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.”

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