Thursday, August 26, 2021

Is Kefir the Next Greek Yogurt?


Greek yogurt—namely Chobani—made its debut in the U.S. at the onset of the Great Recession in 2007. Its success defied logic…or did it? Here was this new yogurt concept with a higher retail price tag in a smaller cup size than any other yogurt in the marketplace. Yet, with its claims of higher protein and less sugar, and its unique texture and taste, the product thrived. Well, it did more than that and ever since, we have all been wondering what will be the next transformative concept in the dairy case?

This week during Trends and Innovations, a part of the Sosland Publishing Webinar Series, Stephanie Mattucci, associate director of food science for Mintel, suggested that kefir has the potential to be that product. 

Let me back up. She first identified immunity as one of the three key health areas emerging from the pandemic where food and beverage innovators should focus their efforts. The other two are eye health (from all that screen time) and mental health (from that non-discriminating coronavirus disrupting our lives). 

Between 2016 and 2020, the percentage of global food and drink products with an immunity function increased 22%, according to Mintel data. In the U.S., 86% of consumers agree eating healthy is important for a strong  immune system, said Mattucci. Immunity was top of mind before the pandemic. The past year or so raised awareness of the connection between diet and immunity.

“Immune health will still be important to many consumers, even after the vaccine,” she said. “It’s all about staying healthy against many illnesses. It is especially critical until the youngest population can get vaccinated.”

The gut-health connection is one that now resonates with consumers. The two have a mutual relationship and constantly influence each other.

“This presents potential for immune health, with probiotics, prebiotics and even the newly arriving post-biotics,” she said. “They can really play a role in functional food and drink products to help consumers support their immune system by supporting their microbiota.”

Here is where she posed the question: Will COVID-19 turn kefir into the next Greek yogurt?

The global kefir market is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 6.12% from now until 2025, according to the “Kefir Market” report from, growing from a valuation of $1.437 billion in 2019 to $2.053 billion in 2025.

“Kefir is the rising star in the fermentation scene,” Mattucci said. “The kefir grains have application in dairy, juices, plant-based milks and water kefir, the vegan alternative to dairy kefir, everything from drinkable to spoonable products.” 

Kefir grains are a symbiotic microbial mix of bacteria and yeast. They feed on simple sugars and multiply in millions. This activity gives rise to a matrix that resembles a small cauliflower floret. The Lactobacillus family of bacteria is the predominant species; however, many others are present. 

Lifeway Foods, Morton Grove, Ill., the largest kefir manufacturer in the U.S., which just got bigger after its recent acquisition of certain assets of the privately held, California-based GlenOaks Farms Inc., a respected and pioneering probiotic drinkable yogurt brand founded in 1984, includes 12 probiotic cultures in all if its refrigerated kefirs, delivering 25 to 30 billion Colony Forming Units (CFU). The kefir cultures include: Bifidobacterium breve, B. lactis, B. longum, L. acidophilus, L. casei, L. lactis, L. plantarum, L. reuteri, L. rhamnosus, Leuconostoc cremoris, Saccharomyces florentinus and Streptococcus diacetylactis

Kefir grains are not created equal, which provides opportunity for innovation in this space based. Unique combinations of bacteria and yeast result in fermented foods and beverages that vary in tartness, the amount of effervescence and viscosity.  

“Dairy kefir offers compounds with other health benefits,” said Mattucci. “It contains the polysaccharide kefiran, a strong anti-inflammatory and stimulant for the immune system. And dairy kefir has the potential as a calming mood food, as it is a source of vitamin B12 and the amino acid tryptophan, a precursor to serotonin.”

The January 2021 issue (volume 133) of Biomedicine & Pharmacotherapy published a review titled “Kefir: A protective dietary supplementation against viral infection.” You can read it HERE.

In a separate study published in Microbiome (link HERE), researchers identified molecules in kefir that proved to be effective at treating various inflammatory conditions, including “cytokine storms” caused by COVID-19 and other diseases that attack the immune system.

A new study published from Stanford researchers published in the July 12, 2021, issue of Cell, shows a link between fermented foods such as kefir and an increase in microbiome diversity and reduction in inflammation. You can read it HERE.

“Products like kefir offer consumers affordable nutrition, especially as they are looking to support their health and strengthen their immune system,” Mattucci said. 

While kefir has been around forever, it still is an unknown to many. Market research firm Datassential reports that 34% of the population knows what kefir is but only 15% have tried it. Will COVID-19 turn kefir into the next Greek yogurt?

“Yes, I do believe we are in a massive new wave of growth like we have never seen before,” says Julie Smolyansky, CEO of Lifeway Foods. “A 2,000-year-old beverage whose time has come.” She cites these reasons.  

“More research has been done on kefir, gut health, fermented foods and probiotics in the last 18 months due to the pandemic than probably ever before,” she says. “The science is remarkable and it’s getting out to mainstream press and consumers are searching for this info. They are worried about their health and the health of their families. Right now, health, immunity and mental health are top of mind and one of the best ways to be empowered around health is to get the vaccine, mask up and drink kefir and love your gut. This is not just a trend but a 2,000-year-old healing beverage we are truly just starting to understand.” 

Mainstream media is also getting the science out there.

“The New York Times wrote not one, but two articles about kefir and microbiome this week,” says Smolyansky. It’s so exciting to see mainstream media finally becoming aware of what my ancestors have known intuitively in their gut for 2,000 years.”

Links to the articles are HERE and HERE

Also just this past week, kefir was listed first on Parade magazine’s 15 best fermented foods to try. The list describes kefir as “This fermented milk beverage is similar to drinkable yogurt. Fermentation eliminates most of its lactose, making it digestible even for those with lactose intolerance.”

Kefir is even catching on in foodservice. Nation’s Restaurant News recently featured kefir as a ”flavor of the week,” noting that awareness of kefir is growing. You can read the article HERE.

“Once restaurant business comes back, kefir could be on the menu,” says Smolyansky.

At retail, Lifeway’s second quarter 2021 sales surged 16.6% from the previous period in 2020, which was very strong. 

“Retailers were reluctant to bring new innovations to shelves during the pandemic. For kefir, an essential, they increased shelf space dramatically,” says Smolyansky. “This shows that consumers are becoming more aware of kefir and buying at a higher velocity.”

I am going to end with an article published this week in Grub Street with this headline: Whole Milk Mounts Its Triumphant Comeback--Hot girls are ditching the alternatives and are going back to basics.
You can read it HERE.

Friday, August 20, 2021

Beyond Cheese. Impossible Cheese. Then There’s Real Cheese.


News broke this week that alternative meat company Beyond Meat filed a trademark application for “Beyond Milk” with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. What the news failed to report is that the company did the same for “Beyond Cheese.” Impossible Foods already has the trademark of “Impossible” for non-dairy milk and milk products, too. 

Let’s discuss this. First off, for a point of clarification, plant-based butter is margarine and plant-based leather is plastic. Plant-based cheese is imitation cheese and has been around for a very long time. It refers to low-cost processed cheese in which the milkfat, milk protein or both are partially or wholly replaced with non-dairy ingredients, such as corn oil and soy protein. “Plant-based” does not mean “vegan” and neither does “imitation.” Vegan cheese, however, is a type of imitation cheese and should be labeled as such. So, while the dairy industry continues its fight about the use of the word milk on non-dairy white fluids, I think it might be a good time to change battles before things get ugly. It is paramount that every cheese-type product in the market that contains non-dairy fat or non-dairy protein, or both, and describes itself as being cheese, includes the word imitation on the label. 

And why? Because “real” cheesemaking is both an art and science. Imitation cheesemaking is just science. Both have a place in our evolving food scene, but we cannot dilute the beautiful art and science of cheesemaking. 

I made cheese for three years, from 1990 to 1993 with Kraft. I fully appreciate the importance of timing the addition of cultures and enzymes, managing pH and washing curd, the salting and packing process, and with pasta filata types, the temperature of the cooker/stretcher and the strength of the brine. Like I said, it’s an art and a science. 

That is something that the American Cheese Society (ACS) knows well. The group held a virtual conference a few weeks ago that enabled an international audience of cheese professionals-- from the U.S. to Europe to New Zealand--to interact and share knowledge and innovation. This would not have been possible without a virtual platform and indeed, virtual meetings are one of the more positive outcomes of the pandemic. The ACS voice will be amplified by its recent acquisition of Victory Cheese, an initiative launched by cheesemakers, mongers, chefs and cheese enthusiasts to help support and sustain specialty and artisan cheesemakers in the U.S. during and after the pandemic. 

Source: American Cheese Society, courtesy of Saputo

Every other year, ACS surveys artisan and specialty cheesemakers from around the U.S. to identify trends and guide benchmarking, policy recommendations and advocacy for the cheese industry. The 2020 survey was conducted two months into the COVID-19 pandemic. See infographics for some survey highlights. Infographics are courtesy of Saputo. (Click on infographic to enlarge.)

Real, natural cheese is made with only four ingredients: milk, cultures, enzymes and salt. It is the careful selection of these ingredients and the handling of the finished curd that allows for the many varieties of cheese in the marketplace. Cheese is one of the simplest, yet most complex foods in the world and we must never let it be lost to imitators. 

Here are some great examples of keeping the art and science of cheesemaking alive. 

Marin French Cheese Co., is introducing Golden Gate, the first in its new line of premium cheeses handcrafted at the country’s oldest cheese company. This washed-rind, triple crème cheese is aptly named for the golden color of the cheese as well as the Golden Gate Bridge, the iconic gateway to Marin County where the historic creamery is located. The unique cultures naturally present in California’s coastal air result in an artisan cheese with a true sense of place. 

Source: American Cheese Society, courtesy of Saputo 

Golden Gate undergoes four rounds of handwashing in its 14-day aging process to lock in moisture that encourages the growth of Brevibacterium linens cultures. Multiple rounds of handwashing in brine score the cheese to help it develop the cultures and build an edible rind that preserves the cheese’s creamy texture and balances its earthy, rich flavor with just the right amount of salt. The striking orange rind occurs naturally without the use of added colorant like annatto. Throughout the process, Golden Gate is stored at optimal humidity and temperature. 

Creamery Manager Caroline Di Giusto says that Golden Gate requires additional training with personal attention from the cheesemaking team. “This dedication is what makes Golden Gate a truly artisanal cheese that’s interesting and enjoyable as it ages into a more pungent and gooier flavor profile for cheese aficionados, enthusiasts and explorers,” says Di Giusto. 

Marin French Cheese has been making high-quality, soft-ripened cheeses using French techniques in the coastal terroir of Marin County since 1865. Famed for its soft-ripened cheeses with bloomy white penicillium rinds, it has also been handcrafting washed-rind cheeses since 1901 using Old World techniques. 

According to the ACS, “washed-rind” describes the surface-ripening process of washing cheese throughout the aging process with brine, beer, wine, brandy or a mixture of ingredients, resulting in cheeses with higher pH levels and lower acidity, high moisture content and a characteristic red-orange rind. Also typically pungent, the flavor profile of many washed-rind cheeses including Golden Gate is milder than their aroma would suggest. 

Source: American Cheese Society, courtesy of Saputo 

“Golden Gate offers a mature flavor that appeals to the evolving palates of today’s American consumers who are seeking nuanced profiles in their cheese,” says Manon Servouse, Marin French Cheese’s marketing director. “This cheese has a true sense of place and is a delicious, tangible representation of our unique Marin County terroir.”

Golden Gate is made in small batches with the highest-quality pasteurized milk from Holstein, Jersey and Guernsey cows pastured at North Bay dairies located near the Marin French Cheese creamery. A triple crème cheese means that cream is added to the milk for a richer flavor and texture. The vibrant edible orange rind reveals a supple, pale yellow interior with rich, botanical aromas and a deep savory flavor. Best enjoyed at room temperature, Golden Gate ranges from semi-soft, fudgy and robust when young to earthier oozing umami as it approaches its best-by date.

Rogue Creamery, which is known for its award-winning organic blue cheese, now offers a line of pre-packaged blue cheese wedges. Six varieties of Rogue’s certified organic, cave-aged blue cheeses come in convenient 4.2-ounce wedges. Varieties are Oregon Blue, Smokey Blue, Crater Lake Blue, Oregonzola, Caveman Blue and Bluehorn Blue. The company is using the rollout of the new format as an opportunity to rethink its case packaging and make its products more accessible to smaller independent retailers.

“We are always looking for ways to offer a cheese that’s on the cutting edge of sustainability,” says David Gremmels, president. “We aim to raise the bar and make our products more available to a broader range of consumers, all while reducing our plastic consumption and carbon footprint.”

Face Rock Creamery is an award-winning specialty cheese producer based in Bandon, Oregon. One of its newer concepts is the Face2Face blended aged cheddar, the creamery’s first mixed-milk cheddar cheese. The 12-month aged cheddar is made from a balanced blend of milk sourced from cow and sheep farmers located on the Southern Oregon coast. The cheese has a dense, creamy base from high butterfat cow’s milk and a slight salty piquancy from the sheep’s milk. 

It comes in 6- and 8-ounce blocks for retail and direct consumer sales, as well as 9-pound loafs for foodservice. It’s also available as a compact 7-pound clothbound wheel, aged for a minimum of 13 months. Face Rock takes a unique approach to its clothbound process by coating the wheels in butter made on site at the creamery using the same milk that goes into the cheese.

The company is one of four finalists among food and beverage startups vying for a $200,000 angel investment via Oregon Angel Food. Wishing them the best of lock at the finale on September 17, 2021.

Source: American Cheese Society, courtesy of Saputo 

Schuman Cheese continues to impress. Cello, one of the company’s handcrafted specialty cheese brands, added two products this summer to its portfolio of cheese flights: Cello Breeze and Cello Sunrise. Aiming to making cheese less intimidating for all through tasty products and educational resources, these new offerings deliver on both flavor and approachability, according to the company. 
The latest varietals feature paired trios of new and fan-favorite Cello cheeses in support of the growing cheese board trend. Cello’s cheese connoisseurs developed each flight to include an ideal combination of flavors, removing all the guesswork from building the perfect board. 

Cello Breeze couples Cello’s classic English Cheddar with two never-before-released offerings, Cello Blueberry Lemon Fontal and Cello Red Wine Soaked Goat Cheese. Cello Sunrise features Cello’s Cheddar Gruyere enhanced with roasted red and black peppers, a 10-month aged Asiago and a classic favorite, the Cello Hand-Rubbed Tuscan Fontal. 

“At Cello, we make it our mission to equip cheese lovers with the products and knowledge that will enhance every eating occasion,” says Mike Currie, marketing director at Schuman Cheese, the parent company of Cello. “We are thrilled to continue offering them even more ways to enjoy cheese through these exciting new flavors and flight pairings.” 

Speaking of the cheeseboard trend, Saga Ventures is introducing Cheeseboard Snacking Bar. The product is designed as a single-serve cheese snacking bar that provides healthy and satiable fuel between meals. It uses fresh California ingredients--two cups of milk, local fruits, nuts and spices—everything from apricot pistachio with rosemary and sea salt to chili mango with pepitas. It’s your all-in-one personal cheeseboard that provides 17 grams of protein.

In response to the growing demand for Gouda, Roth Cheese has introduced a new look for its line of Gouda products. The updated packaging--punctuated by easy-to-spot labels--features new wedges and slices for fan-favorites Roth Gouda and Natural Smoked Gouda.

“As trends and colors evolve, we want our packaging to stay current,” says Heather Engwall, vice president of marketing for Roth Cheese. “We are excited to deliver the same delicious Gouda cheese that our fans know and love, now with a bright and fun aesthetic that is sure to catch the eye of any cheese counter visitor.”

At the beginning of the summer, the company introduced Roth Spinach Artichoke Gouda. Made with the spinach artichoke flavors Americans know from one of their favorite party dips, this new gouda flavor was selected by consumers after a nationwide vote to “Choose Our Next Cheese.”

The crowd-sourcing campaign set out to take cheesemaking out of the creamery and into the hands of cheese fans who voted between four new flavors of gouda: Chimichurri, Hot Honey, Spinach Artichoke and Buffalo Ranch.

“As we are developing new products, we obsess over figuring out what the consumer will like, even when we’re creating a new flavored cheese,” says Samantha Streater, business development and innovation manager at Roth Cheese. “Spinach Artichoke Gouda was a clear winner in this contest and something we know consumers will love.”

Roth cheesemaker Madeline Kuhn spent several months perfecting this new cheese.

Source: American Cheese Society, courtesy of Saputo 

“Taking a classic taste like Spinach Artichoke, and turning it into a cheese, is a great way to get creative with new recipes to reimagine the flavor,” says Kuhn. “The rich and savory flavor will make you feel the comfort of Spinach Artichoke dip.”

There’s a lot of cheese activity in the import space. Norseland Inc., for example, is starting to market and distribute Pastureland Cheddar in the U.S. This range of premium Irish cheddar cheeses from Dairygold hopes to capitalize on the growing consumer awareness around health and nutritional benefits of naturally produced dairy products. The range will be certified to the prestigious Bord Bia Grass Fed standard and will be the first dairy product to feature the Grass Fed logo on its packaging.

“Consumers are looking for brands that align with their personal values and sustainability is frequently at the top of the list,” says John Sullivan, CEO and president of Norseland. “It’s inspiring to see more brands become sustainability-minded and make products that are accessible to everyone. On top of the environmental appeal, the cheese is delicious.”

Trugman-Nash LLC, the makers of Old Croc Australian Cheddar, is bringing even more “bite” to the category with the introduction of Grand Reserve Australian Vintage Cheddar in a new convenient 7-ounce retail package. Previously only available in 10-, 16- and 24-ounce chunks, this smaller size package is designed to increase consumer trial and invite more specialty cheese lovers to enjoy this special cheddar at an attractive price. Grand Reserve is crafted with milk from grass-fed cows and non-GMO ingredients. Grand Reserve is the brand’s most mature cheddar and not for the faint of heart. It’s carefully aged a minimum of two full years for a bold, rich flavor. The cheese’s texture is surprisingly creamy, yet crumbly with noticeably crunchy crystals.

Trader Joe’s now offers a limited-edition Kerrygold Irish Cheddar with Chili Peppers. Exclusive to the U.S. private-label retailer, new Kerrygold Irish Cheddar with Chili Peppers starts with creamy milk produced by grass-fed cows. That milk is fermented into a full-bodied Irish Cheddar infused with flakes of fiery red chili peppers. The creaminess of the cheddar is said to temper the heat of the chili peppers, which in turn brings out some of the cheddar’s sharpness.

Earlier this year, Old Amsterdam, the market leader in branded aged gouda cheese in Holland and a product of the third-generation 100% family-owned and run Westland Cheese Company, debuted two new flavors: Old Amsterdam Mild and Old Amsterdam Reserve. Old Amsterdam Reserve is aged for a minimum of 18 months and has a multitude of deep, rich flavors with bourbon, caramel and pecan undertones and a firm, crumbly texture, sparked with lots of ripening crystals. Old Amsterdam Mild is a young gouda aged for a minimum of four months. It and has a creamy and semi-soft texture.

Just four ingredients is all it takes. Of course, it’s only possible with time, knowledge and care. There’s nothing beyond real cheese. 

Friday, August 13, 2021

Is Whey the Way for Dairy to Gain an Edge in “Mental” Health Foods?


“Feeling good about oneself” ranks as one of the most important aspects of health and wellness for consumers in the United States, Mexico, Brazil, Germany and India, according to The Hartman Group. And right now, many of us are not feeling too great, mentally, as stress, anxiety and depression are rising in the U.S., and I am sure around the world. 

At times, some of us may have handled it better than others; but, most of us have our moments, right? This week was a sad one for me with three upcoming business-related trips that I was really looking forward to getting cancelled because of safety fears from the delta variant. 

The U.S. Census Bureau recently conducted the Household Pulse Survey. The 20-minute survey studies how the coronavirus pandemic is impacting households across the country. Data show moderate to severe anxiety peaked in 37.3% of adults during the pandemic, which is up 6.9% from 2019. When it came to depression among adults, reported cases jumped from 7% to 30.2% over the same time period. As for young adults, 43.5% said they had moderate-to-severe anxiety.

The story is even more grim with children and adolescents, who are now either back in school or getting ready to go back to school and “adults” around the country are adding fuel to the fire by arguing about masks and safety protocol. The August 9, 2021, issue of JAMA Pediatrics featured a meta-analysis titled “Global Prevalence of Depressive and Anxiety Symptoms in Children and Adolescents During COVID-19.” 

The researchers looked at 29 general-population studies, one of which was not peer reviewed, and found pooled depression and anxiety rates at 25.2% and 20.5%, respectively. Around the world, children’s depression and anxiety rates may have doubled since the start of the pandemic. Both depression and anxiety rates were associated with later stages in the pandemic and with girls, and higher depression was also associated with older children. 

Whey may be a way to help people improve mood and feel better. That’s because whey is a concentrated source of the amino acids glutamine and tryptophan. Glutamine is a non-essential amino acid, which means the body can produce it. It is known to reduce anxiety, as it is a precursor of  gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which regulates neuronal excitability throughout the nervous system. In other words, it helps keep you calm. 

Tryptophan, on the other hand, is an essential amino acid. This means it is not made by the human body. But guess what? It’s typically in whey protein. Tryptophan aids in the production of serotonin. This is a neurotransmitter that many researchers believe is linked to anxiety and depression.

Disclaimer: I have no medical training and am only summarizing information in scientific literature. However, there’s something to be said for having a glass of warm milk before bed to assist with calming and relaxation. 
We have been so focused on the quality of protein in whey and its positive effect on muscle and weight management that we may overlooked an innovation opportunity. Whey is not just good food, it’s mood food. 

With that, there are some real opportunities for developing mood foods for certain dayparts.

My friends at The Hartman Group recently published “Redefining Normal: Spring 2021 Eating Occasions,” which has some very interesting findings. It is a free report to Daily Dose of Dairy subscribers. You can download it HERE

Some key highlights include that this past spring, the basic rhythm of eating through the day shifted. Fewer Americans are participating in lunch, afternoon snack, dinner and after-dinner snack occasions, yet early morning snack occasions appear to be playing a more important role, as more Americans are now consuming food and/or beverages earlier in the day. The average number of eatings across the day has also declined, from 4.1 in spring 2020 down to 3.9 in spring 2021. This is a small, but statistically significant drop. This slight decline in participation in eating occasions per day corresponds with more items consumed per occasion, especially when snacking.

The average number of food and beverage categories present at any given occasion has increased significantly, reaching 3.1 items in spring 2021 (vs. 2.8 items in both spring 2019 and spring 2020). Morning and after-dinner snacking occasions are playing a more important role in consumers’ daily eating behaviors, all witnessing significant increases in the number of food and beverage items present compared to pre-pandemic eating and reflecting the elevated role that snacks are playing in consumers’ food lives.  

With snacking occasions playing a more important role in how Americans eat, and with mental health an epidemic because of the pandemic, there is a need for mood foods. Think, Stress-free Smoothie at 11:00am, a scoop of Happy Ice Cream at 3:00pm and Sleepy Time Sipper at 9:00pm. Namaste!  

Friday, August 6, 2021

Five Take-Aways from the 2021 Ice Cream Season


National Ice Cream Month has passed, which means that most of the celebration and special summer flavors are now in distribution. What’s different between this year and years past, excluding 2020, because nothing compares…

#1 While the basic flavors may dominate ice cream sales, consumers will buy the bizarre. In fact, they will go to great lengths to try something that everyone is talking about in social media. That brings me to the next take-away. 

#2 Consumers will pay for shipping and handling of ice cream. They probably prefer not to, so building the cost into the product makes sense, as well as incentivizing them with free shipping after a certain price threshold is met. Again, build that price into the product and you also are building sales. 

#3 Vegan ice cream is here to stay, but has limitations in terms of flavor innovation. Not everyone needs to be in this spot. And while plant-based ice cream is reported as being a “booming” category, so was fat-free ice cream 30 years ago, and high-protein, low-calorie ice cream just five years ago. The real deal never goes away. That’s because…

#4 Ice cream is a universal food. In addition to dairy ice cream providing a clean-flavor base that almost any flavor system complements, it also is a globally recognized food. While the flavors and inclusions vary around the world, that same delicious, simple base is universally embraced. It’s time to show appreciation for all nationalities that are part of The Great American Melting Pot. (Remember that School House Rock song and video? Check it out HERE. The video could showcase more diversity, but the intent was there.)

#5 Ice cream is nutritious. That’s right. Ice cream naturally contains bone-building calcium, satiating high-quality complete protein, and healthful fatty acids, including conjugated linoleic acid, which is all the buzz in the keto world these days.  

Please allow me to expand on these five takeaways. 

For starters, I was interviewed earlier this week by an editor with a consumer magazine who kept pressing me on the growing popularity of not just plant-based, but specifically vegan ice cream, and how Gen Z and Millennials are fueling growth of these products. While I agreed with him that the segment is here to stay, I don’t think he was pleased with the fact that I would not budge from my opinion that the market is saturated and limited with opportunity for growth because of limits on ingredients. 

See, that delicious pure clean base of dairy ice cream mix can carry all types of flavorful ingredients that add complexity and invite consumers to tantalize their taste buds. Vegan ice cream is limited in those additions. 

To read more about the ins and outs of formulating vegan, link HERE to an article I wrote for Food Business News on the topic.  

The reality is that layers of flavors are almost impossible with a vegan claim, and keeping vegan or plant-based ice creams “clean label” is often quite challenging. The Food Business News article expands on this, but to give you a sense of ingredient limitations, unless a packaged food product has the word vegan on the label, it is often impossible to be assured that the product is animal free. Natural flavors are one of the most common hidden sources of animal. 

The FDA allows food and beverage manufacturers to protect secret recipes by using the ambiguous terms “natural flavors” and “artificial flavors” on ingredient statements. Natural flavor or flavoring means “the essential oil, oleoresin, essence or extractive, protein hydrolysate, distillate, or any product of roasting, heating or enzymolysis, which contains the flavoring constituents derived from a spice, fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf or similar plant material, meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, dairy products, or fermentation products thereof, whose significant function in food is flavoring rather than nutritional,” according to FDA.

This distinguishes natural flavors from artificial flavors, which rely on synthetic chemicals to add taste and aroma to food. In other words, artificial flavor can only refer to products not made from any plant or animal product; therefore, artificial flavors are vegan, but natural flavors may not be unless the product explicitly states that it’s vegan. This is tough in ice cream, where most inclusions are made with natural flavors, and likely most are not vegan. 

Just how many brands of vegan or plant-based vanilla or chocolate frozen dessert do you think a retailer is willing to stock when something like Graeter’s Ice Cream’s limited-edition Bonus Flavors sell out within a few weeks of being stocked? 

That’s right limited-edition and seasonal ice cream flavors continue to boom. Because of ingredient limitations, vegan and plant-based brands are yet to be able to embrace this concept, as flavor innovation is restrictive. 

Here’s what Graeter’s has done in this space thus far in 2021. First there was Black Raspberry Cookies & Cream, which was followed by Pralines & Cream right before Memorial Day. The third Bonus Flavor, Midnight Snack, was released on June 14. This is malt ice cream and a mix of peanut butter cups, chocolate-covered pretzels and brownie pieces. Just in time for the July 4th holiday came Cherry Cheesecake, which was an indulgent combination of cheesecake ice cream loaded with tart cherries and crunchy graham cracker pieces. 

The 5th Bonus Flavor, which was released to Graeter’s scoop shops and online just a few weeks ago, was Lemon Ginger. This Monday, August 9th, will be the last one of the season. Bonus Flavors remain a secret until the day it is released. Consumers are made aware of the new flavors via broadcast media, social media, local scoop shops, the Graeter’s app and online store. Each Bonus Flavor is considered a “Limited Time Only” flavor, and once the flavor is gone from scoop shops and online, the flavor is retired for the year. 

Many brands introduced limited offerings this summer, but in my opinion, Graeter’s does it best. Blue Bell does a good job of it all year long. The company celebrated National Ice Cream Month with Coconut Cream Pie Ice Cream, which was a rich, coconut French ice cream with flakes of coconut, tasty pie crust pieces and a whipped topping swirl loaded with toasted coconut. 
California’s oldest dairy—Crystal Creamery—commemorated its 120th anniversary during National Ice Cream month with a limited-time celebratory flavor. New Birthday Cake boasts a cake batter ice cream base with cake pieces and rainbow sprinkles throughout.

In addition to dairy ice cream providing a clean-flavor base that almost any flavor systems complements, it also is a globally recognized food. While the flavors and inclusions may vary around the world, that same delicious, simple base is universally embraced. 

Here in the U.S., Hispanic- and Asian-inspired flavors continue to become more mainstream. Just this past month, McConnell’s Family Dairy began a rollout of Eva’s Helado Artesanal, a line of super-premium pints that celebrate multicultural culinary traditions. The brand’s initial release features globally inspired flavors that draw on the ingredients and culinary traditions of North, South and Central America.

Eva Ein, chef and owner of McConnell’s, says that while McConnell’s is a company rooted in American tradition, Eva’s Helado Artesanal is an expression of America’s multiculturalism and a homage to the people who bring it to life, a.k.a, The Great American Melting Pot.

The line includes six dairy ice creams and one sorbet. They are:
  • Cafe Con Donuts: Coffee ice cream and chunks of cinnamon-spiked donuts
  • Chocolate, Caramel & Cookies: The traditional alfajor confection transformed into ice cream with dark chocolate ice cream, a caramel swirl and shortbread cookie pieces
  • Dulce De Leche: A traditional recipe of sweetened milk, cooked down to caramel and swirled into cajeta-infused sweet cream 
  • Fresas Con Crema: Strawberries and strawberry jam stirred into sweet cream plus an additional swirl of cream
  • Horchata & Churro Swirl: Sweet cream infused with cinnamon, paired with a swirl of churro batter
  • Mangoneada: A sorbet of fresh mango puree with a tamarind chamoy swirl
  • Mexican Vanilla: Sweet cream blended with the sweet, floral, creamy spiciness of a pure, full-flavored vanilla

In the U.K., Little Moons Mochi, which carries the tagline of “ice cream from another world,” rolled out three new limited-edition flavors only available through its website. Because of all the hype surrounding them, they sold out quickly. The biggest buzz on Instagram came from the Fish & Chips option. This is a sweet and salty combination with a hint of tangy vinegar and mini chocolate chips throughout. Each ice cream ball is encased in soft, chewy mochi dough that replicates the color of golden batter before being topped off with a mini white chocolate fish.

Here are some innovative flavors developed by Lithuanian chefs to attract tourism for the post-quarantine summer of 2021. Black Rye Bread Ice Cream contains salty, crunchy bread pieces, while Cucumber Honey Ice Cream is a creamy blend topped with a mint leaf. 

One chef combined the popular Lithuanian aged hard cheese “Džiugas” with cranberry ice cream, producing a piquant, yet sweet and silky ice cream that gets served with a crunchy molten cheese biscuit. Moose antler and smoked seasonal berry ice cream is exactly that. It uses moose antler powder, which is made from the antlers males in the wild shed each year, along with smoke-infused seasonal berries.

I’ll stop there. I am sure you get the idea. (While you likely know that moose antler powder would never be allowed in vegan ice cream, neither is honey.)

Back in the States, Marble Slab Creamery is offering its limited-time-only Cheetos Flamin’ Hot Ice Cream and Shake through September 30. The company partnered with Frito-Lay/PepsiCo to create the line-up, a dream for Cheetos’ cult following and fanatics. The flavor features Marble Slab Creamery’s sweet cream base with Flamin’ Hot Cheetos crushed and scattered throughout. 

That brings me to a press release I received on Thursday morning about a new book with the title: Who Said You Can’t Have Ice Cream for Dinner? Not Me.

My sons are now adults (19 and 21 years), and they never asked for ice cream for dinner, but if they had, I would have been perfectly fine with it. A bowl of ice cream is likely more nutritious than a bowl of macaroni and cheese, especially if it is one of the lower-sugar ice creams in the market. 
I was strict in some spaces, like homework, grades and curfew, but I was very easy going with food, and always explained to them the nutritional value of foods. I do believe a lot of us Gen X parents have food smarts that we subtly passed onto our kids: Gen Z. (Your new most important target customer!)

The author of the book--Dr. Richard Saracen, a chiropractic physician who lives in Central New Jersey—is a Gen X parent with a Gen Z daughter. I think we have a lot in common in regards to the importance of nutrition smarts.

Dr. Saracen writes, “Parents, I understand. Like me, you want the best for your child. So let me help you and let’s make as many children as we can ‘ice cream-for-dinner kids.’ We can work together so that our children will have the tools and learn lessons they can carry on through life. Together we can put a dent in the epidemic of childhood obesity in the USA.”

He proposes ways to help ensure regularity and healthy eating habits. In the long run, it’s important to focus on reducing the intake of sugars and carbohydrates. Better-for-you ice cream is possible when it is made with milk and cream. Now’s the time to explore sugar reduction technologies.

Here’s a concept that really makes ice cream what’s for dinner. Kraft Macaroni & Cheese Ice Cream, which was a limited-edition ice cream developed by Kraft Heinz and Van Leeuwen Ice Cream. The brands collaborated to turn the comfort of Kraft Macaroni & Cheese into the ultimate summer treat with no artificial flavors, preservatives or dyes. The product was for sale at Van Leeuwen scoop shops and online starting July 14, National Macaroni & Cheese Day. The product sold out online in the first few hours. (I never even got a sample!)

In case you missed last week’s blog, also on ice cream flavor innovation, link HERE to read “Get Ahead of the Fad: Make Dairy Groovy.”

Functional Dairy Foods Innovation
The California Milk Advisory Board (CMAB) has announced the 12 semi-finalists in the Real California Milk Excelerator, the 3rd edition of CMAB’s dairy product innovation competition in partnership with innovation consultancy VentureFuel Inc. The companies will compete for more than $650,000 in prizes for their emerging dairy products that promote personal performance and recovery benefits.

The 2021 Real California Milk Excelerator taps into the thriving functional foods market. With consumers prioritizing personal health and wellness in response to the pandemic, the competition identified early-stage, high-growth companies with a cow’s milk-based product that plays a critical role in personal performance like focus, energy, exercise, and strength, and/or recovery benefits such as rejuvenation, relaxation, gut health and sleep.

“This competition is designed to inspire new ideas integrating the natural benefits of real milk and dairy products as functional ingredients delivering a flavor and nutritional profile that’s hard to beat. This year’s entries demonstrate the versatility of these ingredients and how they can be used in endless formulations,” says John Talbot, CEO of the CMAB. “Just as our definition of health has evolved, our desire for functional benefits from our food and beverage choices has evolved with it. Our twelve finalists certainly capture this evolution, with every manner of benefit from maximum athletic performance to gut-health and even sleep support, all in relevant formats that will appeal to today’s consumers.”

Fred Schonenberg, founder of VentureFuel, says, “Each year we see such disruptive and unique products built specifically around consumers’ evolving needs and wants. This year’s applicants were particularly inspiring as each sought to create better-for-you products that can improve and sustain the many ways we define health. We saw applications from Australia to Austin, from local dairy farmers to PhDs to celebrity chefs, all tapping into the natural nutritional value of real dairy. Now we move to accelerating these businesses to drive commercial growth through mentorship, strategic resources and introductions to buyers and investors.”

Each semi-finalist’s product is made with cow’s milk dairy as the first ingredient and making up at least 50% of the formula. The startups have committed to producing the product in California, with milk from California dairy farms, should they win the competition. Each semi-finalist accepted into the cohort will receive $10,000 worth of support to develop their product further while receiving a suite of resources including lab or kitchen time, graphic design, consumer insights, and elite mentorship from global marketing, packaging and distribution experts. The first-place winner will receive up to $150,000 worth of additional support and the second-place winner, $100,000 worth of additional support to accelerate the commercialization of their product to market. The total value of competition prizing is over $650,000.

The 12 semi-finalists for the 2021 RCM Excelerator are:

  • Alexandre Family Farms: Fourth generation California dairy farmers with functional brand extensions for liquid milk, powder and yogurt focused on properties for anti-anxiety and gut health.
  • Boba Guys: Trendy tea brand Boba Guys, with 15 brick and mortar locations in California, is developing a bottled milk tea latte with key nutrients, vitamins and caffeine to optimize performance and recovery.
  • GoodSport Nutrition: A first-of-its-kind, all-natural sports drink made from the goodness of real milk that delivers superior hydration with three times the electrolytes and less sugar than traditional sports drinks.
  • Kefir Lab: Kefir Lab takes kefir and makes it more effective with organic milk cultured with 24 live and active potent protein strains for a bottled kefir that boosts immunity, metabolism and brain health.

  • Nightfood: Uniquely formulated by sleep experts and nutritionists, Nightfood ice cream delivers great taste for those nighttime cravings and a sleep-friend nutritional profile to help promote quality sleep.
  • Positive Chemistry: A dissolving pouch that melts in the bath, releasing a bubbly, fizzing mixture of real milk and recovery salts to promote recovery for skin, muscles and the soul. A hidden exfoliating sponge with a message of positivity is designed to float to the top of the bath.
  • Rizo Lopez Foods: Award-winning and family-owned, Rizo Lopez utilizes Old World recipes and traditional techniques for their Ready2Go Whey products derived from a specially processed whey protein concentrate for a creamy, delicious and gut-healthy drink.

  • ReThink Ice Cream: Low sugar, stomach and diabetic-friendly ice cream that is infused with fiber and sourced from lactose-free A2 dairy, ReThink Ice Cream is a decadent source of natural nutrition.
  • Sweetkiwi: Founded by a McKinsey 2021 Black Executive Leader and certified cultured dairy professional, Sweetkiwi makes whipped Greek yogurt that is low in calories and high in nutrition. Sweetkiwi pints are under 320 calories and formulated with fiber, protein and probiotics for better gut health with fewer calories.
  • The Indian Milk & Honey Co.: Sugar-free probiotic Lassi with Ayurvedic immunity supporting herbs and spices, that also support mental clarity, in one environmentally-friendly carton.
  • Top O’ the Morn Farms: A California-owned dairy farm with an expansive line of fresh products, Top O’ the Morn’s Cow-Pow chocolate milk is a clean-label pre- or post-workout beverage fortified with whey protein isolate and natural caffeine.
  • Wunder Snacks: A 2020 RCM Snackcelerator finalist, Wunder returns with a new protein keto cheesecake snack bar with 10 grams of clean protein to indulgently refuel.

Semi-finalists will participate in a series of mentoring and support events leading up to the virtual pitch event semi-finals in November where four companies will be selected for a final virtual event to select the Excelerator winner. In addition to the semi-finalists, two companies have been selected to participate in the new Real California Milk Incubator Boot Camp program, which was built to assist ideas and promising prototypes that are too early for the Excelerator. These companies will receive mentoring and support from VentureFuel, CMAB and the California Dairy Innovation Center.
Darvida’s concept is a bottled, drinkable milk beverage made with 100% fresh colostrum, with high concentrations of vitamins and minerals to improve gut health. Perfect by Nature is using high-pressure processing, which leaves the original proteins and enzymes in farm-fresh milk intact, to bring the nutritious and delicious qualities of real fresh milk to the masses.