Thursday, July 29, 2021

Get Ahead of the Fad: Make Dairy Groovy


Source: Donna Gorski's photo album, with the pull-back plastic self-stick pages

Most Gen X’ers, like myself, knew this might happen. We’ve been dreading it. The ‘80s are back in fashion. In case you have not noticed, men’s shorts are getting shorter and puffy shoulders—there are no pads in there, yet—can be found on all styles of women’s blouses. Loose fitting drawstring fleece pants (in tie dye pastels) have returned for all, probably because of COVID weight gain. And, ladies, wait for it, jellies (plastic shoes) are making a comeback, many of them with some dazzle and shine. 

While today’s youth may find this step back in time to be fun and even “new” to them, for me, and I’m guessing many of my fellow Gen Xers, it’s a nightmare. 

Need some giggles? This is me! Summer of 1985. Just graduated high school and ready for some fun times before heading to University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana. (My license had me three inches taller than I am now. That hair!)

So, here’s the deal. Fashion from the 80’s is back. Disco is getting weaved into current tunes. It’s time to razzle and dazzle shoppers.  

Earlier this year, Nestle rolled out Disco Semi-Sweet Toll House Morsels. The bag of chips is a mix of semi-sweet chocolate chips and edible glitter morsels, which appear to be glitter-covered chocolate chips. The company is onto something!

Packages read: “Get Groovy with your tasty treats! Top pancakes, cupcakes or bake into cookies or breads to add that extra sparkle to your final product. Can you dig it?” 

Balchem is making it easy to add that 80’s glam and fun to your frozen desserts with its new glimmer textured water-based variegate. The shiny variegate can be customized with flavors, colors and textures. 

Did you know different colors of food can be good for emotional health, too? Colors address mood, and right now, I think many of us need a little pick me up, as it appears we are returning to some pandemic restrictions. (Please get vaccinated.) 

You know what also was popular in the 80’s? Gaming consoles, with Ninja fighters making their debut to the U.S. Well, Balchem just entered into an agreement with the best-selling author of the children’s book series Ninja Life Hacks to secure strategic partners for branded food products that promote a healthy emotional and physical relationship with foods. The product range includes all types of healthy foods and dietary supplements, including ice cream. They will be developed for specific partners and retailers.

Ninja Life Hacks is dedicated to empowerment and offers children the skills to cultivate a growth mindset and develop confidence and grit. The books promote emotional intelligence. (All the more power to Simone!)

The three primary areas where Balchem’s food technology will be utilized to bring the Ninja Life Hacks brand to life are: Brain Power, Emotional Well-Being, and Immune Health & Nutrition. Balchem will work with its partners to bring these branded snacks to market. The Ninja Life Hacks characters assist in building avenues for conversation, with the ultimate goal of bringing emotional and physical health discussions to the kitchen, lunchroom and dinner table.

“Together we will take the science of nutrition and make it understandable for kids and their parents through the Ninja Life Hacks characters,” says Shitij Chabba, vice president minerals and nutrients and global marketing, Balchem Human Nutrition & Health. “Our partners innovating in kid-focused products can leverage our collaboration and science-backed ingredients to create products that resonate with parents looking to nourish and delight their kids every day.”

I’ve always though Ninjas would look a little better in glitter. 
This fully vaccinated Gen Xer is ready to get down to Bee Gees’ Stayin’ Alive this weekend. Let’s make dairy groovy!

Friday, July 23, 2021

Making Ice Cream a Pandemic Trend that Continues to Grow


This past Sunday, July 18, was National Ice Cream Day. I ventured with the family to one of my all-time favorite places--Sherman’s Dairy Bar—in South Haven, Michigan. My friends at Hudsonville Ice Cream produce product for Sherman’s using the Sherman family’s proprietary formulas. The Holland-based company started doing this in early 2020 after Sherman’s decided to stop production after the 2019 summer season. Thank you, Hudsonville, for keeping this Southwest Michigan tradition alive. I enjoyed the limited-edition Super Scoop, which is swirled Blue Moon, Black Cherry and Vanilla ice creams. 

National Ice Cream Day was a great start to this week’s annual conference of the Institute of Food Technologists, which was held virtually under the banner of FIRST (Food Improved by Research, Science and Technology). A recurring theme in many of the sessions was the evolving interpretation of health and wellness, and how companies that adapt to this, along with incorporating sustainability efforts into their business plans, may be what is necessary to keep the sales momentum of the pandemic on an upward trajectory.  

“It’s a tremendous opportunity for the food industry to stick to those gains and retain those gains,” said Nicholas Fereday, executive director at Rabobank. “It’s theirs to lose.”

Joan Driggs, vice president of content and thought leadership at IRI said, “Whenever you have a major change, a major disruption in the market, it does spur innovation,” as she compared the pandemic to the recession from 2007 to 2009.

She moved onto the topic of health and wellness, explaining that most consumers have more than six personal wellness goals. This includes everything from getting better sleep to improving mental acuity to destressing, and, of course, managing weight.

“People are looking for a lot of different things,” she said. 

The pandemic made them more mindful of these goals. It also made them more aware of the role of food and beverage in attaining these goals. 

Might ice cream be a “health and wellness” food for someone who needs some calming and comforting? It can be that and a whole lot more! 

You can read a more comprehensive review of the FIRST session HERE

This brings me back to the blog I wrote last week on “What’s the Next ‘Healthy?’” 

You can read it HERE.

I got some interesting feedback from readers regarding my suggestion to use the word “nutritional” or “nutritious” on product packages. The fact is that dairy ice cream packs in 13 essential nutrients. It’s the ultimate “permissible indulgence.” It also may serve as a canvas for further nutritional enhancements. 

Here’s an example. A few weeks ago I featured Carter & Oak frozen dairy dessert as a Daily Dose of Dairy. The product carries the tagline of: Indulgence you crave. Nutrition you deserve. 

The product was developed by Kyle Peters, who after graduating from university in 2015, set out to make a nutritionally superior ice cream in honor of his recently deceased mother who struggled with the side effects of chemotherapy. One of the few foods she was able to eat was ice cream.

“The issue was that the ice cream she would eat was super high in sugar, made with artificial ingredients and was not putting her body in an ideal position to feel better and recover from her treatments,” says Peters. “I decided to combine my passion for culinary with inspiration from my mother and her fight to create Carter & Oak, a frozen dessert brand dedicated to providing delicious, premium products that are made with clean ingredients and provide high-quality nutrition.”

Currently Carter & Oak comes in single-serve 8-ounce cups in three varieties. Cold Brew Coffee and Vanilla Bean contain 190 calories, 7 grams of fat, 8 grams of sugar (none are added sugars), 8 grams of fiber, 11 grams of sugar alcohols and 16 grams of protein. Chocolate Peanut Butter is a bit more indulgent with 260 calories, 14 grams of fat, 8 grams of sugar (none are added sugars), 9 grams of fiber, 11 grams of sugar alcohols and 18 grams of protein. Key ingredients are organic skim milk, cream, organic egg, organic erythritol, chicory root fiber, whey protein isolate and monk fruit. The company has also developed a self-serve mix with a similar nutrition profile.

Now, before others try to duplicate his efforts, remember, health and wellness is very personal. As Driggs said, “People are looking for a lot of different things.”  

Ice cream is one of the ultimate comfort foods. And this past year, innovators turned up the comfort notch with their creativity. So many “firsts” debuted this summer that is has been impossible to cover them all. A recent example is the product of a partnership between Kraft Heinz and Van Leeuwen Ice Cream to introduce limited-edition ice cream inspired by Kraft Macaroni & Cheese, complete with cheese powder and turmeric for coloring.

Supermodel Tyra Banks entered the ice cream business with SMiZE Cream, which is a superpremium, custard-style ice cream that inspires you to reach for more than just a spoon, as the bottom of every container has an edible surprise aptly named the SMiZE SURPRiZE. This extra treat is a cookie dough truffle covered in naturally colored sprinkles. It’s said to be a tasty reward that symbolizes what the brand stands for: goal getting and dream catching.

The line is launching in seven flavors, and more are on the way, according to the company. They are: Best Vanilla I Ever Had (vanilla ice cream with a fruity cereal cookie dough truffle), Brownies, I Love You (milk chocolate ice cream, brownie pieces, brownie batter bites and fudge with a chocolate blueberry cookie dough truffle), Caramel Cookie Queen (vanilla ice cream, caramel butter cookies and a salted caramel swirl with a toffee caramel cookie dough truffle), Chocolate Barbeque (smoked chocolate ice cream, brownie pieces, roasted almonds and a bourbon cookie dough truffle), Purple Cookie Mon-Star & Me (purple sweet cream ice cream with Oreo cookie pieces and a cookies and cream cookie dough truffle), Salted Caramel King (salted sweet cream ice cream, butter-roasted pecans and salted caramel butter with a salted caramel cookie dough truffle) and Strawberry BirthYay! Cake (strawberry ice cream with cake pieces and colorful sprinkles plus a sprinkle birthday cake cookie dough truffle).

Will our new normal actually include a supermodel making ice cream, eating it and raving about it? Like I said, it has been a summer of many ice cream firsts. 

“It’s official, baby! Now everyone in mainland USA can enjoy the creamy, dreamy taste of SMiZE Cream,” says Banks. “Bite after bite, taste test after taste test, the nationwide launch of SMiZE Cream is by far my most delicious, chunk-a-licious accomplishment. Ever since I was a little girl, my mama and I have been obsessed with the creamy, crunchy, ooey-gooey comfort and delight of ice cream. Everybody has their own unique stories and moments with ice cream at the center of them—hot summer days, celebrations, even broken hearts—but ice cream always made it better.”
My colleague at Food Business News developed an informative slide show of some recent ice cream flavor innovations. You can view it HERE.

There are packaging firsts for ice cream, too. Unilever’s new Klondike Shakes are frozen 4.7-ounce pouches. Flavors are Chill Out & Vanilla and Wind Down & Chocolate. The consumer just lets it sit out for about three minutes, then twists off the cap and sips. 

There are numerous new options in the single-serve retail milkshake and sundae space, with brands trying to recreate the dairy counter experience. Palazzolo’s Artisan Dairy offers 18-ounce “blended and ready to eat” ice cream milkshakes made with only clean, simple ingredients. Varieties include Cookies and Cream, Double Shot Cappuccino, Double Dutch Chocolate, Fresh Strawberry, Salted Caramel and Tahitian Vanilla. 

When the Roadside Ice Cream & Diner in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, had to close its doors during the pandemic, the company quickly pivoted and entered retail with its hand-made soft-serve sundaes. The company joined brands such as Turkey Hill, Friendly’s and Blue Bunny.    

This is one cool first. The Churnbaby brand from Casper’s Ice Cream gives a unique spin to single-serve sundae cups by topping them off with an entire cookie and including a spoon under the lid. The 7-ounce cups are sold in two packs in four varieties. They are: Choco Chip Cookie Dough (whole chocolate chip cookie, fudge drizzle, sweet cream ice cream, cookie dough swirl and chocolate chip cookie dough), Choco Chip Vanilla Fudge Brownie (whole chocolate chip cookie, fudge drizzle, vanilla ice cream, brownie bites, chocolate flakes and fudge ribbon), Cool Mint Chocolate Chip (whole double fudge cookie, fudge drizzle, mint ice cream, chocolate flakes and fudge ribbon) and Peanut Butta Brownie Luvva (whole double fudge cookie, peanut butter drizzle, chocolate ice cream, peanut butter ribbon and brownie bites). 

The brand also has two varieties of ice cream sandwiches, which are even now available through private-label retailer Aldi. The ice cream sandwiches come in Caramel Cashew (caramel ice cream with a sea salt caramel ribbon and crunchy cashew chunks sandwiched between shortbread cookies) and Caramel Cookies n’ Cream flavors (cookies n’ cream ice cream with a sea salt caramel ribbon sandwiched between double fudge cookies).

As you can see, there’s a lot of opportunity for innovation in the novelty category. And consumers appear to be eating it up. While retail ice cream sales have slowed compared to 2020, they are still up from 2019. Novelty sales remain up from last year. (See chart.)

Recent data provided to the International Dairy Foods Association showed that hard ice cream production for the first five months of 2021 was ahead of last year when hard ice cream production set a five-year high with more than one billion gallons produced. Through the first six months of 2021, just as the summer season kicked into high gear, retail ice cream sales continued to flex their muscle and were slightly behind 2020’s record highs when shoppers couldn’t get enough of America’s frozen treat.

“Ice cream sales set a blazing pace in 2020 and just never let up,” says Michael Dykes, president and CEO of IDFA. “All in all, 2021 is shaping up to be one of the strongest years on record for ice cream production and sales as the U.S. economy opens up and restaurants and foodservice compete with grocery stores for ice cream sales.”

The average American eats approximately 23 pounds of ice cream each year. The United States ranks second in global ice cream consumption only to China, which has one billion more people living in its borders.

Need more incentive to get innovative in ice cream? Fortune Business Insights estimates the global ice cream market will reach $91.9 billion in 2027, up from $70.9 billion in 2019, a 30% jump in less than a decade due to the world’s craving for ice cream. 

Remember those cravings may be for many varied reasons. People are looking for a lot of different things!

Friday, July 16, 2021

What’s the Next “Healthy?”


There’s a lot of conversation regarding what the future holds for retailers, restaurants, office buildings, well, really just about everything. But one conversation not taking place…until now…is what consumers will view as being healthy food. 

Is it plant? Is it cellular? Is it clean label? Is it local? 

What’s healthy for one person may not be healthy for another. One thing I hope we can agree on is that healthy should be nutritious. 

You may not be aware, but in early May, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration started a public process to update the “healthy” nutrient content claim for food labeling. Updating the term is part of an overall plan to provide consumers with information and tools to enable them to easily and quickly make food choices consistent with public health recommendations and to encourage the development of healthier foods by the industry. 

FDA says that the updated nutrient content claim will be consistent with current nutrition science and federal dietary guidelines. Yet, the FDA issued a request for information and comments on September 28, 2016, and held a public meeting on March 9, 2017. I hate to break it to FDA, but what was “healthy” back then may not be “healthy” by the time they finalize the definition. 

While FDA is considering how to redefine the term healthy as a nutrient content claim, food manufacturers can continue to use the term healthy on foods that meet the current regulatory definition. For more information, link HERE.

So that brings me back to the question I posed in my headline: What’s the next healthy? After all, the more a term is regulated or scrutinized, the more creative marketers get to find alternative descriptors. For a while, energy was a go-to for many marketers. Superfood, as well, but that seems to have lost some of its spunk.  

“Good” is an interesting one. It’s not in product descriptors, but it is in company names, brands and slogans. These four come to mind: Good Foods Company, Feel Good Foods, Realgood Foods and Made Good. 

What’s “good?” I want great!

“The definition of ‘good’ has evolved substantially throughout my career,” says Kristin Kroepfl, chief marketing officer for Quaker. “At Quaker, we strive to meet our consumers’ changing needs everyday by delivering on nutrition as well as taste.”

Kroepfl will join my friends at Bader Rutter on Wednesday, August 25, for a live panel discussion where marketers will share their definitions of what’s “good” in food and beverage marketing. You’ll hear perspectives from food leaders at Quaker, the National Pork Board and more, as they shed light on how they tackle the constantly moving target of what’s “good.” Register HERE

“Kentucky Fried Chicken was ‘Finger lickin’ good,’” says Dennis Ryan, executive creative director at Bader Rutter. “Maxwell House tasted ‘Good to the last drop.’ And we believed that ‘With a name like Smucker’s, it has to be good.’ Then that big mouth Tony the Tiger one-upped good by boasting ‘They’re grr-r-reat!’

Like I said, I don’t want good, I want great. 

“But in an increasingly commoditized market, good taste alone isn’t always enough,” says Ryan. “Brands started pitching their offerings as ‘good and good for you.’ Wheaties boasted ‘the goodness of 100% whole grain,’ and all sorts of boxed and canned products claimed to be ‘naturally good.’
You can also read more on the topic of “good” HERE.

Power is a term that seems to be gaining traction, as you can see from this new Yoplait line introduced by General Mills this week. Yoplait Power is the first national brand yogurt with a combination of vitamins A, C, D, E and zinc to help support the immune system. The low-fat yogurt includes fruit and chia seeds and comes in four flavors: Blueberry Blackcurrant, Cherry Pomegranate, Mango Orange and Strawberry Acai.

Power has also long been associated with protein, specifically dairy proteins, so use of the term makes logical sense…for dairy.

But power does not say it all. 
The long-established trend towards proactively managing health and well-being was brought into sharper focus by the pandemic. Research by Innova Market Insights reveals a new wave of opportunity for functional nutrition product launches for 2021 and beyond, which will be explored further in a webinar on July 19.
You can register HERE.

Even prior to COVID-19, consumers were taking a more holistic approach to health, focusing on positive nutrition to boost the body’s resilience and improve physical, mental and emotional well-being. The impact of the pandemic brought health needs even more to the fore, with the growing desire to maintain physical and mental fitness developing alongside the more immediate focus on personal health security and hygiene. This included choosing functional foods and beverages, as well as maintaining or increasing exercise, protecting the body from health threats and utilizing more self-care products at home as access to shops and services was restricted.

Consumers across the globe are placing increased emphasis on positive nutrition rather than the more traditional reductionist methods of diet control. An average 71% of respondents in Innova’s 2020 Health & Nutrition Survey agreed that it was important or very important to choose food and drink products that positively boost nutrition or benefit how the body functions.

Boost nutrition, proven nutrition, or simply, “nutritional,” I think that’s the new “healthy.”
We use the word nutrition and nutritional all the time in our conversation but seldom communicate it on product packages, except, of course, on the back panel as “Nutrition Facts.” A quick search of “nutritional” products, namely bars and beverages, provides many examples, with only a few using the term on front of pack. (All of the examples in this blog contain dairy ingredients.)

Merriam-Webster provides this definition for nutritional: the act or process of nourishing or being nourished. I think an appropriate synonym is “milk.” Dairy packs in 13 essential nutrients. That’s better than good. That’s great, make that “great nutrition!” That’s also pretty darn healthy, don’t you think?

Friday, July 9, 2021

Preparing for Post-Pandemic Snacking


Photo source: U.S. Dairy Export Council

About a year ago many of us fell into the new norm of life. We swapped out our pre-pandemic forms of control for new habits, ones that continue today. And while offices are reopening, business traveling is starting up again and in-person meetings are becoming more frequent, our new “controlled” habits are likely going to remain. 

This morning I woke up to a Forbes article titled “How Covid Affected Employee Perks and What They Will Look Like Post-Pandemic.” The basis of the piece is how businesses are substituting pre-pandemic employee perks, such as free in-office lunches and stocked refrigerators, for subscriptions to mental health apps and working from home stipends. Flexibility, once a selling point, is now the norm.

The fact is that some things have changed, and that includes where and when we work, learn, exercise and play. Snack-filled pantries at offices are empty, but we are still snacking. 

You can read the Forbes article HERE

While the number of times consumers snack throughout the day has remained steady since the onset of the pandemic, the overall volume has grown, according to an October 2020 survey by The Hartman Group. Further, 35% of consumers said they were snacking more often and 20% have changed how they snack from the previous year.   

Snacking provides a form of routine, of comfort, of control. And right now as we reenter society, most of us are not willing to give up any of these things. 

“The culture of snacking in the U.S. is one that is constantly evolving and shifting according to broader shifts in American consumer values, demographics and priorities,” according to The Hartman Group’s Snacking 2020: Emerging, Evolving and Disrupted report. “The pandemic altered consumers’ snacking needs and routines and has unleashed yet another new era of retail and foodservice disruption.”

The Hartman Group just published these amazingly insightful infographics, which I have been permitted to share with you. They show how consumer participation in meal and snack occasions follows an established pattern, but within this general pattern, individual consumer approaches to snacks and meals reflect diverse daily schedules. 

As a Gen Xer, I fit this this pattern down to a tee. It was definitely different before the pandemic, but I am quite comfortable with the routine I have fallen into and not ready for change. The only thing my infographic is missing is the cup of black coffee with a scoop of collagen that I have every morning, usually before 6:00am. 

Note how these infographics highlight many dairy and dairy-type foods, including cheese, dip, ice cream, protein shake and yogurt. Note how what constitutes a snack or meal is less specific with younger consumers, while older ones are more set in their ways. This provides more opportunity to lure Gen Z into the refrigerated and frozen retail cases with real dairy and non-dairy formats, while products targeted to the needs of older, more affluent consumers are also a great bet. As you formulate and market for back-to-school and back-to-work schedules, consider including functional ingredients in products targeted to specific demographics for certain day parts. 

Liz Sloan wrote “Demographic Disruption” for this month’s issue of Food Technology. “Unmet needs of older consumers, a new generation of cooks and high-end tastes among lower-income shoppers are spawning a wealth of new food and beverage opportunities,” she wrote. “COVID-19 is not the only disruptor of the U.S. food and beverage marketplace. Major demographic transitions related to birth rate, a dramatic bifurcation of older/younger consumers, unprecedented growth in minority populations and the increasing impact of urban shoppers are reshaping it as well.

“While food marketers appear to be disproportionately focused on developing ‘experiential’ products for young adults, they are ignoring one of the most dramatic opportunities of all time: the emerging food and nutrition needs of one of the largest and wealthiest populations in the world—aging baby boomers,” Sloan wrote. “The U.S. population included 120 million Americans over 50 years old in 2020.”

I would add aging Gen X to her quote. We are currently about 41 to 56 years old. 

Vital Proteins recently signed Jennifer Aniston on as Chief Creative Officer. Aniston is one of the only spokespersons to Gen X. My demographic has long felt ignored and overlooked. Aniston is telling me now to add collagen to my morning coffee, and I do it daily. What can you tell me about your snack food to make me a customer?

You can read the entire Food Technology article HERE.

I hope these articles and infographics guide you in your product development efforts for the new snacking norm. Dairy deliciousness—in real dairy and non-dairy products—has always been a craveable trait. Never sacrifice on flavor, as taste reigns. That’s one attribute no demographic is willing to forego.