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.