 2021 shopper: Invest in the marketing of dairy’s nutrient density. This includes social media and packaging claims.) 

  • Dairy’s reaffirmation as a source of four nutrients of public health concern, including potassium, calcium, and vitamin D, as well as iodine for pregnant women; and, the most noteworthy,
  • A recommendation of milk, yogurt and cheese in the first-ever healthy eating patterns geared toward infants and toddlers ages birth to 24 months.

(#2 approach to keep dairy attractive to the 2021 shopper: Invest in the development of nutrient-dense, delicious and even fun dairy foods for infants and toddlers.) 

“The panel’s recognition that dairy is a key source of ‘nutrients of concern’ in U.S. diets is especially important,” says Jim Mulhern, president and CEO, National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF). “During a time of food insecurity and concerns about proper nutrition among Americans, dairy is a readily accessible solution to clearly identified public-health challenges. Dairy farmers work hard to be part of that solution, and the panel’s recognition of the nutritional importance of dairy is greatly appreciated.”

Miquela Hanselman, NMPF’s regulatory affairs manager, said in a recently released podcast, “Dairy is in a good place. Three servings of low-fat and non-fat dairy are continued to be recommended in the healthy U.S. and vegetarian diets, and dairy remained its own group. In addition, dairy was recognized as a source of under-consumed nutrients, which are also known as nutrients of public health concern.”

Hanselman also discusses the need to incorporate up-to-date research on dairy in fats in the next round of guidelines and talks about their impact on encouraging the next generation of milk-drinkers. To listen to the five-minute podcast, link HERE. (I highly recommend listening and subscribing!)

Hanselman explained how the new Dietary Guidelines went against the advice of a Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee and kept the recommendation for added sugars at less than 10% of total calories per day, starting at age 2. Infants younger than age 2 should avoid foods and beverage with added sugars.

“Some added sugars can increase the palatability of healthy foods for kids,” said Hanselman.

The FDA defines added sugars as sugars that are added during the processing of foods, foods packaged as sweeteners, sugars from syrups and honey, and sugars from concentrated fruit or vegetable juices. When it comes to kids, sugar-sweetened beverages are the number-one contributor of added sugars to their diet, followed by desserts and sweet snacks.

(#3 approach to keep dairy attractive to the 2021 shopper: Invest in added sugar reduction for all ages. This can be achieved through careful selection of ingredients. For dairy, this includes use of high-quality fruits, premium cocoa, low- and non-caloric sweeteners, flavor modulators, enzymes and texturants.) 

When it comes to sweeteners, consumer requirements are diverse and there is not a one-size-fits-all approach, according to HealthFocus International. (See infographic.) Research shows that 66% of consumers now prefer products that taste less sweet than they used to. Interestingly, most shoppers prefer to reduce sugar instead of replacing it.

This is something that Eric Bonin, founder and CEO of Pillars Yogurt—and a friend—has known for some time. Pillars was the first yogurt brand to debut drinkable Greek yogurt with zero added sugar and pre-and-probiotics.

Four and a half years ago, Bonin delivered the first batch of Pillars to the Wayland, Massachusetts, Whole Foods from the trunk of his car. Now for 2021, the brand has won national distribution--with the exception of the Pacific-Northwest region--in the retailer’s yogurt set. 

(#4 approach to keep dairy attractive to the 2021 shopper: Invest in ingredients that support gut health and build immunity.) 

“Whole Foods was our first customer--the retailer that gave us a shot to bring a new product to the super-competitive yogurt category. We’re incredibly grateful and humbled by this opportunity,” says Bonin. “Brick by brick and store by store, we’ve been working hard at building our brand, and Whole Foods has been an incredible partner along the way. Taking Pillars national with Whole Foods will fuel our own trajectory and brand awareness, and also help the overall drinkable category expand as shoppers embrace the convenience and value of the drinkable format, which is still novel for many yogurt consumers.”

Created by Bonin with functional health and wellness in mind, all Pillars products are free from added sugar and feature a proprietary pre-and-probiotic blend to support optimal gut health. Pillars’ brand portfolio features six 12-ounce single-serve drinkable yogurt flavors, and four 32-ounce multi-serve drinkable SKUs. A 12-ounce serving of Pillars has 100 calories, 18 grams of protein, 5 grams net carbs, 0 grams of fat and is a good source of fiber. Sweetened and flavored with organic stevia and organic natural flavors, Pillars is non-GMO, gluten-free and certified kosher.

(On a personal note, my eldest son and I have tested positive for COVID-19 after he was exposed to the virus on New Year’s Eve. Don’t get me started on his selfish act, but nevertheless, he is my son. So far, so good. If we come out of this easily, I attribute it to all the probiotics and vitamin D we consume.)

Now the final topic we must all address: packaging. COVID-19 has all of us using way too much packaging and disposables.

Dutch multinational dairy cooperative FrieslandCampina just announced that it will be making PET bottles from 100% recycled PET (rPET) starting February 2021. Due to the fact that PET bottle can only be recycled if the consumer has removed the label, FrieslandCampina’s Research & Development department has developed a brand new “zipper” that makes it easier to separate labels from the bottle. This makes FrieslandCampina the first company in the dairy sector to make its bottles virtually circular for its brands in the Netherlands, Belgium, the United Kingdom and Hungary.

“With the 100% recycled PET bottle, FrieslandCampina is taking a new step in making its packaging circular,” says Patrick van Baal, global director packaging development. “Our ambition is to become fully circular. That is why we are increasing the recycled content of our PET bottles from 20% to 100%. This step is crucial because in order to achieve our sustainability goals, all packaging must first become recyclable and/or reusable.”

(#5 approach to keep dairy attractive to the 2021 shopper: Invest in efforts to do your part in reducing packaging waste.) 

Happy New Year! Dairy is in a good place. Let’s keep it there!