Thursday, October 26, 2023

Food and Beverage Marketers Should Care about Student Loans. Today’s blog tells you why.


Did you miss the IDF World Dairy Summit 2023, which took place Oct. 16-19 in Chicago? Read highlights HERE in an article I wrote for Dairy Processing

2023 Real California Milk Excelerator: Open Innovation Final Pitch Event...I’m honored to be serving as a judge at the upcoming California Milk Advisory Board’s 5th Annual Real California Milk Excelerator Final Pitch Event on November 16th. Looking forward to learning about the companies and their dairy-based innovations. Interested in watching the pitches to see the four companies (out of the eight) that go home with the $30K prizes? Register HERE.

The Federal Reserve reported that roughly 43.5 million Americans had student loan debt at the end of 2022. This totals more than $1.7 trillion, with each borrower owing an average of $37,787.

Research from 84.51 degrees, the retail data, insights and media company that helps Kroger and its partners create customer-centric shopper journeys, conducted a survey in September showing that 49% of those with student loan debt were extremely concerned with their ability to maintain their monthly budget when the student loan forbearance period ended. Payments started up in October after the pandemic hiatus. About 70% of these respondents claimed they/people in their household had not been making payments during the forbearance period.

When 84.51 degrees asked respondents what categories, if any, do they plan to cut back spending due to upcoming student loan payments, they said:

More likely place to cut back:

  • 58%: Dining out/Take-out
  • 49%: Outside of home entertainment
  • 44%: Food delivery services
  • 42%: Travel
  • 37%: Beauty services
  • 37%: Clothing
  • 29%: Home improvements
  • 29%: Savings

Less likely place to cut back:

  • 27%: Groceries
  • 22%: At home entertainment
  • 18%: Cleaning, beauty, personal care essentials
  • 13%: Investments
  • 11%: Transportation
  • 5%: Housing
  • 13%: None of the above

This matters to food and beverage retail brands. These shoppers are looking for value. Dairy products--and foods made with dairy products--have an opportunity to deliver nutrition and deliciousness while managing a budget. 

The more than half (58%) of shoppers with student debt who plan to dine out or do take out less is a major concern for foodservice. In fact, this week Domino’s Pizza announced that it is giving away $1 million worth of free pizzas to anyone with student loan payments as part of its Emergency Pizza promotion. 

“Student loan payments have resumed for millions of Americans, and we wanted to help in our own little way by using the power of pizza to do something nice for our customers,” said Kate Trumbull, Domino’s senior vice president and chief brand officer. “When life gives you loans, Domino’s gives you free pizza.”

The promotion started on October 25, with Domino’s giving away a limited number of free Emergency Pizza for Student Loans codes each day, until all $1 million worth of free pizza codes are claimed. If codes are available on that day, Domino’s will send customers an email with the free pizza code, which they can redeem on their next online carryout or delivery order placed within the next 30 days. 

Domino’s does not want these customers to forget the convenience of its ready-to-eat pizzas. But many have already. Since the onset of the pandemic, many have learned the power—and increasing variety and quality—of frozen foods.

The Power of Frozen in Retail, a new report from the American Frozen Food Institute (AFFI) and FMI-The Food Industry Association, shows that frozen foods continue to maintain their relevance to grocery shoppers and offer a suite of valuable benefits that meet their mealtime needs. Frozen food sales reached $74.2 billion over the last year and the core consumer audience remains steady, indicating a bright future ahead for performance. In a survey of more than 1,700 consumers, respondents indicated they find value in frozen foods as total meal solutions that save them time, are easy to prepare and meet their taste expectations. 

Frozen food’s core consumers, defined as those who consume these foods daily or every few days, held at 38% of all shoppers. In addition to appreciating the convenience and time-savings made possible by frozen foods, the core consumer also reports enjoying the quality and nutrition found in the frozen food aisle. 

“This report is filled with ideas on how to meet the shoppers’ evolving perception of value,” said Rick Stein, vice president of industry relations at FMI. “Shoppers are looking beyond price and quality and considering the experience, convenience and relevance that products and their grocery store offer them. For shoppers, frozen foods help meet this new definition of value.” 

The new research also identified that consumers turn to the frozen food aisle as they look for better-for-you products. The majority (66%) of core consumers are more likely to believe that the frozen food department offers a wide variety of better-for-you options. Additionally, nearly three-quarters of shoppers occasionally or frequently look for better-for-you attributes when purchasing frozen foods. 

“Both core consumers and the general shopper are looking for frozen foods that meet their specific lifestyle,” said Alison Bodor, president and CEO of AFFI. “Frozen foods offer the complete package of solutions for today’s shoppers.” 

Consumers also plan to continue their purchases of frozen foods into the future, with 94% predicting to buy the same or more frozen products in the coming months. Alongside a consistent core consumer base, the data illustrates a core consumer audience that appreciates the value they find in frozen foods. 

“Frozen foods remain relevant to shoppers through product innovation, variety and important attributes like sustainability and health and well-being,” said Stein. 

Pizza Fuels Cheese Usage
A new dairy checkoff growth program with pizza partners is expected to drive an additional 12-plus million pounds of cheese use, according to Dairy Management Inc. (DMI). The bulk of the cheese will be used internationally through an effort with a major quick-serve restaurant pizza chain and a U.S. cheese company. The pizza chain has opened its sourcing to U.S.-produced cheese suppliers as it seeks to return its business success to pre-COVID levels. The company also is leaning on the checkoff for strategic support to increase pizza consumption frequency in this market via advertising and marketing communications. 

“The checkoff’s relationships have always been an underpinning of our plan and our partners understand the challenges our farmers face with rising input costs that affect their bottom line,” said Barbara O’Brien, president and CEO of DMI, which manages the national dairy checkoff program. “They are stepping up with innovative ways we can collaborate to drive more sales of U.S.-produced cheese on their products.” 

Pizza remains a largely untapped opportunity in many global markets where it is often consumed about once a year. With consumer tastes rapidly shifting, it is a timely opportunity to support pizza growth internationally.

2023 Real California Milk Excelerator: Open Innovation Final Pitch Event
I’m honored to be serving as a judge at the upcoming California Milk Advisory Board’s 5th Annual Real California Milk Excelerator Final Pitch Event on November 16th. Looking forward to learning about the companies and their dairy-based innovations. Interested in watching the pitches to see the four companies (out of the eight) that go home with the $30K prizes? Register HERE.

Back in the MIdwest, the Winner Is…
Midwest Dairy hosted its annual pitch contest on Oct. 5, 2023, in Chicago. This is the second year Midwest Dairy has partnered with The Hatchery Chicago to sponsor this contest. The Hatchery Chicago is a non-profit food and beverage incubator. They work to support local food and beverage entrepreneurs so they can build and grow successful food businesses, cultivate local job opportunities for people from all backgrounds, and accelerate inclusive economic growth on Chicago’s West side. Midwest Dairy’s partnership with The Hatchery has helped entrepreneurs access space and resources to help launch their businesses. The three judges awarded Bakr Cookies the first-place win. (I had to forfeit being a judge this year because of my travel conflict with Anuga.)

Bakr Cookies uses lots of real butter in its cookies. The recipe also includes fair trade chocolate, clean ingredients, resealable bags, flakey sea salt and elevated flavors. As the first-place winner, Bakr Cookies is receiving a standard private kitchen with window and co-branded signage for 12 months at The Hatchery Chicago. 

The second-place winner was Howdy Breakfast Buns, which specialize in Texas-Czech-style kolaches with a unique milk bread-style dough. The same prize was awarded, but for six months. 

Midwest Dairy’s support has helped The Hatchery propel its mission forward. These funds have helped remove critical barriers for entrepreneurs who otherwise may not have had the opportunity to access production space and resources. These opportunities allow entrepreneurs to launch innovative brands that create a more diverse and inclusive industry landscape with career pathways.

Friday, October 20, 2023

Ten Memorable Quotes from the IDF World Dairy Summit 2023


Photo: U.S. dairy processors stocked the Dairy Bar at the IDF World Dairy Summit 2023 in Chicago. One of the innovations available for snacking came from Ellsworth Cooperative Creamery. New Cheddar Curd Crunchers are a shelf-stable version of the company’s popular refrigerated cheese curds. These are curds that have been freeze dried. They still look like cheese curds but now have a crunch. The product is marketed as being “perfect for hiking, fishing, camping, sporting events and road trips.” It’s 100% natural cheese and high in protein with no added sugar. A keto-friendly call out is on the front of the reclosable 2.11-ounce pouch. 

It was great to see so many Daily Dose of Dairy subscribers at the IDF World Dairy Summit 2023 that took place this week in my amazing home town of Chicago. Welcome to the many new subscribers I met at the Summit. 

The Summit’s theme--BE Dairy: Boundless Potential. Endless Possibilities—reflected the content that focused on developments in dairy science, technology, knowledge and innovation from all over the world. 

While I attended as many of the eight plenary sessions and 21 concurrent break-out sessions, it was impossible to be in more than one session at a time. From those I attended, here are 10 of the most memorable—and inspiring—quotes. 

“In the spirit of unity and collaboration, the IDF World Dairy Summit 2023 is an invitation to seize boundless potential and realize endless possibilities. This international congregation of dairy enthusiasts, researchers, policymakers and industry leaders holds the key to transforming dairy’s promise into a vibrant reality. As the summit unfolds, let us immerse ourselves in the knowledge, connections and inspiration it offers, ultimately forging a united front in advancing dairy excellence across the globe.” Piercristiano Brazzale, President, International Dairy Federation 

“I think climate-smart agriculture creates an enormous opportunity. U.S. farmers want a system that is both voluntary and incentive based. We want a system that understands the market and encourages the market to recognize the contribution we’re making…This is an exciting future for dairy and for U.S. agriculture and I think providing leadership globally.” Tom Vilsack, Secretary of Agriculture, U.S. Department of Agriculture

“The future of the dairy industry and our ability to remain globally competitive depends on developing the workforce of the future, cultivating the next generation of leaders and empowering and supporting diversity in leadership roles.” Michael Dykes, President and Chief Executive Officer, International Dairy Foods Association

“[We have] a lot of confidence in dairy.” (Said when referencing the more than $1 billion the company is investing into a new, state-of-the-art dairy manufacturing facility in Lubbock, Texas.) Mike Durkin, President and Chief Executive Officer, Leprino Foods

“Since 1966, milk has been in Nestle’s portfolio…We are ready for the challenge to keep the category exciting for the next generation.” Heike Steiling, Head of Nestle Product Technology Centers-Dairy, Nestle

“For a growing number of consumers today, trust is about purposeful, mindful production and safe and affordable nutrition.” Zoe Kavanagh, Chief Executive Officer, The National Dairy Council, Ireland

“In 1984, Starbucks served its first latte with whole milk…In the U.S. last year, 79% of all ‘milk’ used in Starbucks was from cows…We’re not getting away from dairy…We are committed to dairy.” Angela Anderson, Director-Sustainable Dairy, Starbucks Corp.

“Do not think of yourself as a commodity, but rather a product that is essential to everyone’s life all around the world.” Jeff McCrory, Chief Strategic Officer, Mischief, Canada 

“We nourish billions of people every day…We need to do what we do based on science. When there are gaps in the science, we need to fill them in.” Nicholas Gardner, Senior Vice President-Sustainability and Multilateral Affairs, U.S. Dairy Export Council 

“Milk is perfection…We need to be proud to be there. And we are there…There are endless possibilities. Let’s showcase what we can do.” Caroline Emond, Director General, International Dairy Federation

The IDF World Dairy Summit 2024 takes place October 15-18 in Paris. Hope to see you there!

Friday, October 13, 2023

Anuga 2023: Seven Observations and a Bunch of Cool Dairy-Related Products


Anuga, the world’s largest food and beverage exposition, took place this past week in Cologne, Germany. Boasting around 140,000 trade visitors from 200 countries and about 7,900 exhibitors from 118 countries, Anuga 2023 exceeded all expectations. The expo was sold out and the halls were packed. 

The share of foreign exhibitors was 94% and at 80%, there was a record share of foreign visitors. This made Anuga 2023 more international than ever. All of the relevant players from the most important food retailers were represented: Amazon, Aeon Co, Aldi, Auchan, Carrefour, Coop, Costco, Colruyt Group, Lidl, Metro, Mercadona, Migros, Rewe, Spar and Walmart. The highest numbers of visitors from European countries were registered from Great Britain, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and Turkey. Beyond Europe, the most well-represented nations included Brazil, China, Japan, Korea and the USA. I was there.


Here are seven key observations.

1. While plant-based products played a dominant role at Anuga 2023, there was a greater emphasis on the “whole plant” aspect to many of these products. It’s more about the inclusion of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds. Veg of Lund, Sweden, manufacturers of potato-based beverages, debuted ready-to-drink Dug Smoothies made with fruit juice and potatoes.

Minimal processing and clean label were key differentiators between expo booths that were busy with visitors and those that were not. Upcycling also was often part of the plant-based conversation. Austria’s Kern Tec was an Anuga Trend finalist for its yogurt alternative made from upcycled apricot nuts. Flavors are Blueberry, Peach-Maracuja, Natural and Vanilla.

2. Within the dairy segment, protein callouts on all types of products were prevalent, in particular cheese. Products packaged as snacks—or not—included protein in the brand name. This was true of everyday cheeses, as well as cheeses produced to contain extra protein. Cheese snacks were being embraced as powerful protein products. 

Australia’s oldest dairy—Brownes Dairy—debuted Cheesies. Made with Australian milk, Cheesies come in Original, Strawberry and Vanilla flavors. They are sold in packs of five, with each 20 gram Cheesie containing 60 calories and 1.8 grams of protein. Cheesies are about 60% real cheese and also contain butter, skim milk powder, milk protein concentrate and other ingredients to form the cheesie “lolly on a stick.” They contain no artificial colors, flavors or preservatives and are a good source of calcium. 

Latterie Inalpi introduced Protein+. These first-of-its-kind cheese slices are enriched with zinc, selenium and postbiotics. They are made with 100% Italian milk. The company describes the product as “Protein+ slices are not just a food. They are a real ally for your daily well-being and your vitality. These are high-protein processed cheese slices enriched with postbiotics, with an amazing content of 25 grams of protein per 100 grams of product. These slices are an invaluable source of nourishment, ideal for fitness lovers and for anyone who wants to nourish their body without sacrificing taste. The slices have an elastic and peelable consistency, a delicate smell of melted cheese and an equally delicate and enveloping flavor.”

3. Refrigerated single-serve desserts—mostly dairy based, but also some plant-based—were crafted to be indulgent and better-for-you all at the same time. Protein-enhanced, single-serve refrigerated desserts provide consumers permission to indulge through portion control packaging. 

4. Without a doubt the most dairy excitement was in the cheese sector, with new flavors and formats all the talk. The protein push with cheese was not just in snacking. It was also in making cheese the center-of-plate protein. Grillable cheeses were prevalent. 

G√ľntensperger K√§se AG of Germany debuted Cheese Bangers. The product received accolades from Anuga Taste contest. According to the company, “Sausage doesn‘t always have to be meat. No, it can also be cheese and is therefore the perfect meat alternative for the frying pan, the oven or, of course, the grill. The Cheese Bangers are made from real Swiss-quality cheese, which creates an unmistakable umami taste in the mouth in the fried Cheese Bangers.” There are three varieties. They are Original, Spicy and Hot Spicy. 

5. In the beverage space, ready-to-drink tea milks and coffee milks were booming. And, ready-to-drink boba beverages, with or without dairy, were introduced by a number of European and Asia beverage processors. 

Emmi introduced Caffe Latte--Hey, What’s Poppin? Packages read, “Our new flavor is theater at its best. Popcorn takes the lead role with coffee flavor as the supporting role. And no worries, you’ll still get your coffee boost. So be the star of your own day, or night. Everything you love. Nothing you don’t need. 100% natural ingredients.” The lactose-free beverage contains 58 calories, 1.5 grams of fat, 7.4 grams of carbohydrates and 3.2 grams of protein. 

6. The most creative frozen desserts pushed boundaries. Lithuania’s Dadu Ice Cream is putting gummy bears into ice cream while Galana Frozen Food, Belgium, is making cheesecake scoopable. Pleese Freezecakes are made with more than 35% cream cheese and come in three varieties. Butterscotch Caramel is frozen butterscotch-flavored cheesecake swirled with caramel-flavored sauce and chocolate pieces coated in chocolate. Double Chocolate is frozen chocolate-flavored cheesecake swirled with chocolate-flavored sauce and chocolate biscuit pieces coated in chocolate and topped with flakes of chocolate. Lemon Raspberry is frozen lemon-flavored cheesecake swirled with raspberry-flavored sauce and biscuit pieces coated in white chocolate and topped with freeze-dried raspberry pieces. Each package is said to be four servings, with one serving containing about 200 calories, 8 grams of fat, 23 grams of sugar and 5 grams of protein. Freezecakes is best served when it has been out of the freezer for about 10 minutes for silky smooth scoopability, much like ice cream. 

7. While cultivated, lab grown, cell-based products were present and a hot topic of conversation in the educational program, I am happy to report that science is alive in real dairy, too. One of the 10 winners of the Anuga Trends contest was The Garum Project srl, Italy. The company created Milk Garum: a sustainable, 100% natural umami-rich flavor enhancer for in-home use. It is made from cheese whey and has a creamy, honey-like texture and authentic umami akin to aged parmigiano cheese. The product has a two-year shelf life and can be used to enhance the flavor of foods while keeping sodium levels down. The flavor enhancer also allows for a reduction in dairy usage in recipes to better manage calorie and saturated fat content. 

Mark your calendar. The next Anuga will take place October 4-8, 2025.


Friday, October 6, 2023

“C-store snack shoppers are unique in the importance they place on convenience and fun,” 

according to Kathy Risch, senior vice president of thought leadership and shopper insights for Acosta Group. She spoke on the topic of “The State of Snacking in Convenience” at the NACS Show 2023 this past week in Atlanta. 

Knowing what c-store shoppers are buying, and when and where they are buying these products, are key factors for creating a strategy to target the market, said Risch.  

Data from Acosta Group’s Convenience Store Shopper Study (July 2023) and Snacking Study (April 2023) show:

  • The most common snack or meal trips to c-stores are in the afternoon, particularly between meals with 56% of these snacks between lunch and dinner.

  • It’s common to make a special trip for a snack, especially for Millennials, with more than half (53%) reporting that they visit a c-store when they are feeling “snacky.” 
  • Most c-store shoppers (78%) consume their snacks on the go.
  • Snacking preferences are split between healthy and junk food, and most prefer salty (59%) over sweet (41%) when forced to choose.
  • Nearly half of survey respondents buy hot foods at a c-store at least once a week, and half agree the quality is as good as a fast-food/quick-serve restaurant.
  • While most shoppers are satisfied with the c-store experience, healthy meals and snacks are an opportunity.

Dairy foods can be all of this. Think frozen novelties, cheese snack packs and single-serve beverages. 

Remember when fluid milk processors finally had that aha moment regarding how square cartons did not fit in a car’s cup holder? Snack cheese marketer Volpi figured this out, too. The company debuted Volpi Snack Cups at the NACS Show. They are designed for the health-conscious consumer and fit perfectly into a car’s cupholder. The 2-ounce cups come in two charcuterie blends: Cheddar Cheese with Uncured Pepperoni and Fontina Cheese with Genoa Salame. Each cup provides 13 grams of protein. The suggested retail price is $3.99. 

Two of the products featured this past week as a Daily Dose of Dairy were introduced at the NACS Show. In case you missed them, here you go. 
Sargento’s new Fun! Balanced Breaks are 2-ounce trio-compartment snack packs. They come in two varieties. Mini Chips Ahoy! includes the namesake cookies, mild cheddar cheese pieces and cocoa yogurt-covered raisins. Teddy Grahams includes cocoa-flavored bear crackers, Monterey Jack cheese pieces and mixed fruit-flavored gummies. The company also has two new flavors of individually wrapped low-moisture part-skim mozzarella string cheese: Fiesta Pepper (jalapeno and habanero peppers) and Smokehouse. They come in 24-pack merchandising units. 

Rich’s now offers Specialty Treat Shop Tres Leches Style Cake Cups where the first ingredient is skim milk. The desserts are made in Mexico and distributed frozen. Retailers simply thaw for refrigerated merchandising. Each 6.6-ounce cups features soaked sponge cake, whipped icing and cake crumbs. Varieties are Chocolate, Strawberry and Traditional. These, too, fit in car cupholders. 

Danone is adding a Reese’s variety to its line of International Delight Iced Coffee drinks that come in 15-ounce cans, joining Oreo, Caramel Macchiato, Mocha and Vanilla. “Made with real milk and cream” is stated front and center on the cans. One shelf-stable can contains 220 calories.

First introduced in early 2021, good2grow made a big push for its shelf-stable flavored organic milk at the NACS Show. The milk comes in a single-serve 8-ounce plastic bottle along with one of more than 100 character-shaped squeezable, spill-free, re-closable tops. Varieties are Chocolate, Strawberry and Vanilla. The suggested retail price is $3.99. While good2grow has long been at the forefront of the better-for-you kids beverage space, this product marks the brand’s first foray into the dairy space and the first ready-to-go milk designed specifically for kids ages two to five.

All types of freeze-dried snacks were on display at the expo. Freeze-dried technology is not new, but other than using it to make instant coffee and food for astronauts, it’s been mostly ignored. Until now. Companies such as Sow Good freeze dry all types of candies, as well as ice cream. Removing moisture makes freeze dried foods extremely light, shelf stable and have a long shelf life.

Freeze-dried ice cream is fun, but so is the frozen product, especially in the form of novelties. Gelatys developed gelato pops. The company calls them “an instant source of delight that creates a lasting impression, starting with your taste buds.” The gelato has a creamy consistency with delayed melting. The hand-crafted pops come in all types of unique shapes, some with fillings others with topical goodies. The company manually spreads, covers, fills and decorates each pop. It’s a “labor of love,” according to Adolfo Heller Cohen, owner and CEO. For the c-store shopper, it’s fun!

Need ice cream making education? 
The Frozen Dessert Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison is hosting its annual conference on October 23-24, 2023. The program focuses on the latest science-based details pertinent to the frozen dessert industry. This year’s meeting includes a special flavor innovation session--Flavor Inspiration from Around the World—presented by me. Hope to see you there. Link HERE for more information.