Thursday, August 25, 2022

School Year 2022-2023: Keeping Milk and Dairy on the Lunch Menu


It’s time to crank up the half-pint carton machine and get milk to those nearly 50 million children who returned—or will be returning toon--to U.S. public schools, as well as all those in the private school sector. Dairy and nutrition advocates are encouraging parents and policymakers to prioritize the health of students by making milk and dairy options more accessible in the coming school year. 

School milk sales have declined by more than one billion half pints since the 2008-2009 school year. This presents a challenge for both the dairy industry and school districts nationwide as they look to modernize milk while delivering it to students in the most economical, efficient and sustainable way possible. 

Today’s blog sponsor—Tetra Pak—along with Dairy MAX, an affiliate of Dairy Management Inc., and National Dairy Council that represents dairy farmers in select Western regions, recently conducted a pilot program with the Dallas Independent School District (ISD), Texas’ largest school district. Nine schools in the district were offered shelf-stable milk in aseptic cartons. This packaging does not require refrigeration until opened. It is made from primarily renewable materials and is recyclable. Not only does the longer shelf life reduce spoilage and waste, but it also means fewer deliveries and reduced costs.

The pilot program numbers show the benefits of shelf-stable school milk. For starters, net milk consumption increased 12%. Further, with reduced delivery frequency coupled with shared deliveries, it is projected that the district could save $1.5 million per year by switching the entire district to shelf-stable milk. Additional findings from the program included that there were no “lost milk days” from supply chain issues, administrative work was reduced due to fewer invoices and, most importantly, children favored or were indifferent to the taste of the shelf-stable milk.

Shelf-stable milk is the same milk that comes in traditional chilled packaging. To allow for a shelf life of more than six months with no refrigeration needed before opening, the milk undergoes ultra-high temperature processing and is then filled in aseptic cartons. This process and package combination retains the nutritional values of dairy milk without the use of additives or preservatives.

Source: Tetra Pak/Dairy MAX

In addition to tasting great, the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for America (DGA) recommend three servings of dairy a day for a healthy diet. Milk is the top source of calcium, potassium, phosphorus and vitamin D in kids ages 2 to 18 years old. However, according to the U.S. Departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services, U.S. children over four years old and adolescents are not consuming enough dairy to meet the recommendations in DGA, thereby under consuming a variety of nutrients they need to grow. And, because of falling participation rates in school breakfast and lunch programs due to the COVID-19 pandemic and removal of universal free meals in the 2022-2023 school year, there are growing concerns for nutrition security among students.

“Milk makes school meals more healthful and offering many varieties of milk encourages children to consume these products vital for their own development,” said Jim Mulhern, president and CEO, National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF). “From low-fat flavored to lactose-free options, parents, educators and policy leaders overwhelmingly agree that milk on the menu encourages healthy kids and ensures that everyone has equitable access to the 13 essential nutrients milk provides through school meals.”

Michael Dykes, president and CEO, International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA), said, “The most recent DGA report is clear: children are not receiving enough essential nutrients for growth, development, healthy immune function and overall wellness. School meals offer the most important opportunity of the day for children to get the essential nutrients they need in an 8-ounce serving of milk. Now is the time of year when our parents, educators, school meals professionals and policymakers need to work together to encourage school meal participation and nutritious milk consumption each day.” 

Survey data shows the best way to do that is by offering many varieties of milk, including different fat varieties, flavors and lactose-free options. Shelf-stability helps reduce waste and safe money. Might the future of school milk be in aseptic cartons? 

Source: Tetra Pak

“Research shows children eat their healthiest meals at schools, which provide balanced nutrition including milk, whole grains and a variety of fruits, vegetables and lean protein,” said, Lori Adkins, president, School Nutrition Association (SNA). “School nutrition professionals are committed to ensuring access to and promoting consumption of healthy school meals to support student success.”

The NMPF, IDFA and SNA are working with parents and school nutritionists to increase consumption of dairy in keeping with recommendations from the 2020-2025 DGA report and leading health organizations. This FACT SHEET released by the group underscores how all milk is a source for 13 essential nutrients, including calcium, vitamin D and potassium, nutrients of public health concern for children. 

4th Annual CMAB and VentureFuel “Open Innovation” Competition Finalists 

The California Milk Advisory Board (CMAB) announced the eight finalists in the Real California Milk Excelerator, a partnership with innovation consultancy VentureFuel. The program is focused on identifying, curating and accelerating dairy-based products, including traditional consumer food and beverage items, textiles and beyond. The competition will award up to $500,000 in prizes for startups that introduce novel benefits and drive use of California milk and dairy in formulations.

In its fourth year, the 2022 Real California Milk Excelerator advances innovation in its truest state: open. As one of the biggest dairy competitions in the world, the program seeks early-stage applicants with high-growth potential that create a 50% cow’s milk-based product or working prototype.

"We launched the Excelerator to foster a culture of innovation in support of California dairy and this year’s contestants certainly delivered on our high expectations,” said John Talbot, CEO of the CMAB. “Our ‘Open Innovation’ finalists focused on themes important to the next generation of consumers: sustainable sourcing and use of upcycled materials; clean labels and benefits from convenience to function; and global flavors and ingredients.” 

The eight members of the 2022 Real California Milk Excelerator cohort are:
  • Dosa by DOSA (Chico, Calif.) – Indian yogurt Lassi drinks.
  • Board at Home (Chico, Calif.) – E-commerce company, offering an experience of artisanal crafted cheeses and products shipped directly to consumers’ homes.
  • Goon with the Spoon (Danville, Calif.) – Specialty super premium ice cream from hip-hop artist, entrepreneur and chef Earl “E-40” Stevens.
  • Mi Terro (City of Industry, Calif.) – A first-of-its kind, venture-backed synthetic biology and advanced material company that engineers biomass waste into compostable biomaterials to end microplastic.
  • Neutral Foods (Gustine, Calif.) – Organic Half and Half product that has a carbon neutral footprint.
  • Pariva (Boston, Mass.) – Spreadable marinated yogurt bites.
  • Tres Lecheria (La Habra, Calif.) – Traditional and flavored Tres Leches cakes.
  • Wheyward Spirit (Sonoma, Calif.) – A clear, specialty spirit upcycled and distilled from whey.
“This VentureFuel innovation program for CMAB was designed to uncover the many uses of dairy,” said Fred Schonenberg, Founder and CEO of VentureFuel, Inc., the corporate innovation advisory firm that curated and runs the Excelerator. “Our curation of new startup solutions, especially the finalists, demonstrates the many ways dairy can innovate to connect with the next generation of consumers, showcasing sustainable options, creative packaging, new markets and direct-to-consumer approaches.”

Finalists will participate in a pitch event Wednesday, November 2nd in San Carlos, Calif., where all eight companies will present before a live audience and panel of industry expert judges. Once again, I’m judging. 

Thursday, August 18, 2022

Cheese Trends 2022 and Beyond


Hold onto your seats when you hear these numbers. Cheese consumption in the U.S. has doubled since 1980 and more than tripled since 1970. Per capita cheese consumption was 38.1 pounds in 2020 and is projected to reach 43.1 pounds by 2030, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service. That’s a lot more cheese that needs to be produced, which means a lot more milk that cows need to provide and a lot more whey for high-protein innovations. 

Mozzarella remains the most popular cheese in America, thanks to our love of this fresh cheese on pizza and similar foods, followed by cheddar, but both have been losing share to categories such as Other American and Hispanic. Many of the cheeses in these two categories are recognized as specialty cheeses. They are gaining traction by chefs and consumers alike, all of whom want to explore new flavors and uses in their culinary adventures. 

The specialty cheese market is growing at a faster pace than everyday cheeses. When it comes to cheese, consumers are willing to dig into their pockets and fork over a few extra dollars for premium product. These cheeses tend to be sold in the deli department and have shown impressive performance the past few years. 

For the month of July, deli department retail cheese sales reached $772, a 4.4% increase as compared to July 2021, according to IRI. Many of these cheeses are sold as random weight products, so unit sales are not available. But when it comes to dairy department cheese, dollar sales of natural and processed cheeses were up in July 2022, as compared to July 2021, with unit sales down. And both cheese snack kits and alternative-dairy cheeses (a.k.a. plant-based cheese) had dollar and unit sales down in the month of July. 

source: IRI

Heather Prach, director of education for IDDBA attributes the boom in deli cheese sales to July 4th holiday celebrations. 

“Charcuterie education and promotions are a great way to boost both deli meat and specialty cheese sales and we see more retailers get involved with ready-made or store-made platters for easy entertaining,” she said.  

Many of those specialty cheeses were recognized at the American Cheese Society’s Annual Conference in Portland, Ore., a few weeks ago. Congratulations to the winners of the ACS competition. A complete list of the 380 awards bestowed this year can be found HERE

Fun cheese fact: The world produces more cheese than coffee, tobacco, tea and cocoa beans combined according to Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin.

To check out some noteworthy cheese introductions, link HERE

For more cheese stats, scroll down. 

Thursday, August 11, 2022

Dairy Industry 2022: It’s not your daddy’s dairy anymore.


Dairy Processing’s inaugural State of the Industry shipped this week. It is an honor to be a part of the publication’s editorial team. Link HERE to the digital edition, which includes a comprehensive overview of all dairy product categories, as well as dairy alternatives. There’s also IRI branded sales data for the 52-week period ended June 27, 2022. 

With most dairy alternatives made on the same equipment as dairy products, and often in dairy manufacturing facilities, it is safe to say that “times are changing.” Ingredient companies have spent the past few years working diligently to improve plant-based dairy systems. The innovations entering the marketplace today are more sophisticated in terms of flavors, formats and nutrient density. 

Tastes are changing, too, especially in terms of sweet preferences. When decreasing sugar in the diet, most shoppers prefer to reduce rather than replace with non-sugar alternatives or other flavors, according to HealthFocus International’s new report “Sweetener Solutions: A Path Forward—New Sweetener Insights from Around the World.” The study shows that shoppers have a preference to products that taste less sweet to the taste/flavor of non-sugar sweeteners or other substitutes. 

Taste and health remain priorities for consumers, according to “Growth Opportunities in Dairy-2022,” a new global report from FMCG Gurus. In fact, 73% of global consumers say that taste is important when choosing what fresh dairy products to purchase. The report looks at changing consumer attitudes and behaviors towards dairy, examining consumption habits in 2022. The report also explores consumer need states and motivations that impact dairy consumption. 

FMCG Gurus insights show that across product categories, consumers have increased their consumption of dairy products during the past two years. However, there has simultaneously been a significant increase in the proportion of consumers who turn to plant-based products on at least a weekly basis, with the biggest jump being within the oat milk category. This aligns with the trend of the growing proportion of consumers who say that they are following a diet based on the avoidance or moderation of animal products, with most of these individuals identifying as flexitarian.

FMCG Gurus research also shows that “high in vitamins” is the most appealing functional claim within the dairy industry, with 64% of global consumers stating this. When it comes to sustainability, the research shows that 80% of global consumers favor locally made brands made with locally sourced ingredients and about 73% of global consumers also find sustainability pledges important when buying dairy products. 

Read about how California dairy processors are innovating to cut emissions and close loops HERE.

To more than a third of global consumers surveyed as part of NielsenIQ’s forthcoming report—The Brand Balancing Act—small brands represent local, independent and unfamiliar products. In fact, 40% said they prefer to buy small brands either exclusively or when the time and price is right, while 56% said they prefer to buy locally made products.

A recent annual survey conducted by Vericast, a marketing solutions company and expert in consumer behavior, just released its “2022 Grocery and CPG TrendWatch Report,” which shows how rising prices, supply chain delays and record-high inflation have affected retail behavior. Nearly 2,000 adults in the U.S. and more than 300 consumer packaged goods and grocery/drug/mass industry professionals were surveyed. Vericast found that consumers across key demographic groups are scrapping long-held retail behaviors and finding entirely new ways to shop for household essentials, creating new opportunities for savvy marketers. 

Notably, 61% of all shoppers say that one of their biggest challenges is rising prices and almost a third are regularly switching products because their preferred product is not available. This represents an opportunity to guide shoppers to stores where products are in stock, or to drive awareness of other products that meet the same need.
“Consumers across all key demographics are switching shopping gears in this economic environment,” says Aimee Englert, executive director-client strategy at Vericast. “Marketers who understand this and plan accordingly will be top of mind as buyers focus on value and saving. To successfully retain and acquire new shoppers, marketers must know how different segments spend, their unique behaviors and how to capture their attention quickly and effectively.”

Across the key demographic groups, top findings from the survey include:

  • Baby boomers are the most sensitive when it comes to price. Eighty-three percent of baby boomers indicated that price increases are the biggest challenge when it comes to shopping for food, health and beauty, personal care, or household items online or in-store. As a result, baby boomers are most likely to make a switch; more than one-third have switched products because their preferred products are not available.
  • Just over 40% of baby boomers say they are most influenced by coupons that arrive in the mail or newspaper. However, more baby boomers are searching for coupons both in print and online, proving that an omnichannel approach to offering deals will pay dividends when it comes to shoppers looking to save.
  • Millennial parents crave convenience but struggle to balance it with cost. Over half (53%) of millennial parents struggle to afford essentials. And due to rising gas prices, 63% of millennial parents are more likely to shop at fewer stores, compared to 56% of consumers overall.
  • Despite rising costs, this generation more than any other will pay extra for the convenience of a subscription service. However, they still rate the in-store experience higher than online (70% vs. 63%), so marketers should look for ways to invigorate the online shopping experience to help these consumers discover new products with increased convenience.
  • Affluent households increasingly seek value online. Even higher-income households are cutting back on spending. In fact, 57% of affluent shoppers say the rise in prices is their biggest challenge when shopping for food, health and beauty, personal care, or household items online or in-store.
  • Affluent shopper purchasing habits are changing as much as other consumer groups in a volatile economic environment. Forty-two percent are stockpiling products, 39% have switched to shopping more online and 23% are using cashback rebates or apps more often. Indexing toward a quality, convenient online shopping experience will attract shoppers with the most disposable income.
  • Gen Z is purpose-driven and digital first. Members of Gen Z are most influenced by social media advertising to shop at a new store/website or try a new product. Further, 50% use their phones when shopping in-store and nearly half (48%) are interested in virtual reality to see how products can fit into their lives. While it’s still early, marketers should begin exploring how virtual and augmented reality, as well as the metaverse, can enhance marketing strategies for this demographic.  
  • Additionally, Gen Z is looking for products that align with their social, environmental and/or political values. This is especially important when it comes to food products (21%) and beauty and personal care (22%). Brands should ensure messaging emphasizes their brand values to gain and keep loyalty.
You can download the report HERE.

Thursday, August 4, 2022

Navigating Consumer Perceptions of Plant-Based: and how dairy processors can use this knowledge for future innovation


The “power of plant” is strong, with a mainstreaming of plant-based eating taking place before our very eyes; however, it’s no surprise that as plant-based foods become a bigger part of everyday life, consumers have become more discerning. Interest in plant-based products like meat alternatives and plant milks are being met with growing consumer concerns around exactly how healthy and sustainable these really are, according to “The Plant Paradox: Navigating the Complexities of Plant-based Perceptions Around the World” from HealthFocus International. 

FMI—The Food Industry Association, just published its inaugural “Power of Plant-Based” report. You can watch a one-minute video with highlights HERE

The FMI report looks at the whole range of what constitutes as plant based, including naturally plant-based foods, such as fruits, vegetables, beans and whole grains, as well as alternatives to traditional animal-derived items. When looking at this spectrum of products, the study found that two out of five (42%) shoppers put either a lot or some effort into selecting plant-based foods or beverages.

“More than 40% of shoppers at least occasionally eat a meat, dairy or seafood alternative, but dairy alternative sales are more than twice those of meat alternatives,” said Steve Markenson, director of research and insights for FMI. “The plant-based foods most likely to be regularly consumed by shoppers are naturally plant-based: fruits and vegetables (75%) and beans, nuts, or grains (47%).”

A quarter of shoppers regularly consume milk alternatives and 21% regularly consume other dairy alternatives, according to FMI. Slightly less than 20% of shoppers regularly consume meat alternatives. Those who tried plant-based meat and dairy products once or twice but did not continue said taste was the biggest reason.

When asked how they would refer to their type of eating, most shoppers identify as meat eaters, considering themselves to be omnivores (15%) or carnivores (21%). About one in 10 (9%) identify as being flexitarians, while a similar proportion follow approaches that avoid meat, such as vegetarian (6%), vegan (2%) or pescatarian (2%).

The majority of consumers surveyed include dairy milk (86%) in their diet. Even more include dairy products (94%). That’s what makes products such as Plucky Pickle Dips so attractive in today’s marketplace. 

Originally introduced in 2018 as Darling Pickle Dips, Plucky Pickle Dips can now be found in more than 500 stores and Target recently increased its placement. Other major retailers are evaluating the product for placement in their next resets. The refrigerated dip line is made with zesty pickled vegetables, herbs and spices that are mixed into a smooth cream cheese and white bean blend. The cream cheese gives the dips richness, while the pureed beans provide a slightly chunkier texture than most creamy dips. It also bring a decent dose of plant to the product. 

The dips were developed by two life-long friends--Sara Doherty and Britt Jungerberg—in their quest for something different and better-for-you in the premium dip category. Darling Foods LLC was one of six dairy companies that participated in the 2018 Land O’Lakes Inc., Dairy Accelerator, a program supporting the dairy industry by providing tailored coursework and mentorship to dairy entrepreneurs. To qualify for consideration, each company was required to utilize dairy as a primary ingredient in their products. This product’s success shows the power of working with an accelerator program.

Graph source: FMI-The Power of Plant Based, 2022

“Our ethnographic research suggests consumers are seeking out plant-based foods and beverages primarily for both taste and nutrition,” said Krystal Register, senior director for health and well-being at FMI. “The food industry has an opportunity to provide guidance and educate consumers on overall healthy eating approaches that include plant-based options in alignment with the Dietary Guidelines.”  

The FMI research found that curiosity is a major characteristic for shopper experimentation. Millennials are more likely than Gen X and Boomers to put effort into selecting plant-based foods, and nearly half of shoppers buying plant-based foods and beverages live in households making more than $100,000 and have children. Shoppers interested in these foods and beverages tend to have bigger basket sizes, but also shop online.  

Graph source: FMI-The Power of Plant Based, 2022

The report found consumption of plant-based food and beverages will likely continue to grow, with nearly one-in-three shoppers expecting to increase consumption “a little,” and 16% expecting to increase consumption “a lot.” Thirty-five percent of shoppers who regularly consume plant-based items said they will consume “a little more” and 27% said they will consume “a lot more” in the future.

The time is right to become a “Flexitarian Dairy Company.” Link HERE to read more.