Friday, March 25, 2022

Cultured Dairy Disruptors


“During the pandemic, much of our attention has been centered around supply. The lower number of launches in the last two years compared to pre-pandemic years shows the sacrifices made in terms of new product innovation,” says Erika Gayhart, associate marketing manager-food cultures and enzymes at Chr. Hansen Inc., who will speak on “Global and Micro Trends Shaping Innovation in Cultured Dairy” on March 29th at the International Dairy Foods Association’s Yogurt & Cultured Innovation Conference. “As we draw closer to the eventual end of this era, more companies will resume launching new innovative products. Now is a great time to consider what your next product will be. At Chr. Hansen, we have been paying close attention to consumer and processor behaviors, gathering insights from all over the world. In this talk, we will be looking at some of the global trends we’ve identified that may draw inspiration for your own brand.”

For more information on the conference, link HERE.

As prices go up in the supermarket, it is critical to remind consumers that dairy foods are one of the most affordable sources of nutrition, in particular, high-quality, complete protein, which is the type of protein the human body craves and requires to function at its best. The cultured dairy products category encompasses foods that are concentrated sources of protein and other dairy nutrients. It includes yogurt, cottage cheese, sour cream, cream cheese, dips and a few other novel fermented dairy foods. 

Most of these dairy foods are simple formulations, yet made by complex and meticulous processes. It is possible to make all of them with U.S.-sourced ingredients, often times local ingredients. This helps keep prices down and is also good for the economy and the planet. These facts need to be communicated to consumers. 

So how does a marketer differentiate to ensure their brand gets noticed on the retail shelf? 

For starters, no- or low-added sugars are paramount, and even a not-so-sweet taste profile has become the norm among younger consumers who prefer beverages such as flavored, unsweetened seltzers over the overtly sweet (from sugar or non-nutritive sweeteners) sodas that older consumers grew up with. 

Consumers today also want added value. This can come in the form of milk source (e.g., grass-fed, A2, regenerative organic, etc.) It also may come from international recipes and global flavors. 

Probiotics, prebiotics and their impact on immunity keep cultured dairy products relevant to today’s health and wellness consumers. Limited-batch recipes are also attractive, as they create an urgency to purchase and try before the concept is sold out. Partnering with a celebrity spokesperson also appears to be the biggest trend across all food and beverage. Dairy included. 

Let’s explore some recent innovations that address these trends. 

Premium yogurt producer Tims Dairy and Wilkin & Sons have collaborated on a limited-edition strawberry Greek yogurt in the U.K. The British brands partnered on this new offering to celebrate the Platinum Jubilee of Elizabeth II. The Greek-style strawberry yogurt uses Wilkin & Sons’ preserves brand, Tiptree’s. It is a strawberry jam with champagne conserve. Tims Dairy yogurts are made with live active cultures, fresh British milk and all-natural ingredients. The single-serve container was only available for one month. 

Nomadic Dairy has introduced a limited-edition Honeycomb & Chocolate variant to its four-strong Yogurt & Oat Cluster lineup. The offering is part of a rolling program of limited-edition flavors throughout the year by the Irish brand. 

“Our Yogurt & Clusters range has been a runaway success for years now, but our market research recently found that customers wanted to see new flavors,” says Bethan Miles, brand manager at Nomadic Dairy. “It therefore made sense to create this deliciously indulgent limited edition, especially given the high demand for such flavors across all food categories.” 

Back in the U.S. and with international flair, DAH! has been busy. The company manufactures premium, slow-cultured dairy and plant-based yogurts that merge the time-tested, ancient wisdom of India’s culinary traditions with the precision of modern methods and technologies. DAH! recently announced a new partnership with Indian-American author, TV host, producer and culinary expert Padma Lakshmi. Lakshmi has joined the company as a board advisor and brand partner. In this position, she will work hand-in-hand with the executive team and board of directors to advise on the overall direction of the company, brand equity and innovation strategy, and lend her expertise to the research and development department to help craft and test new products and flavors.

The newest flavor in the company’s lassi line is Tomato with Mixed Berries. Lassi is a slow-cultured yogurt smoothie cooked at a lower temperature for a more extended time yielding a smooth, richly textured, intensely flavorful product. It is made with whole milk and real fruit and is packed with 15 billion probiotics per serving.

Good Culture, a clean-label, cultured foods brand credited with revolutionizing cottage cheese, is teaming up with celebrity fitness trainer, fitness influencer and founder of The Sculpt Society—Megan Roup—to engage health-conscious consumers and help them experience how good cultured foods can make them feel. The company’s humanely and sustainably sourced milk that goes into its cottage cheese provides high protein and gut-friendly live and active cultures.

“Protein and live and active cultures help build energy, muscle, gut health and good feelings, all things my community cares about,” says Roup. “Good Culture is a delicious and sensible indulgence with unparalleled taste and thick and creamy texture, but what it does for your body is what makes it a real star. When you eat good food, you feel good."

Late last year, Karoun Dairies, part of the Parmalat family, rolled out Nata Crema para Desayuno (Nata Breakfast Cream), which is a naturally sweet clotted cream made with real California whole milk. Popular in Mexico and Latin America, the spread can be used on toast topped with honey, put a spoonful on fruit, or mix it into a dessert.

The company is also rolling out a new range of premium dips, also under the Parmalat label. The Jocoque Seco concept is said to be a healthier alternative to dips, mayonnaise, cream and cream cheese. This product will be featured next week as a Daily Dose of Dairy. 

Kemps, a business of Dairy Farmers of America, continues to grow its single-serve cottage line with the addition of Bacon Cheddar and Bacon Ranch. 

“It’s part of a campaign to drive excitement in cottage cheese through new flavors,” says Rachel Kyllo, senior vice president of marketing and innovation.

Danone North America has expanded its Dannon Light + Fit yogurt range in collaboration with the women’s nonprofit, Dress for Success Worldwide. The new Greek nonfat yogurt comes in Lemon Cream and Orange Cream flavors.  The new Light + Fit yogurts contain 12 grams of protein, 7 grams of total sugar, 0 grams of fat and are a good source of calcium. Each flavor has 80 calories per 5.3-ounce serving. They come in four packs with a suggested retail price of $3.99.

The company also recognizes that there has been an increasing focus on the importance of supporting the immune system, particularly due to its relationship with overall wellbeing. Younger generations, like Millennials, are looking for functional benefits in their foods. Activia, the probiotic pioneer and modern gut health innovator, has launched its latest innovation to meet that growing demand. The new Activia+ Multi-Benefit Probiotic Yogurt Drinks are packed with billions of live and active probiotics that help support gut health, plus are an excellent source (20% Daily Value) of vitamins C, D and zinc to support the immune system. Activia+ is available in 3.1-fluir-ounce bottles. Six packs sell for about $4.59. 

“At Danone, we know good gut health is the gateway to a variety of health benefits and overall well-being,” says Kallie Goodwin, vice president of family and wellness brands at Danone North America. “We also know that consumers are becoming increasingly interested in both gut health and foods that help support the immune system. Our new innovation, Activia+, comes at the perfect time as, now more than ever, people are turning to functional foods and products for the extra support of their gut and immune system.”

40 Years Later, FDA Tells the Dairy Industry and Consumers to Keep Waiting for Yogurt Rules

On March 22, 2022, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration published a notice to clarify that the effectiveness of certain provisions of the yogurt standard of identity final rule have been stayed. The final rule, published on June 11, 2021, amended the standard of identity for yogurt and revoked the definitions and standards of identity for low-fat yogurt and nonfat yogurt. Dairy standards of identity are subject to formal rulemaking procedures, which provide a 30-day period for any person adversely affected to file an objection and request for hearing. If objections are properly filed, then the provisions to which objections were made do not go into effect (i.e., are “stayed’). Because FDA received objections to certain provisions of the final rule within this timeframe, the affected provisions are stayed pending final FDA action on the objections. 

“Yogurt makers have been waiting 40 years for the FDA to update and modernize the yogurt standard of identity,” says Michael Dykes, president and CEO of the International Dairy Foods Association. “The FDA is telling us to keep waiting, and threw in a whole lot of uncertainty, to boot.” 

Last July, IDFA forcefully objected to FDA’s final rule to amend and modernize the standard of identity for yogurt. In December, IDFA sent a letter to the acting commissioner for FDA reiterating a request for a hearing with FDA to resolve the industry’s objections, along with providing manufacturers sufficient time for compliance. 

“After eight months of waiting, FDA issued a notice staying certain provisions of the yogurt standard of identity final rule,” says Dykes. “IDFA was able to leverage unique formal rulemaking procedures available to the dairy industry to object and, ultimately, prompt a stay of certain provisions that are detrimental to our industry. Without this lever, an impractical final rule would have gone into effect, damaging yogurt makers, throwing retail establishments into confusion and limiting choice for consumers. While a stay is helpful at this stage, IDFA’s efforts to reform the yogurt standard of identity will continue into an inexplicable fifth decade.”

Here's additional background on the FDA notice that was published in the Federal Register:  

1. Stayed Provisions: FDA is staying all provisions to which objections were filed.

2. Effects of Stays: However, because the 1981 yogurt standard of identity final rule remains in effect, the stays themselves do not necessarily allow yogurt to be formulated in a way consistent with IDFA’s proposed modifications to the rules. Specifically, consistent with the 1981 rule:
  • Cream may not be added after culturing (if added, it must be included in the culturing process).
  • The overall 3.25% minimum milkfat requirement remains in effect.
  • Ultrafiltered milk may not be used as a basic dairy ingredient (though it may be used as an optional dairy ingredient).
  • For titratable acidity (TA), there is currently no requirement in effect. This is because the 1981 rule established a TA requirement, but it was stayed after an objection was filed in 1982. The 2021 rule established a different TA requirement, but this too has now been stayed.
3. Enforcement Discretion: FDA has exercised enforcement discretion to allow the following, consistent with IDFA’s requests: (1) addition of vitamin D at a level of 10% DV per RACC; (2) addition of non-nutritive sweeteners (without requiring a nutrient content claim); and (3) addition of bulky flavoring ingredients (e.g., coconut) that increase the total fat level above 3 grams per RACC, as long as milkfat is 3 grams or less per RACC and the product is labeled to reflect the addition of the flavor (e.g., “low fat yogurt with coconut”). The enforcement discretion is in effect until FDA decides if a hearing is justified and issues a notice accordingly.

4. Hearing: FDA has not yet determined whether it will grant a hearing or make any modifications to the final rule.

5. Compliance Date: FDA does not comment on the compliance date timeline once final determinations have been made on the stayed provisions. The non-stayed provisions in the 2021 final rule remain in effect and the compliance date is still Jan. 1, 2024.

Friday, March 11, 2022

Expo West 2022: Progress with Plant-Based, Dairy-Style Products


Anaheim, Calif., welcomed back Natural Products Expo West this week, after sending everyone home two years when the pandemic entered our lives and forever changed us…or maybe not. Expo, which continues through Saturday, has been busier than ever and most folks are not wearing a mask. Proof of vaccination or a negative covid test are required to enter any expo-related spaces. I must admit, on the first day, when only select halls were open, the aisles were so packed, it was hard to move. I wore my mask and also left after awhile as it was an unpleasant experience. It was better the next day when all halls were open. The positive news is that the industry is booming and there’s a lot of activity taking place. 

In fact, during the past two years, many manufacturers took the time to focus, prioritize and invest. There were 2,750 exhibitors this year with 625 first timers. Like with many expos, I sampled, selectively. It was no surprise that the dominant theme was plant based (not CBD), sometimes to the point of being humorous. (Think plant-based ketchup!) 

I do agree with what Andrew Fleming, senior vice president at Acosta said during the opening keynote session. “Everything starts here and blossoms and grows out of here.”

Here are five plant-based products that caught my eye on the show floor. 

CHKP Foods is rolling out chickpea-based yogurt. Each flavor—Blueberry, Plain, Strawberry and Vanilla-- provides 5 to 6 grams of protein per 5.3-ounce cup, which is one of its marketing features. This sets it apart from other plant-based yogurt-style products made from coconut or oats. The product is 100% vegan, gluten free and non-GMO. Plain has no sugars. The others have 8 grams or less of total sugars, which come from the fruit and real sugar. Monkfruit extract helps keep the product sweet without contributing calories.  

The product also comes with a story. The founders are Middle East natives who grew up with chickpeas as a staple food. They always admired the taste, versatility and nutritiousness of these plant-based powerhouses. They have set out to use chickpeas to craft dairy-free products that are not “alternatives” to dairy, rather they are just another delicious, nutritious choice to be made without sacrifice or compromise. 

Forager Project, which describes itself as an organic plant-based creamery, is entering the kids’ space with cashewmilk-based yogurt in 3.2-ounce pouches. It contains probiotics and is fortified with calcium and vitamins A, D and B12. 

There were way too many plant-based ice creams at Expo. Smart marketers know that to compete in this space, you must differentiate. The world does not need another plant-based vanilla ice cream. One way to differentiate is with creative novelties and desserts. Revolution Gelato now offers plant-based gelato pies. They are debuting in Turtle and Pumpkin flavors. 

There were also way too many plant-based cheeses. To a cheese aficionado like me, most don’t even pass the smell test. One company stands out because it’s a dairy. 

Saputo Dairy USA is bringing its range of Vitalite branded vegan-certified, dairy-free cheese alternatives to the U.S. marketplace. The launch of the Vitalite brand into the States follows the success it has had in the dairy-free category in the U.K. since 2003. The retail line includes mozzarella-style shreds and slices, cheddar-style shreds and slices, parmesan-style grated topping and cream cheese-style spread.

Brad Panarese, director of U.S. marketing and brand management told me last night at a media tasting event, “It was time to come to the U.S. market.” 

Dairies making non-dairy options of dairy foods that they excel in tend to have an upper hand in this space. They understand the science and process behind making the real deal, especially cheese. 

The final concept that stood out is functional beverages, a space dairies need to get into now. Pop & Bottle, which has the tagline of “a new way to latte,” is rolling out organic shelf-stable coffee and tea lattes made with either oats or almonds. 

The innovation does not stop there. The beverages include functional ingredients, such as antioxidants, adaptogens and even marine-based collagen. (The latter is why the drinks are labeled dairy free and not vegan.)  

In early February I featured Lifeway Foods’ new Lifeway MSHRM Oat line. This is another example of a dairy making a dairy-free product. The new line of adaptogenic functional mushroom beverages is the latest addition to the company’s extensive portfolio of cultured oat beverages. In addition to containing 10 live and active probiotic cultures plus heart-healthy beta-glucans, the new product line features a variety of functional mushrooms and adaptogens, and will be offered in three unique flavor combinations. They are:

Calm: This reishi mushroom and vanilla flavored drink is designed to decrease stress and anxiety while boosting mood

Support: This is a blend of adaptogenic mushrooms and aronia berry for immune support

Focus: This drink is formulated with the stress-reducing adaptogens in Lion’s Mane mushroom, and L-Theanine from green tea, turmeric and ginger to relax and boost your mood

“The release of our Lifeway MSHRM Oat comes at a time when consumers are seeking out innovative, functional beverages that taste great and include ingredients at the forefront of health research,” said Julie Smolyansky, CEO. “With so much focus on the mental health crisis and the promising research around functional mushroom ingredients, I’m proud to offer these wellness options for everyone to enjoy and add to their self-care toolkits.”

I really wish such functional beverages were made with dairy proteins.  

Speaking of dairy, the “real” dairy message from the expo floor is doing dairy properly. Innovators are jumping on the grass-fed, regenerative agriculture movement. That’s because it is the right thing to do. In fact, there’s a non-dairy ice cream player that now sells grass-fed dairy ice cream.

I am happy to report that dairy is alive at Expo West. I will continue to feature new dairy innovations from expo over the next few weeks. There were MANY!