Thursday, September 30, 2021

More Dairies Include Dairy-Free Options.


Photo: General Mills grows its Oui by Yoplait brand with a seasonal Dairy Free Pumpkin Caramel offering. 

It’s been a week since Expo East and as I review my notes, photos and materials—as well as catch up on the couple hundred press releases I received this past week on new product rollouts (across all food and beverage)—a few things have become very apparent. Real dairy, real eggs and real meat are not going away. Alternative dairy, alternative eggs and alternative meat are not going away. What is going away, slowly but surely, are nutrient-void, overly processed, unsustainable and “yucky-tasting” products in both the real and alternative sector. 

When I say yucky, I am being kind. There were many yucky alternatives sampled at Expo East. I’m showing my age with this Valley Girl phrase, “gag me with a spoon,” but yes, I gagged and spit. But, there were also some very yummy alternatives. And here’s the interesting angle, they were from dairy companies. 

Sales across the natural and organic products industry increased this past year and there’s room for growth and innovation, for both the real deal and plant-based alternatives. To read more about innovations showcased at Expo East, link HERE to read “Expo East: The real deal vs. plant alternatives,” a column I wrote for Food Business News.

If you missed last week’s blog titled “Natural Products Expo East: Dairy is doubling down in the natural and organic segment. Read about the opportunities,” link HERE. One of those opportunities is plant-based products. 

Congrats to my friends at Lifeway Foods Inc., with the rollout of Lifeway Oat. This certified vegan perishable beverage offers consumers probiotic benefits to help support a healthy gut and immunity. Each Lifeway Oat product is organic, gluten-free, made with 100% whole grain oats and contains heart-healthy beta-glucans plus 10 live and active probiotic cultures to help promote a balanced and diverse microbiome. The Lifeway Oat line comes in Apple Cinnamon, Berries and Cream, Blueberry Maple, Peaches and Cream, Plain, Strawberry Vanilla and Vanilla flavors. 

“Lifeway has always shown category leadership, so I’m excited to bring our probiotic cultured oat drinkables to the market and reach new consumers who are thirsty for plant-based nutrition,” says Lifeway Foods’ CEO Julie Smolyansky. “By introducing a probiotic drink with an oat base, we’ve created a great-tasting wellness drink that combines some of the hottest industry trends that are anticipated to have strong growth over the coming years. We expect to see our new Lifeway Oat line become a staple on retailers’ shelves and in consumers’ refrigerators across the country.”

Sales of oat milk in the U.S. are up almost 1,200% in the past two years, according to Nielsen. Furthermore, market research from Reports and Data projects that the global probiotic drinks market will reach $23.9 billion by 2028. 

Another dairy at Expo East showcasing vegan options was Valio USA. New Oddlygood Oat Yogurt comes in 5.3-ounce cups in Blueberry, Plain, Raspberry and Vanilla flavors. Each yogurt has 3 grams of protein per serving and contains live and active cultures. Calories range from 110 to 120 per container. The yogurt is made from an oat blend of water, gluten-free oat flour, cane sugar and pea protein. It’s enriched with vitamins B12 and D and calcium. 

The yogurts garnered top scores for flavor, texture and aroma versus leading U.S. oat milk yogurt brands in a March 2021 consumer taste test conducted in Northern California by Curion, a consumer products testing firm, according to Valio. The Finish dairy also markets Oddlygood Original Oat Drink, Barista Edition for coffee, cooking ingredients and sliced and shredded mozzarella, cheddar, gouda and smoked gouda plant-based cheeses. 

Erring on the side of caution during the pandemic, Pillars Yogurt opted not to exhibit at Expo East, but still used this time to join the burgeoning plant-based yogurt category with the launch of Pillars Plant Organic Coconut Probiotic Yogurt. Pillars founder, Eric Bonin, spent three years developing the product, which started rolling out a month ago. 

“The majority of plant-based yogurts that have come to market over the last few years have tasted awful and lack the nutritional value and functionality of dairy yogurt. This is partly why the category hasn’t taken off quite like other plant-based segments, such as plant milks,” says Bonin. “Pillars Plant solves all this. It tastes like dessert and delivers the nutritional value people want, need and now expect from their food.

“Much like how our original product line of Drinkable Greek Yogurts disrupted the drinkable segment as the first full drinkable yogurt line on the market without added sugar, we saw a similar opportunity in plant-based yogurt to create a product that better meets the needs of a wellness lifestyle: lower sugar, higher protein, functional fats and our unique blend of pre- and probiotics, which help support gut health. We’re expanding our product mission of being the category leader in removing unnecessary sugar, this time, in the plant-based yogurt game. Pillars Plant has dramatically less sugar than what’s on the market now but tastes incredible and has this super thick creamy texture that’s out of this world. We nailed this innovation.”

Pillars Plant comes in 16-ounce multi-serve containers in Mixed Berry, Strawberry Banana and Vanilla flavors. A 5.3-ounce serving contains 180 calories, 14 grams of fat, 8 grams of plant-based protein, 3 grams of prebiotic fiber, 1 gram of total sugar and 30 to 60 billion live and active probiotic cultures including the scientifically validated BB12 strain. The base is an organic cultured coconut blend fortified with organic pea protein. Cassava root and fructan fiber function as prebiotics and contribute to a smooth, creamy texture. Organic stevia adds sweetness without calories. Pillars Plant is USDA certified organic, vegan, keto, non-GMO, OU Kosher, gluten-free and features a fully recyclable, BPA-free and phthalate-free cup.

“We really leaned into sourcing and sustainability. The ingredients in Pillars Plant are sourced from suppliers who follow regenerative agriculture practices and the cups and lids are 100% recyclable,” says Bonin. “Our tagline, ‘Naturally simple, Naturally good’ has been our core ethos since day one and applies more than ever with this new product line.”

Danone North America did not exhibit at Expo East either. The company, however, just announced that it will be rolling out two new concepts--Silk nextmilk (beverage) and So Delicious Wondermilk (frozen)--in January 2022. The products are designed to help close the gap between traditional dairy and plant-based consumers.

Danone’s formulators deconstructed dairy attributes and sensory experience, including mouthfeel, and then recreated them by blending a mix of familiar, high-quality plant-based ingredients. The result is a what the company says will be a new plant-based “dairy-like” segment. 

Speaking of dairy like, animal-free dairy continues to grow. Modern Kitchen, a new brand from The Urgent Company, is rolling out animal-free cream cheese in three chef-inspired flavors: Harissa Pepper, Spring Onion + Chive, and Strawberry. (Look for more details next week when this product line is featured as a Daily Dose of Dairy.) The launch of Modern Kitchen marks the first cream cheese made with Perfect Day animal-free milk protein. The company’s first Perfect Day product, Brave Robot ice cream, debuted in 2020.

“By applying science and technology, we’re able to make better versions of the same dairy products consumers love,” says Paul Kollesoff, co-founder and general manager at The Urgent Company. 

And, yes, consumers love dairy. Direct from the nation’s capital: U.S. Dairy Consumption Beats Expectations in 2020 and Continues to Surge Upward Despite Disruption Caused by Pandemic

The USDA just released its annual per-capita dairy consumption and the story, despite major shocks caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, remains America’s growing love for dairy products of all shapes and sizes. The information from USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS) adds 2020 data to an accounting of per-capita dairy consumption dating back to 1975 when the average American consumed just 539 pounds of dairy foods per year. Last year, the average American consumed 655 pounds of dairy in milk, cheese, yogurt, ice cream, butter, and other wholesome and nutritious dairy foods, demonstrating a resilient and growing love for all things dairy. The 2020 figure represents an increase of 3 pounds per person over the previous year. 

“What 2020 shows us is that Americans are choosing to include dairy in all parts of their day because it’s delicious, nutritious and fits almost any occasion,” says Michael Dykes, president and CEO of the International Dairy Foods Association. “Despite challenges posed by the pandemic to all parts of the supply chain in 2020—including the near-overnight loss of the foodservice sector—per-capita dairy consumption continued to surge upward thanks to growth in ice cream, butter and yogurt. Last year’s consumption figures are nearly 70 percentage points above the annual average, showing America’s growing appreciation for their favorite dairy products.”

Ice cream continued to rebound and grew by 6% year-over-year in 2020. Meanwhile, yogurt consumption jumped 3% and butter notched a 2% increase. Milk and cheese remained resilient throughout 2020 despite the closure of restaurants, cafes, schools and other institutions that drive demand. Overall, ERS data show American dairy consumption continuing its growth trajectory. Since USDA began tracking dairy consumption in 1975, per capita consumption has grown 22%. 

“How we consume our dairy is different than a generation ago,” says Dykes. “Americans eat more dairy than we drink and we include dairy in all meals and occasions as well as for fitness and recovery, to live a healthy life and to celebrate those special moments. With a greater focus on producing sustainable foods, dairy will continue to grow as a category well into the future.”  

Remember, real dairy, real eggs and real meat are not going away. Alternative dairy, alternative eggs and alternative meat are not going away. Winners will deliver on nutrient density, minimal processing, sustainability and deliciousness.

Friday, September 24, 2021

Natural Products Expo East: Dairy is doubling down in the natural and organic segment. Read about the opportunities.

About photo: The new Trickling Springs Creamery is rolling out South Mountain Creamery Old-Fashioned Custard. The beverage is made with milk and cream from grass-fed cows and has a clean ingredient label that includes eggs, whey and nonfat dry milk.  

Live from Natural Products Expo East in Philadelphia…The vibe is amazing at this in-person, mandatory mask (being enforced) and proof-of-vaccination or negative-COVID-test result exposition. The event kicked off with a keynote presentation on “The State of Natural & Organic,” with the theme of “increasing sales mean the natural and organic industry can have a bigger effect on reducing poverty, promoting equality and protecting the planet.” It’s the kind of messaging that makes one proud to be involved in the better-for-you food and beverage industry. And dairy is doubling down in this space! 

Sales across the natural and organic products industry increased significantly this past year and there’s tons of room for growth and innovation. During the keynote address, which is available for viewing by linking HERE, the speakers highlighted the industry’s accomplishments, weaknesses and possibilities. (Thanks to my friends at Chicago-based SRW Agency for sponsoring the keynote.)

Nutrition Business Journal predicts that sales will continue to grow from 2020’s $259 billion valuation to $423 billion in 2030. Dairy processors cannot afford to ignore the opportunities. 

Sales of natural and organic foods grew three times faster than sales of conventional foods, according to SPINS. The segment continues to thrive with many consumers trading up for health and wellness by purchasing natural and organic rather than conventional. A growing awareness of sustainability and social responsibility is also fueling growth.

“People tried new brands [during the pandemic] and stuck with them, especially in the food and beverage categories,” said Carlotta Mast, senior vice president of New Hope Network, during the keynote. 

Natural and wellness continue to lead growth across the store, according to SPINS. Conscious consumers are placing a premium on ensuring their health and well-being and increasingly looking towards social responsibility and sustainability. Opportunities exist for farmers to adopt more sustainable and regenerative practices and for ingredient suppliers and food and beverage manufacturers to work closely with them in communicating these efforts.  

“While we know there are definitely headwinds with plant and lab-grown proteins, we all have a responsibility to get behind telling the powerful story of dairy proteins,” said Daragh Maccabee, chief executive officer of Idaho Milk Products, during a session on value-added proteins at the joint annual conference of the American Dairy Products Institute and the American Butter Institute, which took place virtually in August. 

Those efforts were in full force at Expo East, where more than a dozen dairy companies took on the dozen or so alternative brands by emphasizing sustainable practices, social responsibility, nutrient density, and yes, deliciousness.  

You can read more about dairy proteins HERE in an article I wrote for Food Business News titled “Dairy protein fueling functional food innovation.”

The Expo East keynote speakers emphasized that shoppers are making more holistic choices by seeking out maintainable diets featuring whole, minimally processed foods to construct a strategy that works for their health goals. This demand is driving nutrition-focused innovation. (This is dairy!)

McCoy said that the world’s most pressing problems revolve around the Earth and its people. That’s why it should be no surprise that plant-based products continue accelerated growth. While consumers initially sought plant-based foods for their health benefit, the positive impacts to the environment are undeniable, he said.

Data also shows that consumers are motivated to shop their values. Dairy foods can deliver on these values. We just need to communicate them better. 

And like I said, the dairy foods exhibitors (as well as meat marketers) that attended Expo East are doing this. In fact, SPINS data shows that meat and dairy brands are more aggressively address increasing demand for improved practices. (See chart.)

I highly encourage you to listen to the entire keynote HERE. And a shout out to all the exhibitors, buyers and attendees that made their way to Philadelphia for Expo East. This is such an important place for dairy to be and I am fully confident that many more dairy processors will embrace the natural and organic space. It’s the future.  

Thursday, September 16, 2021

Dairy-free Ice Cream: Opportunity or Threat? It’s All About the Story.


Source: Cascade Glacier

Heading to Expo East this week? I am. Typically the smaller—and much more manageable—of the two Natural Products Expos in the U.S., this one will be unlike any other, as entrepreneurs are anxious to show off their innovations. Last year’s in-person Expo East, as well in-person Expo West 2020 and 2021, were all cancelled because of the pandemic. Without a doubt, plant-based and keto are sure to be dominant themes, but so will regenerative agriculture and sustainability. I expect to hear lots of “stories” and brands banking on buyers to listen and respond with a purchase order. 

Folks, less than five years ago--with high-protein ice cream—you learned that just because a concept is doing well in the freezer does not mean every brand needs to play in this space. When it comes to dairy-free ice cream, there are some very good chocolates and vanillas in the retail marketplace. That’s enough!

 It’s not the same story in foodservice. Eugene, Oregon-based Cascade Glacier recognized this opportunity and is making it easier for foodservice operators to offer plant-based and allergen-friendly options that will satisfy a variety of ice cream consumers. Available in both Classic Chocolate and Vanilla, Cascade Glacier Dairy Free comes in three-gallon tubs for foodservice. The neutral base is intentionally crafted to blend seamlessly with the decadent flavors, eliminating any aftertaste such as coconut or almond that is common in other non-dairy alternatives. This formulation makes the product more versatile, allowing retailers to serve dairy-free versions of everything from scoops and sundaes to smoothies and milkshakes.

My friends at McConnell’s Fine Ice Creams are also embracing the concept of a very neutral base in its new Dairy-Free Frozen Desserts. Like all the company’s offerings, the new line is made from scratch at McConnell’s Family Dairy, using a proprietary and innovative base of oat milk, cocoa butter and coconut oil to approximate the indulgent, unique and creamy mouthfeel of McConnell’s ice creams without the coconut, oat or nutty aftertaste or smell customers so often find in dairy-free offerings. And like McConnell’s other products, there are no artificial flavors, colors or sweeteners. 

The oat base has a neutral taste, which gives McConnell’s the flexibility to incorporate other ingredients and flavors without overpowering them. All flavors are allergen free, kosher and non-GMO and are described as being delicious for customers and good for the planet. 

McConnell’s Dairy-Free Frozen Desserts come in six flavors. They are: Chocolate Fudge & Cookies, Coffee Cookie Crumble, Cookies & Cream, Passion Fruit Lemon Swirl, Salted Caramel Chocolate Swirl, and Vanilla Bean, with more to come. Flavors have been gradually rolling out across McConnell’s scoop shops starting with Peanut Butter Chocolate Crunch, Cookies & Cream and Passionfruit Lemon Swirl. 

That’s because the plant-based consumer is craving flavor innovation. Many favorite ice cream flavors—like mine, Pralines and Cream—cannot be applied to vegan frozen desserts. The key for this category is to explore eye-catching flavors—that taste delish—and include a story about them. They don’t have to be a threat to dairy ice cream. They present an opportunity. 

I’m a huge fan of KIND bars, not because they are plant-based, but because they are delicious and the company has a great story. It’s a brand I feel good about purchasing and eating. I’m a huge fan of their frozen products for the same reasons. The novelty bars are amazing, and the pints give new meaning to the phrase “permission to indulge.” As much as KIND FROZEN products are dairy-free ice cream, they also are healthy snacks. 

“At KIND, we’re always striving to challenge conventional wisdom and eliminate false compromises,” says Daniel Lubetzky, KIND Founder. “We tried to think differently about what we would want in a frozen treat. We discovered what was missing was an offering that tasted delicious, and delivered premium, plant-based ingredients that we can feel good about putting in our body.”

“While we’re best-known for nutrition bars most often consumed on-the go, we’re continuing to prioritize innovation that cuts across categories and day-parts. As we look to close the taste gap in health-focused aisles and the health gap in taste-focused aisles, we will stay true to how we’ve always created new products with an eye to elevate people’s overall experience, while adhering to our KIND Promise.”

KIND’s Frozen Pints come in seven flavors. They are: Dark Chocolate Almond Sea Salt, Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter, Cherry Cashew, Coffee Hazelnut, Caramel Almond Sea Salt, Pistachio and Strawberry. 

Bubbies, a leading mochi brand, now offers three non-dairy options in six-pack retail boxes: Vegan Strawberry Mochi, Vegan Chocolate Mochi, and a newly created flavor, Vegan Mango Mochi. They are made with a base of coconut milk and wrapped in sweet mochi dough.  

“We’ve seen a huge surge in demand from consumers seeking comforting indulgences over the past year, so it’s natural that ice cream would be one of the first foods they turned to,” says Katie Cline, vice president of marketing at Bubbies Ice Cream. “Not only are shoppers looking for ice cream as a comfort food, but also as a unique experience, from texture to flavor discovery and natural ingredients. We want to make our beloved mochi ice cream accessible to as many people as possible, so we’re thrilled to be launching our new Vegan Mochi Ice Cream. For us, it’s extremely meaningful as this opens up new opportunities to provide value to consumers and deliver small moments of joy.”

Wildgood takes a Mediterranean diet approach to its non-dairy frozen dessert. It’s made with extra virgin olive oil for a rich, smooth and heart-healthy indulgence. Varieties are: Chocolate, Coffee, Chocolate Hazelnut, Mango, Mint Chocolate Chip, Pistachio, Sea Salt Caramel and Vanilla. 
Sacred Gelato is one of the most recent start-ups to enter this space. This new gelato brand gets its creamy texture from a base of coconut meat that is sourced directly from Thailand. It includes adaptogenic herbs and medicinal mushrooms for a health and wellness story. The brand is making its debut in five flavors. They are: Chaga Chocolate, Coconut Salted Caramel, Matcha Mint, Saffron Chai Spice and Tigernut Cookies N Cream. 

SweetPea is exhibiting at Expo East and I cannot wait to sample. The brand relies on chickpeas to make its base mix and touts the nutrient density of the legume. The line is making its debut in nine varieties. They are: 3 Parts Chocolate, Cookies ‘N Cream, Cookie Dough, Mango Tango Peach, Must Do Cold Brew, Peanut Butter Bomb, T.G.I. PieDay Raspberry, Vanilla Bean, and, wait for it, Salted Caramel Praline. Hmm…has my beloved Pralines and Cream met its match? 

Friday, September 10, 2021

We Are Not Post-Pandemic. That’s No Excuse to Stop Innovation.


Photo source: Dutch Farms

Kids are back in school, where they should be (masked, of course!). Many professionals are returning to the office, albeit on a hybrid schedule. And air travel is picking up. But the message was loud and clear from the Marcum LLP’s panel discussion on Sept. 9, 2021, titled “Food and Beverage Innovation in a Post-Pandemic World.” That message was a clarification to the title of the event, “We are not post-pandemic,” said Jeff Swearingen, global senior vice president-demand accelerator, venturing and global business services for PepsiCo. 

He explained that we are in an evolving situation with a lot of unknowns. For many, the fear of going out during the delta variant rampage is greater than one’s fear of crime. Yet, the food and beverage industry must do its best to deliver against consumers’ expectations of convenience, and with the challenged supply chain, which is ongoing, that’s difficult to do.  

Communication is key, as is transparency. And part of what consumers are looking for during these uncertain times is a brand’s message of “good.” 

The concept of what is “good” in food and beverage marketing is in flux, according to research from Bader Rutter Intel Distillery, Chicago, which hosted a live panel discussion on August 25 on the topic. Overall, Bader Rutter data indicate that traditional definitions like taste and nutrition are not going away but newer ones are growing in importance.

“For decades, the source of food and how it’s made hasn’t really been an important message to consumers,” said Dennis Ryan, executive creative director at Bader Rutter. “But today, between the proliferation of brands and information access—digital and social platforms—consumers can really bode and choose brands based on whether they align with their values, whether they agree with how they’re grown and produced and where they come from, and what cost it takes to produce them. So defining your good and ensuring your definition of good aligns with your core audience on the right platform is now critical to modern marketing success.”  

You can read more about this topic by linking HERE to a Food Business News column I wrote on how creating and marketing “good” food is both an art and a science. 

Kristin Kroepfl, chief marketing officer, Quaker Oats Co., Chicago, a business of PepsiCo, Purchase, N.Y., and one of the panelists, said that marketing teams should work more closely with procurement to better understand the farmer connection. 

“Such conversation may unlock value that is hidden in the supply chain,” said Ms. Kroepfl. “It might spark an idea.”
In the end, when deciding where to focus energies for communicating good, Ms. Kroepfl said it’s an intersection of three things. First is the “authentic brand DNA.”  Photo source: Dutch Farms

“You need to inventory and understand at a very deep level your brand equities,” she said. “Then know the needs and wants of your lead consumer. Drill into that insight. Then move from consumer insights to foresight. Identify the values we share. It’s both an art and a science and relies on data and intuition.”  

That brings me to cheese. I am thankful to Dutch Farms Inc., a Chicago-based company with Dutch roots, for sponsoring today’s blog. The family-owned, fourth-generation company is all about communicating “good” through its brand messaging. After all, the Dutch have always been known for their dairy products, especially great-tasting cheese. 

And that’s real cheese. In case you missed the August 20, 2021, blog titled “Beyond Cheese. Impossible Cheese. Then There’s Real Cheese.,” you can link to it HERE.

There’s a great deal of opportunity to continue to innovate in the cheese space, in particular with snacks, but also with recipe development and assistance with helping make dinner. We are still in the pandemic and eating at home continues to be where most consumers get nourished.  

On the note of snacking, it is paramount that dairy marketers position dairy foods as a complement to all types of foods folks are snacking on, from sweet to salty, to fruits and vegetables. (See infographic.)

JPG Resources Inc., a food and beverage innovation consultancy based in Battle Creek, Mich., recently published a white paper titled, “How to Turn Your Food &  Beverage Idea into a Product with Staying Power.” It was made available to members of the Chicagoland Food and Beverage Network. You can download it HERE.

In this white paper, you’ll learn what steps to take, what mistakes to avoid and the milestones to mark. The voyage may not be easy and it may not proceed as quickly as you would like, but with the right combination of creativity, competence and commitment, your food product innovation might become the next big thing.

The authors state that the late Harvard Business School professor and innovation expert Clayton Christensen once said that 30,000 new consumer products are launched every year in the U.S., and that 95% of them fail. University of Toronto marketing professor Inez Blackburn is more generous. She contends that up to 80% of new products launched in the grocery sector fail.

But we love new products. And we want to try new things…now. 

In 2020, McKinsey & Co. reported that more than one-third (36%) of consumers had recently tried a new product brand and that 73% of them intended to continue buying the new brand. McKinsey also found that in some categories, nearly half of all product purchases are new trials.

“Although there’s no silver bullet for success, food brands of all sizes can tip the scales in their favor by taking a measured and strategic approach to food innovation that marries good ideas and genuine passion with shrewd business intelligence, expert technical knowledge and keen consumer insights,” according to JPG Resources. “Large or small, established or entrepreneurial, success in the hypercompetitive food landscape boils down to a single, simple realization: Innovation isn’t a commodity, but rather, a discipline.”

Photo source: Dutch Farms

“Big CPGs often look at a lot of data, and then they try to develop food and beverage ideas that are going to be really popular and make a lot of money,” said Veronica Lehman, business partner and emerging brands specialist at JPG Resources. “Entrepreneurs, on the other hand, often stumble onto ideas based on their own life experiences. They have ‘aha’ moments where they feel really passionately about something that they believe is going to change people’s lives for the better or progress the food system in a positive way. 

“It’s not enough to come up with something that’s really cool, shiny and fun if you can’t also make it, commercialize it, scale it and grow it into a sustainable business,” she said. 

Jeff Grogg, JPG’s founder, added, “Passion and personal experience are a great place to start. It’s our job to help you understand whether your idea is something you can actually make a business out of.

“Choose a single starting point instead of trying to be everywhere so that you can win where you play,” he said. “Pick a region, a channel or a retailer and focus on driving brand velocity, driving depth and driving repeat business.”

That’s Dutch Farms’ story. Congratulations to Dutch Farms, Chicagoland’s number-one dairy brand.