Thursday, February 23, 2023

It’s Time to Let “Milk” Go and Turn the Conversation to “Milk Proteins”


Photo: In Good Hands Foods has developed Protein Puffs in Nacho Cheese and White Cheddar flavors. Made with Real California Milk, and sporting the seal, one serving delivers 12 grams of milk protein and only 1 gram of sugar, which is flagged on the front label of the 1.1-ounce bags.

This past Wednesday, February 22, FDA issued guidance on plant-based beverages. Its intent is to “guide” manufacturers of plant-based beverages to disclose their nutrient inferiority compared to cows’ milk and acknowledges the public health concern of nutritional confusion over such beverages. 

This guidance is the first draft. It is followed with a 60-day comment period. Remember, it is guidance. Frankly, I think it’s time for the dairy industry to let “milk” go and turn the conversation to “milk proteins.” It’s not your daddy’s dairy anymore. 

I also know many of you disagree. Let’s agree to disagree. 

“Today’s draft guidance was developed to help address the significant increase in plant-based milk alternative products that we have seen become available in the marketplace over the past decade,” said FDA Commissioner Robert M. Califf. “The draft recommendations issued today should lead to providing consumers with clear labeling to give them the information they need to make informed nutrition and purchasing decisions on the products they buy for themselves and their families.” 

Many dairy industry folks do not think FDA’s draft guidance is enough. 

Here’s what Jim Mulhern, president and CEO, National Milk Producers Federation, said in a statement.

“Today’s FDA announcement is a step toward labeling integrity for consumers of dairy products, even as it falls short of ending the decades-old problem of misleading plant-based labeling using dairy terminology. By acknowledging both the utter lack of nutritional standards prevalent in plant-based beverages and the confusion over nutritional value that’s prevailed in the marketplace because of the unlawful use of dairy terms, FDA’s proposed guidance today will provide greater transparency that’s sorely needed for consumers to make informed choices. 

“Still, the decision to permit such beverages to continue inappropriately using dairy terminology violates FDA’s own standards of identity, which clearly define dairy terms as animal-based products. We reject the agency’s circular logic that FDA’s past labeling enforcement inaction now justifies labeling such beverages as ‘milk’ by designating a common and usual name. Past inaction is poor precedent to justify present and future inaction,” said Mulhern.

The American Dairy Coalition (ADC), in a press release on Thursday, wrote “It has been a long five-year wait since former FDA commissioner Scott Gottleib said ‘almonds don’t lactate’ in 2018 when FDA called for public comments about their (lack of) enforcement of milk standards of identity in the labeling of fake milk alternatives.”

Agree, almonds don’t lactate. But I can remember as a little girl my mom purchasing coconut cream and coconut milk to make punch. Then there’s also milk of magnesia. 

The ADC said that any plant-based milk alternative product that chooses to make the nutrition comparison statement---again, remember, it is voluntary—will make that comparison against the USDA Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) fluid milk substitutes nutrient criteria, not with cows’ milk. USDA’s FNS sets specific levels of calcium, protein, vitamins A and D, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, riboflavin and vitamin B-12 for milk substitutes in federal feeding programs.

Now, here’s something to take note of. At the same time the draft guidance was issued to plant-based milk marketers, FDA also released a “Consumer Update” in efforts to educate consumers on how to interpret nutrient labels, stating: “The milk section of the dairy case isn’t what it used to be. Along with milk, there’s a growing variety of plant-based milk alternatives. While many plant-based milk alternatives have the word ‘milk’ in their name, the nutritional content can vary between the products, and many of them don’t have the same amount of calcium and vitamin D, or other nutrients as milk. So, what should you look for when choosing plant-based milk alternatives? The Nutrition Facts label on the packaging can help you choose the best products to meet your nutrient needs and those of your family. to make their own choices when buying plant-based milk.”

The onus is on dairy marketers. You need to do a better job of using labels to educate consumers. 

Now things get fun…Mainstream media varied in their reporting of FDA’s activity. The Washington Post likely ruffled a number of you up with this Thursday headline: “Sorry, Big Dairy. Oat and almond drinks can also be sold as milk, FDA says.” 

CNN wrote “Any plant-based milk product with the word ‘milk’ in its name should include a statement explaining how the product compares with dairy milk. “In the future, the label on alt-milks could state ‘contains lower amounts of vitamin D and calcium than milk’ or ‘contains less protein than milk.’ 

Here’s where it gets really good. 

“The guidance ‘assumes that cow milk is the superior standard. Might human milk not be a better standard?’ inquired nutrition researcher Dr. Walter Willett, a professor of epidemiology and nutrition at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School,” as reported by CNN. “The requirement for the same protein content as in cow milk is dubious, as protein intake has not been recognized as a critical issue for children. If anything, the amount in human milk would be a reasonable standard.” 

To read more…and it is an informative read, link HERE

Brody Stapel, president, Edge Dairy Farmer Cooperative, said, “Accurate labeling of imitation dairy products, especially milk, has frustrated dairy farmers for far too long. The nutritional benefits of dairy products are superior to imitation products, and consumers should be well-informed using proper labeling and terms. Dairy foods, including milk, are part of a healthy eating pattern and provide consumers with healthy and nutritious food options.” 

This is very true. But, like I said, many of you think it’s not enough. 

I appreciate ADC’s comment that USDA’s FNS nutrient minimums for milk substitutes does not take into account bioavailability of nutrients. I would like to point out that it also does not factor in protein quality. To read more about how dairy’s superior proteins and how we need to better market them, link HERE.

Photo source: Top Protein

Another person frustrated with the labeling of milk, specifically milk proteins not getting the respect they deserve, is Chip Marsland, CEO, Top Protein, Orlando.

“Move over plant based, cell culture and fungi, here come the first ‘dairy-based’ alternative meats,” he said.

In a phone interview this week, he said that the dairy industry has been fueling “life for centuries.” But, it has also been void of any new technology since the patent issued in 1912 for ultra-high-temperature pasteurization. He plans to change that with his intellectual property that turns milk into filamentous materials that can be formed into structures that look like burgers, hot dogs, chicken and even scallops. With the assistance of natural flavors and a few other ingredients, he said these products replicate the taste and texture of muscle meat. 

“Here comes the new field of ‘dairy-based meat,’” he said. “[These are] meats made from all-natural milk. One of the most nutritious materials on earth in addition to being ubiquitous. And it’s a food source everyone is familiar with.”

Top Protein is a startup protein technology company that has been stealthily developing this new category of alternative dairy-meats for four years. Top Protein’s dairy-based meat portfolio includes whole cuts and shredded red and white meats. There are burgers, chicken cutlets, hot dogs, pulled pork, brisket, scallops and fish filets. There is even filet mignon. They are all made from milk. When necessary, butter is added as a fat source to provide desirable succulence. 

“With a world population seemingly outpacing the available meat supply, Top Protein sees the need
for real cost-effective solutions, not theoretical possibilities, and certainly not untested science
projects,” Marsland said. “That is why the company believes dairy-based meats are the ‘bridge to the future.’”

The company is currently building a manufacturing facility in Orlando to service local restaurants and ghost kitchens, with the latter being popular among tourists through delivery services. Plans are to have a Top Protein restaurant, too. A retail format of the product is also in the works. 

“With protein quality scores that blow away real meat, never mind the alternative meat competition,” he said. “[We also have] a manufacturing process that produces no waste.”

Source: Top Protein

The liquid waste stream from producing the “dairy-based meat” contains residual protein, vitamins and minerals. Think of the stream produced during cheese manufacturing. Top Protein’s research and development team uses that stream to produce ice cream and energy drinks. 

I leave you with this. Marsland said that the technology makes one pound of “meat” from one gallon of milk. To put this in perspective, one beef cow yields about 450 pounds of meat, according to Marsland. One milking cow produces about 3,000 gallons of milk per year, which can be turned into 3,000 pounds of “meat.” This can happen for a few years. 

Just something to think about.  

Thursday, February 16, 2023

Prioritize Making Dairy Foods More Healthy in 2023


The dairy and dairy alternative segment is unique in that you will find consumers buying a combination of both products throughout different categories, according to research from today’s blog sponsor: Synergy. Link HERE or on the banner ad to read Synergy’s five trends for 2023 in the dairy/alt dairy sector. 

I would like to focus on one of the trends. That’s sugar reduction and it should be a priority for all dairy foods innovators if they want their products to be recognized as “healthy.” 

The FDA’s proposed framework for the updated definition of “healthy” focuses on ensuring that nutrient-dense foods that help consumers to build a diet consistent with current dietary recommendations can qualify to bear the claim. Use of the word “healthy” in food marketing is voluntary. (Read more about making nutrient density a priority in 2023 HERE.)

To meet the proposed definition, a food product would need to contain a certain amount of food from at least one of the food groups or subgroups (e.g., fruit, vegetables, grains, dairy and protein foods) recommended by the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The specific limits for added sugars, saturated fat and sodium would be based on a percentage of the Daily Value for these nutrients. DVs are reference amounts of nutrients to consume or not to exceed each day. The proposed criteria for how much food from a particular food group is required (called food group equivalents) and the specific limits for the three nutrients vary for individual food products, mixed products (which contain more than one food group), main dishes and meals, and are based on a Reference Amount Customarily Consumed, which is the basis for determining a serving size. 

FDA uses Greek yogurt as an example. Click on the infographic sourced from FDA for more details.  

To read more about the proposed definition, link HERE.

The good news is that over the past 20 years, which is about the time sugar became evil, the food industry has been able to stealthily get many consumers to prefer a less sweet taste. According to research from HealthFocus International, when decreasing sugar in the diets, more consumers prefer to reduce rather than replace with non-sugar alternatives or other flavors. Shoppers prefer less-sweet products over those that use non-sugar sweeteners or other substitutes. 

That should help with decreasing added sugars in sweet dairy foods, especially “The 4 Best Dairy Foods to Eat Every Week, According to a Dietitian.” This article recently appeared, which reaches an audience of more than 10 million monthly viewers as well as more than 5 million fans through its social media channels. You can link to the article HERE.

Registered Dietitian Isabel Vasquez’s summary states:  Despite many consumers turning to non-dairy alternatives, dairy products have a lot of nutritional benefits. With a variety of dairy options out there, including ones suitable for lactose intolerance, you can probably find something that works for you regardless of your dietary needs or taste preferences. It is especially worth adding dairy to your weekly intake for its highly bioavailable calcium, a nutrient important for bone health and the prevention of osteoporosis.

It’s a great time to be in dairy! But here’s some disappointing news.

According to FDA, about 15% of products qualify for the current definition of “healthy,” and less than 5% actually bear the claim. The agency further estimates that after the proposed improvements to the claim are implemented, only 4% of foods in the grocery store might carry the claim. 

Formulate your products to be “healthy” claim worthy!

Thursday, February 2, 2023

Prioritize the Nutrient Density of Dairy Foods: Pack in the Protein


Mark your calendars and register HERE to attend Dairy Processing’s live webinar and discussion on dairy processors’ outlook for new product innovation in 2023 and beyond. Cypress Research surveyed dairy processing professionals in mid-2022 and respondents shared their input on prioritization of new product development, both pre- and post-pandemic; ingredient priorities during the next 12 months; and new product development initiatives for the coming year, and more. I will assist with discussing findings from this survey—as well as showcase recent innovations that speak to the trends--during a free webinar on Feb. 8, 2023. Nutrient density will be part of the discussion. Link HERE to register. 

Before we discuss nutrient density, I am sharing a quote from my friend Julie Smolyansky, CEO of Lifeway Foods, that she provided in an interview to (Jan. 25, 2023).

“While we did hit some challenges several years ago around the anti-dairy movement or plant-based, we’ve seen the pendulum swing back dramatically back to dairy, back to brands that consumers know,” Smolyansky said.

Woo hoo! 

Lifeway Foods saw a 29.1% increase in sales during the third quarter of 2022, driven in part by a strategy to expand its product offerings for on-the-go consumers and boost awareness of probiotics, according to Smolyansky. Lifeway’s main products are dairy-based kefir, a nutrient-dense fermented dairy food loaded with protein and probiotics.  

If you missed the January 20 blog titled “Commit to Innovating with Probiotics and Protein in 2023,” you can link to it HERE. That Dairy Processing research I mentioned at the top of this page, identified protein and probiotics as the two most important ingredient trends for U.S. dairy processors. 

What are nutrient-dense foods? These are foods that pack in a lot of beneficial nutrients relative to their energy content. Many dairy foods are nutrient-dense foods. 

According to recent research conducted by New Nutrition Business, Gen Z and Millennials, specifically,  are looking to get more bang for their buck. The concept of nutrient density resonates with them, even though the phrase “nutrient density” may not roll off their tongue. 

The research took place across five countries: US, UK, Australia, Brazil and Spain. It showed that consumer interest in eating more nutrient-dense foods continues to climb, with 18% of people saying they look for more nutrient-dense foods, compared to 12% in 2021. 

Nutrient density has always been part of the dairy industry’s vernacular. It’s back in the conversation as consumers worry about inflation and how they can afford to eat healthfully. 

“Keep bellies and wallets full with satiating, nutritious food and drink,” said Lynn Dornblaser, director of innovation and insight, Mintel, at The Hatchery Chicago, which hosted the “Consumer Trends of 2022 and 2023 Predictions” conference on Jan 25, 2023. “Although consumers may not readily know the term nutrient density, it is what they seek. It feels like the new way to talk about healthy. There’s opportunity to balance solid nutrition with a fair price. Brands will need to make basic nutrition and satiety messaging clear to help consumers stay in control of grocery budgets while easily nourishing themselves.” 

To read more on this topic, link HERE to “What consumers want in 2023,” an online article I wrote this week for Food Business News

According to research from Innova, one in two consumers globally agree that cost and value for money have become more important over the course of the past year. The challenge and opportunity for the food industry lies in how to provide affordable nutrition.

“Rating ‘health’ (41%) as the most important driver of product development, with ‘affordability’ (30%) in second place, it is clear that consumers look for simple and nutritional solutions that fit their strained budget,” according to Innova’s Global Insights Director Lu Ann Williams. 

On February 22, Williams, along with Kamel Chida, advisor to VC Nucleus Capital and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, will discuss the growth opportunities for food and beverage businesses. Discover what consumers say about their health and nutritional needs, and how companies can fill this demand at affordable prices. Link HERE to register.

One of my favorite trends surveys comes from Pollock Communications and Today’s Dietitian. The 757 registered dietitian nutritionists (RDNs) who responded to this year’s “What’s Trending in Nutrition” survey provides insights on what they believe consumers will value in 2023, their top concerns when grocery shopping, and their top-10 superfood predictions. 

The study shows that after keeping immune health and comfort top-of-mind during the pandemic, consumers are back to prioritizing affordability and convenience when shopping for food. As consumers navigate the cost-of-living crisis, RDNs predict that affordability will be a higher priority than immunity for the first time since the onset of the pandemic. Consumers will be looking for functional, value-based foods that support their immunity and gut health. RDNs predict the top purchase drivers in 2023 will be foods and beverages that:
  • Are affordable and value-based (70.4%)
  • Are easily accessible and convenient (59.1%)
  • Support immunity (57.6%)
Their predictions for the “Top-10 Superfoods for 2023” are:
  • Fermented Foods, such as yogurt, kimchi, kombucha tea and pickled vegetables
  • Seeds, such as chia and hemp
  • Blueberries
  • Avocados
  • Nuts, including pistachios, almonds and walnuts
  • Leafy Greens, such as spinach
  • Aquatic Greens, such as algae, seaweed and sea moss
  • Green Tea
  • Ancient Grains
  • Non-Dairy Milks

But It Is Real Milk With the Benefits
Coffee with milk (proteins) may have an anti-inflammatory effect, according to a new study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. Researchers at the Department of Food Science, in collaboration with researchers from the Department of Veterinary and Animal Sciences, at University of Copenhagen, investigated how polyphenols behave when combined with amino acids, the building blocks of proteins. The results have been promising. To read more, link HERE.

“In the study, we show that as a polyphenol reacts with an amino acid, its inhibitory effect on inflammation in immune cells is enhanced. As such, it is clearly imaginable that this cocktail could also have a beneficial effect on inflammation in humans. We will now investigate further, initially in animals. After that, we hope to receive research funding which will allow us to study the effect in humans,” said Professor Marianne Nissen Lund from the Department of Food Science, who headed the study.

With that said, the RDNs who responded to the “What’s Trending in Nutrition” survey, said that plant-based eating continues to rise in popularity. They rated it as the third most popular diet trend after intermittent fasting and keto diets. However, despite the popularity of plant-based diets, only 1% of surveyed RDNs reported that they would recommend highly processed meat alternatives.

Snacking Isn’t Slowing Down
RDNs predict that, despite loosened COVID-19 restrictions, consumers are still snacking as much as they were over the last two years, with boredom (71.8%), comfort (71.8%) and working from home (67%) being the top-three reasons why.

“Consumers are more aware than ever of the benefits food can provide for gut health and immune function. As consumers face higher costs at the grocery store, they’ll be looking for affordable food and snacks that still provide valuable health benefits,” says Louise Pollock, President of Pollock Communications. “Our survey findings reflect how consumer behaviors are shifting as COVID-19 restrictions loosen, remote work remains and inflation rises, from prioritizing affordable foods to continued interest in snacking.” 

Misleading Marketing and Nutrition Misinformation
Food and wellness content online can make nutrition confusing for consumers because it is often misleading. While the majority of RDNs agree that consumers look to social media platforms for nutrition information, they also believe that these platforms are rife with nutrition misinformation, specifically citing Facebook, Instagram and TikTok as the top sources, and social media influencers being the category leading the charge for delivering misinformation.

“Social media influencers are talking about wellness and nutrition at rates never seen before, but people struggle to differentiate between credible information and myths. This only supports the need to amplify credible sources of nutrition information, like registered dietitian nutritionists,” says Mara Honicker, publisher of Today’s Dietitian. “With the survey in its 11th year, we are excited to continue to share insights from these experts in food and nutrition, at a time where the value of food is subject to more scrutiny.”