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!

Friday, March 5, 2021

Explore Dairy Innovation Ideas to Stay Competitive in the Post-Pandemic Food Story.


With the days getting longer and the temperatures warming, consumers are itching to get out and do things. In areas where safety protocols remain in place and vaccinations are being aggressively administered, it is likely that Covid-19 numbers will show a rapid decline. This is great news! While consumers are looking forward to getting out safely, the combination of ongoing virtual work environments and flexible schedules, along with continued concerns about making upcoming payments and the ease of grocery pick-up and delivery services, are creating a major shift in consumer food spending, according to the hot-off-the-presses Deloitte report “Surprise Ingredients in the Post-Pandemic Food Story.” You can read more HERE.

Deloitte’s poll of 3,000 U.S. consumers shows that many will be buying fresh food, with cooking likely going to outlast the health crisis. The pent-up demand for restaurant dining isn’t going to be enough for a full foodservice recovery. As Covid-19 forced more people to eat at home, the frequency of dining out will remain stunted compared to 2019, even when the health crisis ends, according to the Deloitte report.

“We may be about to witness the reversal of a multi-decade trend,” according to the report, when referencing the pendulum swinging from growth in dining out to stay-at-home eating. 

Source: Deloitte 

Four key findings from the report, which is based on U.S. data from Deloitte’s Global State of the Consumer Tracker, are:

1. Cooking up new habits. While only 7% of consumers said they would cook less after the pandemic, nearly half (42%) said they actually plan to cook more. This is further spurred by 29% of consumers who plan to buy more fresh food, as well as an increase in grocery delivery services and consumer investments in countertop appliances. 

Think about how you can keep dairy relevant and how dairy can best assist with meal solutions. Earlier this week I showcased Aldi’s new private-label Park Street Deli Mushroom Medley Simmer Sauce.
Sour cream is the first ingredient in this cooking sauce, with parmesan and asiago also dominant ingredients. Sold in 22-ounce plastic tubs in the refrigerated section, the sauce is fully cooked. It may be poured over pasta or add chicken for further cooking. Dairy processors that produce refrigerated dips have this container and can easily create seasoned sour creams to use as sauce. 

Dairy processors that produce milk in plastic pints and quarts can also readily enter the condiment category. After all, summer time is salad season. Start with yogurt, sour cream or even buttermilk as a base, and add herbs, spices and other flavors. Work with local markets to merchandise these fresh dressings in the produce department. 

Photo source: The Seasoned Mom
2. Ordering the restaurant experience. As excited as many are to eat out, one in three consumers will dine out less than before. However, restaurants will benefit from the 40% of consumers who plan to order takeout and delivery more so than before Covid-19. 

I think we can all agree that ordering take out from many restaurants equates to packaging overload. It is also a tedious process for back-of-house help to portion out the souffle cups of everything from salad dressing to sour cream. If you have portion-control packaging capabilities, maybe it’s time to team up with local restaurants and get your brand in front of diners. 

3. Grab and go home. With work from home continuing and business travel still below pre-Covid levels, the frequency of meals with colleagues or picked up on the way to the office is down as well.  

Dairy processors were already active players in the grab-and-go sector prior to the pandemic. Good job! But now it’s time to think beyond your current offerings. That’s what Unilever is doing with its new Klondike Shakes. Unilever has pouch machinery for other product lines, and decided to bring it into the freezer. The 4.7-ounce pouches of Chill Out & Vanilla and Wind Down & Chocolate come frozen. The consumer just lets it sit out for about three minutes, then twists off the cap and sips. 

4. Chopping costs. Often, cooking at home can be better for budgets, which is top of mind for many. About one in three Americans are worried about making upcoming payments and concerned about their savings and credit card balances. 

It’s time to market dairy’s affordability, along with its deliciousness. Work with suppliers on technologies to lower costs while not compromising flavor or nutrition and pass that savings onto the consumer. 

For more guidance on adapting to the changing landscape, link HERE to Deloitte’s “2021 Consumer Products Industry Outlook.” The report identifies five opportunities for growth, including resetting go-to market strategies, accelerating the shift to digital, building supply chain resilience, investing in automation and robotic technologies, and connecting purpose to profit. 

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. 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.