Friday, November 17, 2023

The Future of Food Innovation Does NOT Need to be Scary…and it Needs Dairy and Plant Based


(I knew that typo on the email would get you to link!) 

The Future of Food Innovation Does NOT Need to be Scary. And, It Needs Dairy and Plant Based

Last night the California Milk Advisory Board (CMAB) hosted its fifth year of the Real California Milk Excelerator, which is designed to advance innovation in dairy. I’ve been honored to be a Shark Tank-style judge for all five installments of the competition. Before recognizing the companies that will proceed in the program, let’s discuss the importance of food innovation.

TNW newsletter ran this ARTICLE a few weeks ago explaining that the future of food includes “invisible innovation.” The article quotes Beatriz Jacoste Lozano, director of the KM ZERO Food Innovation Hub in Valencia, Spain.

Invisible innovation is all about providing consumers with tried and true products, but taking them up a level or two, with many efforts taking place behind the scenes. This doesn’t mean there’s no room for new concepts, but it does mean that innovators do not need to over think their efforts.  

“If we want a product to work in the market, it needs to be aligned with cultural identity,” said Jacoste Lozano. “Food is something very close to our identity, our memories, our desires. So it has to also be delicious, right, and that is our first requirement for a novel food.” 

KM ZERO is looking to facilitate and accelerate that change through open innovation and investment. So is the CMAB. 

KM ZERO analyses the needs of the food industry. This includes sustainability challenges, such as packaging, water usage, carbon emissions, soil quality, reducing food waste and more. So does CMAB. 

CMAB—and other food innovation accelerators—are part of the future of food. And remember, it does not need to be scary. 

New products must be aligned with personal and cultural identities. The products must serve a purpose, have it be extra nutrition, flavor adventure or packaging. And that purpose must be communicated to the shopper in order to stand out in the very busy marketplace. 

Cincinnati-based data powerhouse 84.51 Degrees offered insights around consumers’ interest in new products in its October Consumer Digest. Highlights include: 
  • Shoppers are seeking innovation but are still price conscious. 
  • Shelf-stable grocery, fresh bakery and frozen food lead as categories where shoppers would most like to see new products available. 
  • Shoppers are seeking innovation to provide functional benefits, clean ingredients and higher protein options. 
  • The most frequent ways shoppers report discovering new items to try are in-store display (47%), product advertisements (45%) and product coupons (42%). 
  • Products that rank high in expandable consumption, such as candy, snacks and drinks, are ripe for consumer experimentation, with purchase decisions often made at the time of purchase, and even in addition to planned purchase. 
These attributes were found in the CMAB open innovation competition. The program sought early-stage applicants with high-growth potential that created a 50% cow’s milk-based product or working prototype.

Amazing Ice Cream, Arbo’s Cheese Dip, Petit Pot and WonderCow claimed victory last night at the 5th Annual Real California Milk Excelerator Final Pitch Event. The four cohort winners each received $30,000 in resources and funding to scale their products in California and will compete for an additional $100,000 in support based on continued performance over a period of one year.

  • Arbo’s Queso Dip (Memphis, Tenn.) – Gluten-free, keto-friendly queso-style cheese dips for retail.
  • Amazing Ice Cream (Stockton, Calif.) – Cookie Wild cookie wafer ice cream bar novelties enrobed in chocolate to stay crunchy.
  • Petit Pot (Emeryville, Calif.) – French-style dairy desserts in paper-based cups made with more than 80% stainable/renewable fiber.    
  • WonderCow Nutrition (Valencia, Calif.) – All-natural bovine colostrum powder supplement that promotes immunity, muscle recovery and gut health. 

Photo (left to right): Donald Anit, founder, Amazing Ice Cream; Andrew Arbos, founder and CEO, Arbo’s Cheese Dip; Maxime Pouvreau, founder, Petit Pot; and Rob and Erica Diepersloot, co-founders, WonderCow

During the live event, two of the 2022 cohort members--dosa by DOSA and Wheyward Spirit--unlocked $100,000 and $25,000, respectively, in additional funding after demonstrating their ability to grow their businesses in California over the past 12 months. 

John Talbot, CEO of the CMAB, said, “It was a close competition this year, with each cohort member bringing something interesting to the table. In the end, however, the four winners each had a solid product and a complete selling story that will connect with consumers. California dairy families understand the value of innovation and invest in research and opportunities like the Excelerator competition to ensure a continued role for real milk and dairy in consumer’s evolving lives.”

Thursday, November 9, 2023

Prioritize Protein in 2024 if you Plan to Play in Plant-based Dairy Space


A whopping 42% of consumers said that “protein” is the most important ingredient going into 2024, according to Innova Market Insight’s global research. So, if you play in the plant-based dairy space, or plan to enter it, protein content must be prioritized right along with taste and price…or else, your product will likely not survive. 

Of the approximately 30,000 new products launched annually, 95% fail, according to numerous studies. The results are costly to bottom lines and brand reputations. Some reports claim more than $500,000 in development costs and 50 days of lost staff hours from each failed product launch. Brands must also be mindful of negative impacts to company sustainability and environmental goals, as well as damage to brand reputation. Learning from mistakes and offering a “new and improved” formulation is not a healthy approach. You have to do it correct the first time, or at least as close to correct as possible with advanced ingredient technology.  

Mark Robert, technical director North America-dairy at Tate & Lyle, and also my former Illini food science classmate, says, “An issue that has emerged is that many plant-based alternative products don’t have a protein source. With dairy-based products, you have casein and whey, and both are high-quality protein sources. But, when the first wave of dairy alternatives came out, many lacked that protein component or didn’t have the right functionality in their proteins.”

Protein content not only contributes nutrition, it also assists with texture, mouthfeel, flavor and even shelf life. It helps keep ingredient labels simple and it also may help reduce food waste, as protein binds water, reducing syneresis and even lowering water activity. In its absence, products such as cream cheese and yogurt alternatives, for example, need to be formulated with stabilizers, emulsifiers and acidulants. 

“The same is true with frozen desserts. With dairy, the proteins contribute greatly to the smoothness and aerating qualities,” says Roberts. “If you want to try and match that texture in plant-based, it can be more challenging, especially if you’re trying to stay on the clean label side of the ingredient statement.”

Read more from him on this topic HERE

The number-two trend from Innova’s research must also be prioritized. It’s “nurturing nature” and is all about sustainability and reducing food waste. Being plant-based is not enough for shoppers to think they are doing the planet good. 

I had the opportunity to attend a media event this week at Fornino in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, to kick off a two-week “Waste Not, Want More” culinary event. You can read more HERE in an article titled “The future of menus includes upcycled ingredients” in Food Business News

The event was where Spare Starter made its debut. Spare Starter is a versatile value-added culinary ingredient made with six vegetables and a proprietary spice blend. It includes parts of vegetables, such as leaves and stalks, which are nutritious but more typically trimmed and discarded. It was developed by two brothers who founded The Spare Food Co., New York, which produces Spare Tonic, a climate-friendly probiotic sparkling beverage made with upcycled whey. (Pictured at beginning of blog.)

Ingredients matter. And reducing food waste is a priority for shoppers. 

At SupplySide West a few weeks ago, Amanda Hartt, senior manager for NEXT Data and Insights at New Hope Network, shared research showing that “concern for food waste resonates across all generations. [Consumers] look to brands that mitigate reducing waste in their supply chain.”

Reducing food waste also factors in the value of the purchase. This is especially true during these inflationary times when shoppers are watching their finances. Brands need to engage shoppers to explain the value products bring to the table. 

Nothing beats the power of dairy proteins, but remember, there are people who do not eat dairy for their own personal reasons. Dairy processors are well poised to produce plant-based options. Just remember to include protein.  

“Solving the protein problem in plant-based dairy alternatives is an essential part of creating products consumers can feel good about eating and enjoy for their own sake,” concludes Roberts. “Whether they’re after a nutritional boost, something to fit their lifestyle or just a tasty non-dairy snack, we are better positioned now than we have ever been to deliver quality products consumers can love.”

Friday, November 3, 2023

The Ingredient List is Gaining Attention.


The award-winning Milk Bar bakery and got milk? have teamed up to release a limited-edition Holiday Milk Collection. The three offerings are Apple Cider Donut Milk, Pumpkin Cinnamon Milk and Sugar Cookie Milk. All are little luxuries crafted with real dairy milk.

For those in New York and Los Angeles, the Holiday Milk Collection will be available in the flagship locations, while those who are home for the holidays can also take part in the magic of this milky goodness by ordering the Holiday Milk Collection do-it-yourself gift set online at Available for nationwide shipping, the Holiday Milk Collection gift set includes all the materials needed to create the trio of festive milk flavors from the cozy comfort of home, along with six classic Milk Bar cookies designed to pair perfectly with each signature milk.

“When we opened the doors to our bakery 15 years ago, one of the biggest sellers was our pints of flavored milk and folks have been begging us to bring them back ever since,” said Milk Bar Founder Christina Tosi.

It’s that time of year when a number of key players in food and beverage issue trends for the upcoming year. The Whole Foods Market’s Trends Council calls them “the top-10 anticipated food trends.” They are predictions. Because “the dairy industry is in really good shape,” as stated on this 3.5 minutes VIDEO from the International Dairy Foods Association on the next generation of leaders in the dairy industry, dairy foods and dairy ingredients tend to not be a “prediction.” Dairy is a known. 

“Our annual food trends predictions list is a way for us to pull back the curtain for customers and share insight into what our buyers and culinary experts are keeping on their radar for the upcoming year,” said Cathy Strange, ambassador of food culture for Whole Foods Market and member of the Trends Council. “From specific product ingredients and flavor trends, to growing movements in the food industry, we can’t wait to see these trends gain momentum in the year ahead.”

These trends predictions provide insight to best practices to leverage and communicate dairy’s amazing taste, sustainability story and nutrition profile. There’s even innovation inspiration. Think “Little Luxuries” like the limited-edition Holiday Milk Collection.   

Whole Foods Market predicts that “plant” will be put back into “plant-based” concepts. This includes a shrinking of ingredient statements throughout the plant-based category. 

“We’re seeing new and emerging protein-forward products with mushrooms, walnuts, tempeh and legumes in place of complex meat alternatives. Even plant-based milk alternatives are participating, with some brands simplifying labels to just two ingredients, perfect for the vegetarian purist.”

Note the words: vegetarian purist. Not vegan. Dairy foods fit into vegetarian lifestyles. Communicate that to shoppers. 

source: HealthFocus International 

This “simplifying of labels” supports new research findings from HealthFocus International that show “many consumers may now realize that the nutrition panel, which reports on just a handful of nutrients, could look very similar for two products that vary dramatically in ingredient purity,” said Julie Johnson, president of HealthFocus International.

“While the nutrition panel has long ranked number-one in information consumers looked for on labels, ingredients have jumped ahead in importance,” she said. “Globally, consumers in 17 of 23 countries ranked ingredients above nutrition as highly important packaging information.”

Other predictions on the Whole Foods list include upcycling of ingredients, regenerative agriculture, formulating with superfoods, complex heat from varietal peppers, clean energy (caffeine) and little luxuries. These are all places where dairy may play. 

Indeed, TikTok creators have brought “Little Treat Culture” into our daily lives. Brands are getting in on the trend by considering both cost and format. Single-serve packages add joy without breaking a budget. The time is now for refrigerated dairy desserts and other single-serve portions of everything from cheese to premium flavored milk.  

The Specialty Food Association (SFA) also recently released its predictions from its Trendspotter Panel. One of those predictions is the growing popularity of Asian-influenced flavors. I wrote about this a few months ago. Read about the Asian flavors trend in dairy HERE.

The SFA specifically identified black sesame and ube as trending flavors. One of the delivery vehicles of choice: milk tea. 

At the end of the day, one of the biggest take aways from all the prediction lists I have reviewed thus far is that “value” will be the name of the game in 2024. Consumers will continue to watch their finances and are researching how to best spend their food dollar. Brands need to engage shoppers to explain the value products bring to the table. 

“This may be versatile uses, low-stress flavor building or longer shelf life, yes, longer shelf life,” said Melanie Bartelme, global food analyst, Mintel, and one of SFA’s trendspotters. “These attributes can help show consumers that these products are ‘worth’ the cost.”

IDFA’s NextGen VIDEO discusses the “new horizon of opportunities” for the dairy processing industry. “NextGen leaders are setting the dairy processing industry up for success in the future.”

We need to explore and engage with food and beverage industry predictions in order to not just stay relevant with younger shoppers, but to be their go-to for attributes they find important.  

“Providing this information will please shoppers; not providing it may have the opposite impact,” according to Steve Markenson, vice president-research and insights, FMI-The Food Industry Association. “They want the details.”

Dairy makes for a wonderful story. It’s a clean, simple ingredient that is a nutritious powerhouse. Let’s tell them the details.