Friday, December 2, 2022

Dairy Foods Trends 2023: Concepts, Flavors and Recipes


It’s that time of year when food and beverage authorities make their predictions for what will be trending the upcoming year. Last year, plant based, keto and immunity were the consensus. And while these three trends will continue to fuel new product innovation, there are other noteworthy trends to be aware of, and one of them is “real food,” which, of course, is what dairy is all about. Consumers are also looking for authenticity and transparency. Dairy excels in this department, too. And lastly, most flavor forecasts are typically not category specific, so I like to review them and make them relevant to dairy. Read on to learn more about what will be “hot” for dairy in 2023. 

Julian Mellentin, director of New Nutrition Business and a professional colleague, says that consumers’ expectations of convenient, packaged food and beverage is trending towards being simpler and less processed. This is set to become more important over the rest of this decade, he says. I agree.

There’s growing evidence that consumers are increasingly shunning ultra-processed foods (UPFs) and looking for more “real foods.” In a recent survey of consumers by New Nutrition Business, 20% of Americans and 40% of Spaniards consumers said they were trying to avoid UPFs, the highest numbers since the consultancy began asking this question. 

“The growing consumer interest in ‘less processed’ has grown out of the clean-label trend of identifying something undesirable in our food and avoiding it,” says Mellentin. “What’s different is that we are entering a new phase. Brands will have to do more to reinvent UPFs and to deliver products that get closer to consumers’ expectations of ‘real food.’” 

Most dairy has never been considered a UPF. The exception is canned aerosol cheese and some processed cheeses. This puts dairy in a very favorable position with consumers. 

Avoiding UPFs means, to a growing number of consumers, choosing fresh and natural foods. When the International Food Information Council asked Americans about the most common attributes of a healthy food, the top answer, given by 37% of people, was “fresh,” while 20% of consumers said, “minimal or no processing.” 

“The opportunity over the next three to five years is for packaged food companies--gradually, step-by-step--to renovate products,” says Mellentin. “That will require a focus on ingredients and processing technology, which deliver the safety, convenience and palatability people seek while doing so with as little processing as possible, or at least with a type of processing that people accept.” 

Ingredient suppliers have an important role to play in enabling this change. Further, dairy processors do not need to reformulate their entire product line.

“A significant percentage of mainstream consumers want to continue enjoying their favorite foods just as they are,” says Mellentin. “The result may be that companies will have some products within their portfolio that meet consumer expectations for less processed and real food, just as today they have free-from or gluten-free lines in their portfolio.”

In other words, aerosol cheese is not going away!

According to “10 Key Trends in Food, Nutrition & Health 2023,” Mellentin notes that there are many brands and companies where “simply processed” and “real” have long been part of strategy. No surprise, dairy—and even some plant-dairy—are big players in this space. Consumers expect these products to be wholesome and farm fresh, even if that farm fresh refers to minimally processed plants. 

One example is Yoplait’s French-inspired Oui by Yoplait yogurt. The brand focuses on simple ingredients and artisanal-style packaging and production. It was the first product of its kind from General Mills. The brand explains the simplicity of the production process on its packaging. Oui achieved over $100 million in the first year of retail sales with just three SKUs and has since been expanded to 26 SKUs reports Mellentin.

Danone is responding to the trend in Spain, the European country fueling the avoidance of UPFs. The desire to avoid UPFs is partly cultural, but it also owes something to Carlos Rios, a Spanish blogger and nutrition guru with 1.5 million followers on Instagram, according to Mellentin. Rios is the creator of Realfooding, a movement that encourages people to avoid UPFs. Danone was the first major food company to engage with the Realfooding project. One of Danone’s natural drinking yoghurts, with just four ingredients, now carries the Realfooding endorsement. There are numerous dairy products---everything from cheese to ice cream—that now also carry the Realfooding endorsement. 
Technology has an important role to perform in enabling packaged products to deliver on consumer expectations, says Mellentin. He provides the example of US-based plant milk marketer Elmhurst, which developed a technology that enables it to create a two-ingredient, nutritionally dense plant milk. 

Elmhurst’s products deliver on consumers’ expectations of simple processing and few ingredients, in marked contrast to most plant milks on the market, says Mellentin. 

This clean-food movement may bring consumers back to dairy, especially with the growing number of lactose-free options in the marketplace. After all, for many consumers, the sole reason they went to plant based was to address their intolerance or sensitivity to lactose, also known as milk sugar. 

Lactose-free is another formulation trend. And, clean food is also a big opportunity for A2 milk, as consumers are becoming educated about A1 and A2 casein, with the original, authentic form of casein being A2. Remember, authenticity in a food’s origins is gaining traction. 

Pavel Kolarov, CEO of Trimona Foods Inc., shared with me that there’s a growing momentum behind the A2 movement now more than ever before. 

“The reason for my optimism is that ever since we changed our packaging (about 8 months ago) to feature A2 on the front of the pack, our sales in the same chains and stores have shot up considerably,” he says. “Our Whole Foods business is up more than 30% in unit terms when the category overall is stagnant. And, that is without any new marketing or promotion. Our new items are also getting a lot of interest. The vanilla got picked up by Sprouts nationwide and our drinkable by Whole Foods.”

That covers trends in concepts and recipes for 2023. Let’s move onto flavor trends. There are five that standout for dairy innovation. They are Latin American, botanicals/florals, sweet heat, nostalgic/comfort and all-day breakfast.

Latin American flavors are all the rage. The flavors that translate to dairy applications include horchata. The flavor profile for horchata has many interpretation, almost always with a sweet cinnamon profile. There’s also tepache. This is a cold fermented beverage with pineapple and cinnamon. Sounds to me like a great drinkable yogurt profile. 

And let’s not forget aguas frescas. While the translation means “fresh water,” aguas fresca de leche includes milk. Think of it is a thinner, lightly flavored milk beverage with the purpose of refreshment rather than nourishment. 

Tastewise data shows that stone fruit and citrus flavors are trending in the category, with apricot, plum, lychee and yuzu fueling innovation in agua fresca flavors.
Tastewise, as well as some other flavor authorities, say that botanicals and florals continue to gain traction. In the past two years, floral flavor profiles have grown 91% in consumer interest and botanicals have grown 31% in consumer interest , according to Tastewise.  They both bring functional health to food and beverage. 

Fusion and mashup flavors appeal to curious consumers craving excitement. Sweet-heat combinations are a bit part of this flavor trend, with hot honey one of the most popular flavor trends of the moment. 
This past autumn, McConnell’s introduced Red Clay Hot Honey Buttered Rum Ice Cream. Red Clay’s hot honey is made with sustainably sourced, 100% raw wildflower honey infused with habanero mash for the perfect marriage of sweet meets heat. (It’s all about authenticity.) McConnell’s uses the honey as a variegate in rum-spiked ice cream that has hints of cinnamon and nutmeg, along with chunks of house-baked speculoos cookies.

According to Spoonshot’s 2023 report, interest in complex heat “goes beyond level of heat to specific varieties of pepper from around the world, underlying flavor notes, and even pairing with other flavors.” (Again, it’s all about authenticity, as well as traceability.) The report shows that the complex heat trend is fueled by consumers’ growing interest in international flavors. 

The Food Institute reports that coming out of the COVID pandemic, many consumers are drawn to comfort foods that remind them of simpler, pre-pandemic times. Nostalgic foods have become very popular over the past year and the trend doesn’t show signs of abating in 2023. 

Nostalgic flavors play very well into all types of dairy foods. As do breakfast flavors. 

My professional colleague Chef Charlie Baggs shared with me, “I think breakfast is where you’re seeing the most innovation with flavors. It’s a meal that can be eaten all day. It’s cost-effective and it lends itself well to global flavor trends.”

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