Thursday, September 28, 2023

Curds & Cream vs. Cottage Cheese


There’s something about the words “cottage cheese” that is not inviting. Older generations remember it being served with canned cling peaches and called the “diet platter” at the corner diner. Those who worked out to Jane Fonda in the 80s know it as slang for cellulite on upper thighs. And anyone after that, just sort of does not know it. Until now. 

Cottage cheese has become the “it” dairy product of the year thanks to social media. TikTok and Instagram creators are churning cottage cheese into ice cream, combining it with pasta and topping toast with it. Should the avocado be concerned? Nope. Cottage cheese can be whipped with avocado, and wait for it…the acidity of the cultured dairy slows the oxidation of the green pitted fruit into an unappealing shade of brown. 

I’ve always been a fan and have long referred to cottage cheese as the original high-protein cultured dairy product. The time is NOW to keep the momentum going with its popularity among Gen Z and younger Millennials. But maybe it’s time for a name change or a makeover? It's time to modernize cottage cheese. 

Curds & Cream has an appealing ring to it. It does a better job of communicating the deliciousness of the product. The word cream is suggestive of a rich, neutral flavor, something that one does not experience with the other popular high-protein-cultured dairy product: Greek yogurt.    

Dairy Brand uses a contemporary package that showcases the identifiable pieces of fruit.  

Pictured at the beginning of this blog, HP Hood created a sub-brand—Medleys—and uses cottage cheese in the product descriptor. I love this! 

The new line of single-serve, flavor-packed snacks features real fruit and crunchy mix-ins. The three offerings are: Blueberry with Crunchy Oat Granola, Pineapple with Honey Roasted Almonds and Strawberry with Graham Crackers and Chocolate Chips. With the new 5-ounce dual-compartment containers, consumers simply flip, stir and go.

One serving contains 200 to 210 calories, 6 to 10 grams of fat, 12 to 13 grams of protein and 17 to 19 grams of sugar, of which 12 to 15 grams are “added sugars.” These convenient flavorful cottages cheeses join the brand’s single-serve 5.3-ounce containers of cottage cheese with blueberries, chives, peaches, pineapple or strawberries.

Curds & Cream can be blended with all types of fruits, vegetables and spices. It may be served with compotes, nuts, seeds and cereals. It could simply be flavored with something as simple as chocolate, honey or vanilla. Maybe it can be sold whipped and frozen as a high-protein ice cream. 

Dairy Farmers of America’s Kemps business is blending it into a smooth consistency, adding kid-friendly flavors and featuring popular licensed characters. Smooth Cottage Cheese Blends come in four packs of 4-ounce cups. The four varieties are Peppa Pig Strawberry Banana, PJ Masks Power Heroes Strawberry and Transformers Mixed Berry. A single-serving container has 130 calories, 4 grams of fat, 11 grams of sugars (9 grams are added sugars) and 10 grams of protein. The product contains three probiotic cultures: Bifidobacterium, Lactobacillus acidophilus and Lactobacillus paracasei.

It’s currently being served on the breakfast buffet in the United Club, alongside Greek yogurt. That’s right. Instead of adding a vegan yogurt-style product to the buffet, United added cottage cheese. 

Revenues are up, and that’s not just due to inflation, according to data from Circana, courtesy of Dairy Management Inc. Consumption is rising as well. Most importantly, more people are eating cottage cheese. Let’s keep that momentum going to build a base for continued growth.

Cottage cheese’s success isn’t merely a media perception. It’s real, and it’s broad based, reports the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF). While nearly half of all new consumers are coming from the social-media-savvy Gen Z and Millennial sets, the other half comes from older generations, with the most growth by far coming from Gen X. That’s me!

NMPF posed the question: Why Gen X? Is it an attempt to gain a tasty dairy fix with less fat, right at the age where waistlines are more difficult to tame? Nostalgia for their childhoods in the 1970s and 1980s, the last time cottage cheese was so central to American diets? Maybe they’re just smarter than other generations? It’s all of these things, but especially the last. We know it’s delicious and nutritious. But still, a name change would be nice. 

Friday, September 22, 2023

Five Questions Every Dairy Processor Should Ponder


It’s been a busy week with Groceryshop in Vegas and Natural Products Expo East in Philly. In between, I’ve discovered a few fun facts to share and turn into questions for dairy marketers to ponder. Here you go.   

1. Barbie drinks cow’s milk. That’s right. In the blockbuster movie now available on Amazon Prime Video, Barbie opens the fridge, which is stocked with all types of “milks,” and chooses cow’s milk. The carton does not just state “milk.” Very boldly, it reads cow’s milk. Her choice has gone viral on social media. Is there a way milk marketers can carefully build on this without upsetting Mattel? 

2. Horchata can be made with cow’s milk or not. It seems to me this Hispanic beverage would be a great way for dairy processors to play in the plant-based space. How’s this for a spin? Offer traditional plant-based horchata and then an option for those who want dairy nutrition. So the lineup is “Traditional Horchata” and “Protein Horchata with cow’s milk.” I bet Barbie would choose the latter. 

In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, Handel’s Homemade Ice Cream and The Dairy Alliance, a nonprofit funded by dairy farm families of the Southeast, partnered to launch Horchata Ice Cream. Starting on September 24, 2023, (National Horchata Day), this new flavor will be available at all Handel’s locations to commemorate the vibrant Hispanic culture. The limited-edition flavor is made with sweet cream, cinnamon and milk. How about doing more with horchata?

3. Pistachios are a complete protein. According to the American Pistachio Growers, a 2019 analysis (conducted at my alma mater, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign) of the protein content in pistachios showed that not only are the nuts a good source of protein at 6 grams per serving, but that roasted American pistachios are a complete protein. A complete protein contains all of the nine essential amino acids that the body cannot make on its own and humans need to get from food. Most complete proteins are animal based. Very few come from plants. The Illini researchers found that pistachios scored higher on complete protein content than other plant-based options, such as quinoa and soybeans. To read more, link HERE. Pistachio products were abundant at Expo East. The nut is being featured in snack items, beverages and even as a spread. Is there an opportunity to use pistachios as inclusions in dairy foods to further boost protein content? 

4. Dairy foods assist with dental health. I remember some buzz on this topic probably about 30 years ago. It was specific to cheese and a recurring conversation when I worked at Kraft. I was reminded of it this week in a press release from a Canadian dentist. Here’s the scoop: Dairy products such as milk, cheese and yogurt are rich in calcium and phosphates, which are essential for strengthening tooth enamel. They also help balance the pH level in the mouth, reducing the risk of tooth decay. How can dairy processors leverage when reducing or eliminating added sugars in these products? 

5. Store-owned brands are getting more creative and innovative. The Good & Gather brand generated more than $3 billion in sales in 2022. It’s Target’s flagship brand with more than 2,500 products across the food department. They are made without artificial flavors and sweeteners, synthetic colors or high-fructose corn syrup. Good & Gather has a presence in all refrigerated dairy and it’s branded dairy’s biggest competition at Target. 

“It’s a brand that our guests can trust,” said Erica Thein, vice president, food and beverage owned brands at Target during a session on budget-conscious consumers at Groceryshop. “They taste great and have an accessible price point.” 

Does your brand offer these benefits? 

Friday, September 15, 2023

Asian Flavors are Gaining Momentum


Photo source: Mavens Creamery 

Just a decade ago, U.S. dairy foods innovators would have never thought about using Asian flavors in everything from milk beverages to ice cream to yogurt. Well, from all the reports and conversations I’ve been having, the time is now for Asian flavors to be in the mainstream dairy department, from coast to coast.

Remember, what’s starts in foodservice eventually makes it to retail. And in case you have not noticed, Asian flavors have been on the rise across all food and beverage categories, in all types of foodservice, from fine dining to independent cafes. Many start out on TikTok and get transformed into trendy menu items. How about commercializing some of these concepts and bringing them to retail? 

Pastry Sous Chef Jane Bayle of Utah-based hospitality group Leave Room For Dessert Eateries, says this.  “Asia has such a wide variety of fruit-flavored ice cream. I’d love to see that in the U.S! Ice cream can be a learning moment for kids, helping to teach about fruit varieties and expanding palates. By incorporating a fruit puree in ice cream, you’re also able to sneak in tons of vitamins and nutrients, while minimizing the amount of sugar used in the overall recipe.”

She believes we will be seeing a lot more ube and red bean everywhere. 

“Every time I introduce ube to someone, they end up loving it. Not only is the purple color very appealing, but the earthy, sweet aroma of ube is an excellent flavor to incorporate in pastries and ice creams. I also love red bean, though the name can make it a bit intimidating. Red bean is great because it’s packed with protein and is a little less sweet, so it works well in both sweet and savory recipes.”

Think red bean yogurt dip. And how about this awesome ube latte I had a few weeks ago at Wake ‘n Bacon in Chicago?

Ube is a purple yam originally from the Philippines. It has a vibrant purple color that is Instagram friendly, along with a sweet, slightly nutty, vanilla taste that goes perfectly with milk and coconut. In Filipino cuisine, it is often boiled and then mashed (skin and all) with sweetened condensed milk. In the U.S., it is showing up in ice cream and milky beverages.
Let’s not forget Vietnamese coffee. It’s made with a coffee press, Vietnamese coffee beans (usually robusta), condensed milk and boiling water. The pressed bean process produces a beverage with a very high caffeine content. Think energy drink, especially if coupled with the protein and sugar of the condensed milk.  

Ice cream, as well as coffee- and tea-milk drinks are probably one of the best places for U.S. processors to start experimenting with Asian flavors and ingredients. Other flavors to consider include black sesame, chai, matcha green tea and taro.

Bubble tea does not need to be limited to a beverage. Those chewy tapioca pearls can be used in yogurt, dairy desserts and ice cream. 

Then there’s durian, one of the most banned fruits from hotels—yes, you will be fined if you bring the fruit into a room in Asia—yet still widely popular throughout Asia. The oblong, spiky fruit has a pungent smell that is somewhere between gasoline and rotten eggs. The fruit, however, has a custard-like texture that pairs well with dairy…if you can handle the aroma. 

Less than a year ago, select Costco stores in the San Francisco Bay Area began selling pints of Maven’s Durian Ice Cream. 

“I must say that ice cream, because it’s already blended with cream, sugar, milk, the taste is toned down. In terms of how strong it smells, how pungent, it’s maybe a five or six out of 10. But the fresh fruit when opened—that’s 20,” said Christine Nguyen, co-owner of Maven Creamery, with her sister Gwen. She was quoted a year ago in the SFGate. You can read the article HERE.

“We’re very proud of this durian ice cream because if you look at the rest of the ingredients, it’s very, very simple: milk, sugar, cream and durian,” she told the SFGate.

“There are just certain ingredients that are introduced being Vietnamese,” Gwen told the SFGate. “Fish sauce, that’s in our DNA. So durian fruit, I just have always known for it to be a part of a dessert or a fruit after we would have a meal. It is a delicacy fruit, though, and it’s very rich, so you probably wouldn’t want to have it every day.”

CNBC reported on September 13, 2023, that “Global demand for durians has soared 400% year-on-year, largely bolstered by a ‘craze’ for the fruit in China. Over the past two years, China imported $6 billion worth of durians, which accounts for 91% of the global demand.”

Another unique Asian flavor profile comes from Bird’s nest, which is the nest of swiftlets, a type of bird that uses solidified saliva to make its nest. Those nests are harvested and consumed by humans as a delicacy with health benefits, something along the lines of a fountain of youth. 

Vinamilk in South Korea markets milk with Bird’s nest. Labels claim it contains vitamin K2, which helps to increase the potential of calcium binding to the bones, supporting the skeletal system. It also supports the immune system with vitamins A, D3  and selenium.

It’s time to start innovating with these Asian flavors. Let’s be a leader not a copycat. 

Friday, September 8, 2023

Pizza Needs Real Cheese: Five Observations from Plant Based World North America


There’s only one thing better than a New York triangular pizza slice loaded with cupped pepperoni and lots of sprinkled on parm to absorb all the oil. That’s a Chicago crispy thin crust pizza cut into squares. 

That New York slice was thoroughly enjoyed Thursday afternoon, the first day of Plant Based World North America being held in Manhattan at the Javits Center. Here are five observations from the expo and educational sessions. 

1. As hungry as I was at 1:00pm, I was not going back for a second round of sampling on the show floor. The vegan cheesy pizza I tried reminded me of frozen Mama Celeste, which was popular in the 70s - 90s and featured carboard-like crust with bland tomato sauce and imitation mozzarella. A quick search for an original ingredient statement showed the three key ingredients in the imitation mozzarella were water, palm oil and potato starch, not much different than the base of many of the plant-based options on the expo floor. 

But I have to say, a number of the branded plant-based dairy and meat alternatives I sampled showed a major improvement in taste, texture and smell from last year. Accolades to Nourish LLC for its vegan Artisan Brie line and French Onion Spread. Very tasty products and I would buy them. 

2. Taste was the consensus as the deciding factor to repurchase a plant-based product, according to research presented by Steve Markenson, vice president-research and insights, FMI. And guess what, lots of consumers like, even often prefer, the taste of dairy milk alternatives. 

Older consumers are more aware of other attributes and will often weigh them into the decision to try a plant-based product and then repurchase it. Price, nutrition and complicated ingredient statements all come into play. 

3. But with Gen Z, taste and reviews on social media reign, as well as a brand’s stance on various issues. Gen Z was represented by Heidi Diaz, a marketing major at Western Connecticut State University. She was part of a panel discussion titled “The Next Generation: Decoding Gen Z’s Palate and Crafting Authentic Connection.” 

“Gen Z will not compromise on taste,” she said. And more often than not, Gen Z researches a new product on social media to see if it aligns with their values regarding sustainability, health and ethical sourcing. Diaz emphasized that it is paramount that brands be active on social media. “We are always connected,” she said. 

When it comes to taste, Gen Z also likes different flavors and foods from different cultures, according to Jennifer DiFrancesco, director of culinary innovation at Sodexo. She works closely with college foodservice programs. 

4. This is big. Sodexo has very aggressive plans with getting plant-based foods into the mouths of university students through both unlimited food hall dining and pay-for-what you take programs. With some entrees, plant-based protein is the default. If a student wants meat, they have to request it. 

In other instances, “We look at having equitable options,” said DiFrancesco. In other words, if a spicy crispy chicken sandwich is on the menu, a plant-based option is also there. 

While she did not mention pizza, I cannot help but guess that if you put a slice of the real deal next to one with plant-based cheese, visually, the real deal will win. And there’s no comparison in taste, yet!

Sodexo also hosts pop-ups on campuses featuring plant-based foods. A recent one was for vegan (milk)shakes. 
In April, Sodexo put numbers to its commitment to lead the movement toward plant-based dining. Currently, 36% of Sodexo campus’ menus are plant-based, and the company is committed to increasing that number to 50% by 2025. Note: Sodexo’s definition of plant-based is recipes that only use ingredients that come from plants, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes and nuts. It can include honey and sugar. 

5. Here’s where it gets a little ugly. Nutrition, namely protein content, is not being addressed or communicated. In fact, I posed the question about complete protein to the panel. A member of the audience verbally charged at me and said the need for complete protein is a myth debunked 20 years ago (sure, by pseudo medicine!). 

Panelist DeAndra Forde, a nutritionist and graduate student at Drexel University, responded, “vegan and vegetarianism does not equate to good health.”  

Thanks DeAndra! In an online interview that you can read HERE, she said, “Most natural sources of B12 (cobalamin) are found in animal sources--meats and dairy--so supplementation is very important. Inadequate amounts of B12 can lead to neuropathy.”

“You can eat a bag of chips and be vegan, you can eat clean and also be vegan. But it’s about taking the next step to know what plant-based foods can come together and make a complete protein.”

Panelist Rachel Sherman, project manager at the Drexel Food Lab at Drexel University, said that her department actively reaches out to students to access their food preferences. “They want less processed and more vegetable-forward meals,” she said.   

We all need to eat more fruits and vegetables. How about with some cheese? a glass of milk? a cup of yogurt? on a thin crust cut into squares! Just something to think about. 

Friday, September 1, 2023

An Opportunity to Formulate with Ube: It Complements Many of the Macro Food Trends Fueling Product Innovation

Let’s start with ube, a purple yam originally from the Philippines. It has a vibrant purple color that is Instagram friendly, along with a sweet, slightly nutty, vanilla taste that goes perfectly with milk and coconut. In Filipino cuisine, it is often boiled and then mashed (skin and all) with sweetened condensed milk. In the U.S., it is showing up in ice cream and milky beverages, such as this iced coffee from Wake ‘n Bacon in Chicago. It’s called the Purple Haze and is a combination of the breakfast joint’s ube coconut milk concoction mixed with coffee and whole milk. And, it’s delish! Wake ‘n Bacon also makes pancakes and cheesecake featuring ube. 

Ube fits into many of the macro trends discussed below. Its naturally sweet taste enables the elimination or reduction of added sweetener to many applications, in particular dairy foods. Its nutritional profile resembles the sweet potato, as it is high in healthy carbs, vitamins and fiber. The purple color screams anthocyanins, powerful plant-based antioxidants associated with helping reduce blood pressure and inflammation and protect against cancer and type 2 diabetes.

Ube may just be the next superfood and the dairy industry needs to jump on this opportunity. It complements many of the macro food trends fueling product innovation, as identified by Barb Stuckey, chief innovation and marketing officer at Mattson, during a webinar on August 31, 2023, hosted by the International Dairy Deli Bakery Association (IDDBA). Here they are:

1. Sugar is Going Down. 

“Everyone is watching their sugar intake,” said Stuckey. “Sugar reduction is a trend that is here to stay. It’s a big business.” 

Americans consume, on average, almost 152 pounds of sugar each year, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 

“That’s more than many people weigh,” said Stuckey. 

The added-sugar intake story is even more grim for children. And this presents an amazing opportunity for dairy processors to get added sugar out of kids’ favorite dairy foods, such as flavored milk and yogurt. 

“U.S. children consume 66 grams of added sugar per day, on average,” said Stuckey. “That is about 53 pounds, or the equivalent of a bathtub of sugar per year.” 

Mintel estimates the low-sugar market could be adding an additional $36 billion in the next two to three years across food and beverage.

Ube adds natural sweetness to dairy foods. Use lactase to break down lactose into its sweeter components, and then, with the help of ube, a no-added-sugar claim may be possible on everything from ready-to-drink lattes to yogurt. And kids love that purple color. 

2. Plant Based: It’s a Marathon, Not a Sprint.

Despite the consumer backlash to fake meat, plant-based foods are not going away. Mattson insights have identified plant-based cheeses and spreads as a growing opportunity as technology improves. Convenient, prepared foods are also attractive to shoppers. 

“It’s not just brands that are mission based playing in this space, it’s big companies, too,” said Stuckey. 

Ube is a plant. Enough said. 

3. Vegetable-Forward Eating.

This macro trend is all about eating plants as plants. What makes plants taste better? Dairy!

“Celebrating the plant itself,” said Stuckey. “The color, the beauty, the texture of vegetables and legumes.” 

Ube wins in the color department. 

4. Global Flavors of the Moment.

Ube puts a stamp in your culinary passport for the Philippines . 

5. Consumers Don’t Want to Cook. They Want to Assemble. 

Ube-based butter spreads, sour cream or cream cheese are a great way to garnish. 

6. Functional Food Drivers.

Gen Z became aware of the connection between health and food at a much younger age than previous generations thanks to COVID. 

“They are the only modern generation impacted so intensely by a health scare as youths,” said Stuckey. “They see food as health, with mental health just as important as physical health. They look for functionality from everything they eat and drink. Gen Z consumers spend a greater percentage (20%) of their money on food than previous generations at the same age.” 

Ube has a healthful halo.

7. Sustainability and Mission Driven. 

Gen Z grew up as climate change has grown. Their world has never been without extreme weather, said Stuckey. 

Ube farming is one of the most profitable agricultural activities that is enjoyed by many, especially in Central to Northern Luzon and Bohol. It’s easy to plant and grow. 

Ube production could be the Philippines’ next big agribusiness, according to the Nov. 9, 2022, issue of Agriculture. There are government-led programs to help local farmers improve the quality of their crops, including biofortification methods to further increase nutritional quality. 

8. Artificial Intelligence.

“AI will learn consumers’ food preferences and guide them to undiscovered experiences,” said Stuckey. 

Stuckey emphasized how most of us are using AI without even knowing it.

Just ask Google, Bing or ChatGPT about ube. (How do you think I found out the info stated above?)

9. Help Consumers Fight Food Waste.

According to Mattson proprietary research, 99% of consumers (70% extremely and 29% somewhat) see food waste as an issue. The challenge is that most consumers think they are doing their part to fight waste, when in fact they are the biggest contributor. 

The entire ube may be consumed. There’s no waste.  

10. Embrace the Future Supply Chain. 

While precision fermentation, cultivated animal proteins, vertical farming and robotic supermarkets may not be mainstream for another decade or two, they are part of our future. 

Ube will be part of our future, too. Dairy processors have an opportunity to take it mainstream. TikTok has already educated viewers about using Trader Joe’s Ube Spread in plain yogurt.

Real California Milk Excelerator Finalists Target these Macro Trends

The California Milk Advisory Board (CMAB), in partnership with innovation advisory VentureFuel, recently selected the eight finalists to participate in the 5th Real California Milk Excelerator competition. This will be my fifth year judging and I cannot wait to hear their pitches! 

“We continue to see themes of global flavors and ingredients, a focus on sustainable sourcing and packaging, and products that go deep on the functional benefits inherent in dairy to address specific consumer needs from protein to gut health,” says John Talbot, CEO of the CMAB.

These themes complements Mattson’s macro trends. 

The Excelerator helps identify, curate and accelerate the very best dairy-based products that introduce novel benefits and drive use of California milk and dairy in formulations. This year’s Open Innovation theme attracted dozens of applications from five countries, all with a goal of securing a spot as one of this year’s participants in the three-month program that provides access to non-dilutive funding, mentors, investors and buyers, and the California Milk Advisory Board’s specialized network of resources. The cohort represents themes of global flavors, functional benefits and sustainability from upcycling byproducts of dairy production to packaging from renewable sources. All concepts are made with at least 50% real dairy.

The eight members of the 2023 Real California Milk Excelerator cohort and their products are: 

  • Arbo’s Queso Dip (Memphis, Tenn.) – Gluten-free, keto-friendly queso-style cheese dips for retail.
  • The Empanada Shop (Redondo Beach, Calif.) – Empanadas combining golden, flaky crust, creamy, melted cheese and a fusion of Latin American tradition and California flavors for retail and foodservice.
  • New Alchemy Distilling (El Doradao Hills, Calif.) – A distillery making Spilt clarified milk punch cocktails in a can made with natural ingredients, zero stabilizers and upcycled whey from cheesemaking. 
  • Amazing Ice Cream (Stockton, Calif.) – Cookie Wild cookie wafer ice cream bar novelties enrobed in chocolate to stay crunchy.
  • Noorysha Yo-Gut (Los Angeles, Calif.) – Specialty probiotic dairy product designed to support gut health.
  • Petit Pot (Emeryville, Calif.) – French-style dairy desserts in paper-based cups made with more than 80% stainable/renewable fiber.    
  • Shakewell (Garden Grove, Calif.) – Fresh high-protein drink made with five ingredients, including upcycled whey.  
  • WonderCow Nutrition (Valencia, Calif.) – All-natural bovine colostrum powder supplement that promotes immunity, muscle recovery and gut health. 

“The Open Innovation theme is exciting because of the variety of applications we received, and the myriad of ways startups and established brands are innovating with real milk and dairy ingredients,” says Talbot. “Each member of the cohort brings something new and exciting to the marketplace and we’re looking forward to supporting their journey and ultimately seeing these products in the market with the Real California Milk seal.” 

With real dairy’s versatility of benefits and functionality, from nutrition and flavor to texture and chemical composition, this open approach encourages innovation across product categories, all leveraging the versatility of the California dairy ecosystem.

“The Real California Milk Excelerator is a testament to the dairy community’s commitment to forging novel connections with consumers and unexplored markets,” says Fred Schonenberg, founder and CEO of VentureFuel. “We’ve seen incredible displays of innovation and ingenuity from participants over the past four years, and our 2023 cohort continues to underscore the boundless possibilities within the dairy sector.”

Over the past four years, the Real California Milk Excelerator has worked with more than 45 startups across numerous categories including food, beverage, direct-to-consumer platforms, textiles and personal care. Representing nearly 40% of states across the U.S., program alumni have gone from idea to distribution with organizations such as UNFI and KeHE; and many can now be found on the shelves of retailers like Walmart, Safeway, Kroger, Amazon and Whole Foods.

Details about the 2023 cohort, mentors and the final pitch event are available HERE