Friday, February 26, 2021

Dairy Foods Innovation: Just-a-Bite Meets 100-Calorie Snack Packs

In IRI’s January 22, 2021, report “Year-End 2020 Trends, 2021 Emerging Growth Pockets,” the message is loud and clear: now is the time to focus on innovation for the new norm. I think it’s safe to say that we have an idea of what that new norm is going to be, and that includes lots of packaging. That’s right, lots of individually wrapped, single-portion foods and beverages for away-from-home and on-the-go consumption. 

People miss their culinary escapes: Passed appetizers and cheese trays at work receptions, small plates and charcuterie when dining with friends, and let’s not forget just-a-bite of your favorites from Whole Foods’ food bars and self-serve cookie and dessert case.     

Desserts are for moments of indulgence and now more than ever consumers crave this experience. They are seeking out innovative flavors and textures, but need help with portion control. An intensified focus on health and wellness is fueling the desire for moments of guilt-free indulgence, which must not equate to less pleasure and satisfaction. It’s just the opposite. It truly suggests “just-a-bite.” Think 100 calorie packs—maybe a little more—of dairy deliciousness from the fridge. 

The category of refrigerated dairy desserts is one that is very underdeveloped in the U.S. Elsewhere in the world, refrigerated dairy desserts are a big business that continues to grow in both the pre-packaged refrigerated case and at the bakery/confection counter of mainstream supermarkets. In the States, pre-packaged products have limited shelf space and fresh products are limited to select finer, specialty food retailers. In some scenarios, retailers with limited experience with refrigerated dairy desserts are not even sure where to merchandise them; however, as retailers redesign their stores for the new norm of “foodservice at retail,” dairy dessert marketers are well poised to finagle their way into grab-and-go chilled spaces.  

It’s time for dairy processors to reinvent everything from pudding to mousse to cheesecake to bonbons. Focus on real ingredients and true dairy flavor along with unique textures and mouthwatering appearances. 

The Kraft Heinz Company may be selling off most of its cheese businesses, much to J.L. Kraft’s dismay, but it plans to retain the Philadelphia Cream Cheese business. And the company apparently has grand plans for the brand as well as for the overall dairy desserts space. The company is on to something!

New Philadelphia Cheesecake Crumble is a 6.6-ounce box of two single-serve cheesecake dessert cups. One serving contains 290 to 340 calories, depending on variety, of which there are four. They 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.

The desserts are a little more than just-a-bite and definitely more than a 100-calorie snack pack, but the concept is in the right direction. Imagine something a little smaller, in a more upscale clear package, and available for those receptions with colleagues that we all miss so much. They would also be perfect for airline clubs and executive lounges. Branded foil lids are excellent marketing and will get consumers interested in the category when shopping for their home. 

Kraft Heinz is also rolling out Colliders, a new line of dairy-based desserts that come 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.

The “Chopped” varieties include a flavored dairy dessert with candy pieces. Hershey’s Chocolate is chocolate dessert with dark chocolate pieces. Hershey’s Mint is mint dessert with dark chocolate pieces. Hershey’s S’mores is marshmallow dessert with milk chocolate pieces and graham cracker crumbles. Reese’s is peanut butter dessert with milk chocolate pieces.

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

The four types of “Twisted” 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 3.5-ounce cups contain 190 to 220 calories, 8 grams to 12 grams of fat, 21 grams to 23 grams of sugar (almost all are added sugars), and 1 gram to 3 grams of protein. Still a little high in calories, but more on target to satisfy a craving without over indulging. 

Private-label retailer Aldi has been known to offer limited-edition, super-indulgent dairy desserts in glass ramekins. This 3.5-ounce Specially Selected Salted Caramel Cheesecake is a blend of cream cheese baked over a graham crust with a layer of salted caramel sauce. The dessert is 300 calories, 13 grams of fat, 29 grams of sugar (27 gram are added) and 4 grams of protein.

St. Benoit Creamery is a leader in the refrigerated dairy dessert space. The company’s Creamy Organic Pot de Crème Desserts are made with certified organic milk from pasture-raised Jersey. The desserts deliver light and creamy spoonable luxury in sustainable glass packaging for a healthy, convenient treat that’s delicious and fun for kids and adults. The indulgent clean-label, limited-ingredient dairy desserts are free of starches, milk powders, fillers, stabilizers and preservatives, and lower in calories than similar desserts, according to the company. The organic desserts contain only organic full-fat milk, cream, eggs, sugar and real flavorings. The 3.5-ounce single-serve desserts have a suggested retail price of $2.99. Consumers will pay for pleasure. 

Here’s a product that was before its time in the U.K. It now serves as a good starting point for innovating for the new norm. Refrigerated dessert brand Gü offered mousse desserts in varieties such as Chocolate and Toffee, Mango and Passionfruit, and Strawberry. The clear stemmed plastic container appeals to the eyes. The lids suggest “Take Two,” as in a few minute break for some guilt-free indulgence. 

It’s time to focus on innovation for the new norm. Offer consumers just-a-bite for guilt-free dairy indulgence. 

To explore additional concepts in refrigerated dairy desserts, link HERE.


Friday, February 19, 2021

Ready. Set. Go Dairy. Explore tools and virtual events to assist with innovation, education and recognition.


The natural and nutritious image of dairy products continues to be a key driver in new product development, according to Innova Market Insights’ Top Trends in Dairy 2021. This is despite the challenge posed by rising interest in plant-based diets and concerns over environmental and ethical issues.

COVID-19 has had a disruptive impact on individuals in terms of heightening stress and anxiety, which has in turn triggered deeper examinations of personal and collective approaches to health and well-being. In the face of such challenges, consumers are seeking empowerment in order to take control of both their own and their family’s health through behaviors that build immunity and resilience. Recent research by The Hartman Group found that 47% of consumers aware of COVID-19 say they are taking supplements to boost their immunity. 

They should be taking probiotic dairy foods. 

This week I wrote an online column for Food Business News on research being conducted at Rutgers University exploring the potential connection between the microbiome and COVID-19. The study is being funded by Danone North America.

To read “Exploring the relationship between the microbiome and COVID-19,” link HERE.

Innova’s 2020 Consumer Survey indicated that 54% of global consumers claimed to have spent time educating themselves on ingredients that could boost their immune health. Dairy products, such as yogurt and fermented drinks, have long been associated with immune health, largely as a result of the development and mainstreaming of probiotics. More recently interest has also risen in the immune benefits of antioxidants, and the greater use of fruit, herbal and spice extracts for flavor and function.

The influence of Innova’s #6 Top-Ten Trend 2021 “Nutrition Hacking” is also seen being seen within the top trends in dairy. Four-out-of-five global consumers said that they believed in progress in food and beverages through science. Developments are focusing on tapping into improving nutrition, leveraging technology and balancing diets.

“Traditionally, popular claims included high protein for the protein-loving consumer, fiber rich for digestive health, or sugar reduced for weight and overall health,” says Lu Ann Williams, director of innovation at Innova Market Insights. “However, this is now evolving toward more complete balanced solutions. Products such as dairy drinks offering ‘advanced’ or ‘complete’ nutrition are leveraging the best of both worlds for natural and technology-driven options.”

Another Top Trend in dairy is “Mood: The Next Occasion.” Concerns over mental health are more significant than ever. According to the World Health Organization, depression may be the leading illness globally by 2030 if no action is taken. Dairy new product development around mood is seeing rapid growth, with rising use of on-pack claims relating to specific mood platforms.

Calming/relaxing and energy boosting are the most established platforms, while sleep promotion is still niche, but growing from a smaller base and showing potential for further innovation. The use of adaptogenic herbal extracts for combating the mental and physical effects of stress is also trending as upward interest in more holistic well-being develops.

Functional dairy foods can do all this and more.

“There is clearly ongoing potential for the dairy market,” says Williams. “It remains one of the world’s most valuable food sectors, with a healthy, nutritious and versatile image and the potential for ongoing added value. However, the recent struggle with Covid-19 and a generally tougher consumer environment may prove challenging.”

On March 10, 2021, at 10:00am EST, Williams will present the “Top Ten Trends 2021 for Dairy.” You can register HERE

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.

  • IDFA’s Ice Cream Technology Conference. April 6-8. Link HERE for more information. 
  • IDFA’s Yogurt & Cultured Innovation Conference. April 8, and April 13-14. Link HERE for more information. 
  • Oregon Dairy Industries (ODI). April 13-14. This event includes a virtual cheese tasting on Day 2, including wine pairing suggestions. Link HERE for more information. 
  • Global Dairy Congress. June 22-24. Link HERE for more information. 

got a winning innovation? World Dairy Innovation Awards…early-bird submissions due March 19, 2021.

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, February 5, 2021

Dairy Foods Innovation: Formulating Experiences


This week I almost took a day trip from Chicago to Los Angeles, just for the heck of it. (Depart 8:55am arrive 11:28am; depart 4:00pm arrive 10:08pm; roundtrip $97.80.) Sounds crazy, I know. The reality is that I truly miss the hustle and bustle of flying, everything from waking early for the uber to the airport to going through security to waiting at the gate hoping to hear my name for an upgrade. (I cancelled the trip because my COVID-19 antibody test was negative and I did not want to take the chance. I’ve been told I tested too soon after a positive diagnosis.) 

I shared this story with others and many have expressed similar longings, not necessarily for flying but for something they really enjoyed—and took for granted—before the pandemic. And for many, it’s the experience they had with food and drink. 

It was that Instagram first forkful moment. The “opa” that comes when the flame is fired on saganaki. The custom ordering of a hand-mixed ice cream, from the inclusions to the cone. 

Consumer packaged goods marketers are now going to great lengths to provide experiential moments. Here’s my favorite so far. For Valentine’s Day, Kraft Mac & Cheese launched a limited-edition Candy Kraft Mac & Cheese. It is made with the same cheesy Kraft Mac & Cheese Americans know and love, but includes a candy flavor packet to turn the mac & cheese pink (from beetroot and carrot concentrates, so not to deter natural food aficionados) and add hints of sweet candy flavor (from fructose and natural flavors).

The product is not sold at retail, rather it is an online giveaway for one of a 1,000 boxes produced. You can still register to wine by completing this FORM by February 8. Winners will receive product by Valentine’s Day.

While it does not sound appetizing, I completed the form because I am craving experience. 

Ice cream marketers are on board. That’s what new Ben & Jerry’s Topped is all about. A pint of ice cream is topped with a chocolatey ganache.

“We wanted to dial up the indulgence level with this unique line of flavors, which entirely challenges HOW you eat this ice cream,” says Dena Wimette, Ben & Jerry’s Innovation Guru. “We started with sundaes and all the things you add to sundaes to make them great as our inspiration. You could say we ended up going over the Topped.”

Topped provides a unique eating experience. Eating a Topped flavor is an exercise in personalization and precision. Should you scrape off the layer of semi-soft, chocolatey ganache before going any further? Tunnel down and eat the ice cream first? Or get the best of all worlds by removing the lid and eating the flavor vertically with delicious ganache, chunks and ice cream all in one beautifully balanced bite? Whatever method you choose, you can’t lose. It’s a judgment free zone.

The seven varieties of Topped are: 
  • Chocolate Caramel Cookie Dough: Chocolate ice cream with caramel swirls and gobs of chocolate chip cookie dough topped with caramel cups and chocolatey ganache.
  • PB Over the Top: Chocolate ice cream with peanut butter swirls and peanut butter cups topped with mini peanut butter cups and chocolatey ganache.
  • Salted Caramel Brownie: Vanilla ice cream with salted caramel swirls and fudge brownies topped with caramel cups and chocolatey ganache.
  • Strawberry Topped Tart: Sweet cream ice cream with strawberry swirls and pie crust pieces topped with white chocolatey ganache and candy sprinkles.
  • Thick Mint: Mint ice cream with chocolate cookie swirls and mint chocolate cookie balls topped with chocolate cookies and chocolatey ganache.
  • Tiramisu: Mascarpone ice cream with fudge swirls and shortbread pieces topped with espresso fudge chunks and chocolatey ganache.
  • Whiskey Biz: Brown butter bourbon ice cream with blonde brownies and whiskey caramel swirls topped with white chocolatey ganache and white fudge chunks. This flavor “is produced in partnership with Vermont spirit sensation WhistlePig Whiskey, proudly featuring their award-winning six-year whiskey, WhistlePig PiggyBack Rye, cooked into the caramel swirls.”

Another way to provide experience is through limited-edition and seasonal offerings. When the consumer knows the product will not be available for a long time, there’s an urgency to purchase. This is an experience in itself, much like the McRib coming back to McDonald’s for only a week or two every year. (I love the McRib!)

Halo Top gets it. One of the brand’s fan-favorite flavors--Strawberry Cheesecake—is returning to shelves for a limited time this winter-going-into spring season. In fact, it’s out just in time for Valentine’s Day. Watch out Kraft Candy Kraft Mac & Cheese, you’ve got some competition!

The variety is strawberry cheesecake-flavored light ice cream, packed with creamy cheesecake pieces and a graham cracker swirl.

Brave Robot, launched by The Urgent Company, is providing a different experience, which is the opportunity to taste ice cream made with animal-free dairy. Consumer curiosity is paying off for the brand. In less than seven months from initial rollout, distribution has increased from 300 to 5,000 stores across the country. 

“The opportunity to pioneer a new food category doesn’t happen too often, and now 5,000 retail stores are with us,” says Paul Kollesoff, general manager and co-founder. “Dairy alternative ice creams always miss the mark on taste, and today’s consumer is hungry for better options. We see Brave Robot Ice Cream as an integral part of the solution.”

Brave Robot uses non-animal whey protein made by partner Perfect Day that is molecularly identical to whey from cow’s milk, except it is made through fermentation. This process means using less land, less water, and less greenhouse gas emissions to create animal-free dairy ice cream that is not like dairy, it is dairy, just without the cows. 

“Accessibility was a key component of our plan for this ice cream,” says Kollesoff. “We want to democratize new dairy. Not only are we championing consumer activism with this science-forward, better-for-the-planet product, but we’re making sure it’s at a price point ($5.99) that that’s accessible for all.” said Kollesoff.

Jon Spear, vice president of marketing, adds, “Knowing people eat ice cream for pleasure and joy, and since Brave Robot wins on taste, we like to call it a ‘Feel Good, Do Good,’ food. We want to encourage people to reduce their environmental impact, and our ice cream is an easy (delicious) first step.” 
While the country appears to slowly be reopening with the administration of vaccines and herd immunity from those who have had the virus, foodservice experiences will likely remain limited for the near future. It’s time to offer that experience for at-home enjoyment.