Thursday, March 28, 2024

The Future of Dairy Must Include Advanced Technologies


Remember the dairy processing industry before margarine? Home freezers? Paperboard cartons? Aseptic processing? The list goes on and always will.

If you missed last’s week blog titled “Future Food Tech: Three Takeaways for Dairy Processors to Innovate Smartly,” link HERE. It is based on content collected at the Future Food Tech conference in San Francisco. 

For additional insights from the conference, link HERE to an article in Food Business News on how AI’s role is rapidly expanding in food and beverage innovation.   

The reality is that this is no longer your daddy’s or your granddaddy’s farm. The industry has come a long way in 100 years. As technology gets more sophisticated, so must dairy processing in order to stay competitive and relevant. 

For the Painter family farm, it’s become a sisters’ business. The Painter sisters—Hayley and Stephanie—grew up on a 4th-generation Pennsylvania family farm that practices regenerative organic agriculture. Together the two have quickly grown their lactose-free whole milk organic skyr yogurt over the past two years. And, upon beating out 14 other brands at the 2024 Natural Products Expo West Pitch Slam for the grand prize, will have more dollars to support marketing and expand distribution, all while investing in regenerative agriculture practices to save the soil and the planet.

The cultured dairy product provides 21 grams of protein per serving. It is made with 6% milk fat, and  includes probiotics like BB12. The yogurt is sweetened with organic fruit and cane sugar, and is free of additives, fillers and preservatives. 

The initial rollout two years ago was in five varieties—Blueberry Lemon, Mixed Berry, Plain, Strawberry and Vanilla Bean—in 5.3-ounce cups. Most recently Savannah Peach was added to the lineup. There’s also new 24-ounce containers of Plain and Vanilla. 

The second innovation to highlight comes from Kerry Dairy Consumer Foods, a division of Kerry Group’s dairy business Kerry Dairy Ireland. The company just launched oat- and dairy-blended products under the brand name Smug. Products includes milk, cheese and butter, which are described as combining “the goodness of dairy and plants.”

“This unique combination of oat and dairy offers consumers the ‘best of both worlds’ without compromising on the rich, creamy taste of dairy,” the company said.

Through the addition of plant-based ingredients, saturated fat content is lowered. The dairy provides high-quality protein, vitamins, minerals and other nutrients. 

“With this first-to-market category launch, we are not only creating a new way for dairy lovers to do dairy with a bold and exciting new brand but also to creating a dairy category that is fit for the future,” says Victoria Southern, strategy, marketing and innovation director at Kerry Dairy Consumer Foods. “The Smug Dairy portfolio has 40% less saturated fats and saves up to 54% less carbon dioxide emissions per kilogram than traditional dairy.”

This is not the first time such a blend was done in milk. You may recall that Dairy Farmers of America introduced Live Real Farms Dairy Plus Milk Blends in the summer of 2019. This was the first fresh milk blended beverage in the marketplace and combined pure dairy with almonds or oats. Unfortunately, the pandemic prevented the necessary marketing to educate consumers about the blend and it’s been tabled for the time. 

The third example of advanced technology being put to work in the dairy department comes from Nature’s Fynd. The company is using a nutritional fungi protein to manufacture the world’s first dairy-free, fungi-based yogurt. The product made its debut late 2023 in Whole Foods Market stores nationwide. This is the third product line in the brand’s retail portfolio, which also includes Dairy-Free Cream Cheese and Meatless Fy Breakfast Patties. 

The single-serve 5.3 ounce containers of Fy Yogurt come in Peach, Strawberry and Vanilla flavors. It has a thick, creamy consistency without grittiness. It is nutritionally dense with 8 grams of protein, 4 grams of fiber and is made with live and active cultures. The peach and strawberry yogurts feature only 8 grams of added sugar while the vanilla yogurt has 9 grams. 

Nature’s Fynd grows Fy protein from fungi with origins in Yellowstone National Park via the company’s breakthrough fermentation process. This contributed to the company recently being named number-one in Forward Fooding’s FoodTech 500 List. Congrats. 

Collegiate Dairy Products Evaluation Contest Celebrates 100 Years of Excellence
The Collegiate Dairy Products Evaluation Contest has played a pivotal role in shaping the future of the dairy industry. It provides a platform for students and professionals to showcase their expertise in the evaluation and analysis of dairy products.

Established in 1916, this dairy competition has been a cornerstone of dairy products training, education and sensory evaluation for more than 100 years. No contests were held in 1918 (WWI), from 1942 to 1946 (WWII), and 2020 to 2021 (we know why!).

The first contest was held in connection with the National Dairy Show sponsored by the National Dairy Association. Butter was the only product judged because of its commercial importance at that time. Cheddar cheese and milk were added in 1917, followed by ice cream in 1926. Then cottage cheese was added in 1962. Yogurt did not enter until 1977. Since, these categories have been broken down into subcategories, and as innovation continues, more will likely be added in years to come.

The event is currently sponsored by the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association. To mark the 100th anniversary, the Collegiate Dairy Products Evaluation Contest will be hosting a special centennial celebration event on April 17, 2024, at the CheeseExpo in Milwaukee. 
For more information, link HERE.

Friday, March 22, 2024

Future Food Tech: Three Takeaways for Dairy Processors to Innovate Smartly


From a galaxy far, far away comes TruMoo Blue Milk. Actually, it’s made in the U.S. by Dairy Farmers of America and will be hitting retail dairy departments in mid-April. It’s described as “1% low-fat milk and features natural vanilla flavor and blue color for a truly galactic delicious experience your family will enjoy.”

Consumers have and will continue to crave new foods and beverages. Unfortunately, about 90% of new product innovations fail, according to Hartman Group. 

“So, while brands and manufacturers are under significant pressure to adapt quickly, innovation can’t just be fast,” says Shelley Balanko, senior vice president at Hartman Group. “It has to be smart.” 

That was a lot of the discussion this week in San Francisco at the Future Food Tech conference. This was a terrific conference to attend after Natural Products Expo West last week. The first observation here is the same as from Expo West; however, it translates differently. 

Observation #1: Just because you can make it, does not mean you should. 

With all due respect to innovators in food tech, many of the prototypes at Future Food Tech were not worth the calories for me to finish the tasting. But they could be. In my opinion, companies are overthinking technology at this stage in the game. 

The reality is we need technology. It’s safe to say we need high-tech technology in order to feed the growing population. Current food systems don’t cut it. But, stop over thinking it. That brings me to…
Observation #2: Food tech companies focusing on non-protein ingredient systems are making impressive progress, namely through the use of precision fermentation.

To get a better understanding on this technology, please link HERE to an article I wrote for Food Business News.

In a nutshell, precision fermentation technology has been around for more than 30 years, but it is only now being recognized for its potential to produce food and food ingredients in a sustainable way. It’s already used in the production of several food ingredients, including natural flavors, rennet, vitamins and stevia. Natural colors is one of my favorite examples of how valuable precision technology can be.

Imagine how red beets are grown for the sole purpose of extracting their color in order to make strawberry yogurt look more delicious. Now imagine if that field could instead be used to grow red beets, or other fruits and vegetables, for consumption in their whole food format. The natural color would now be made using baker’s yeast that has been modified to produce pigment.

It would be amazing if the color in TruMoo Blue Milk was produced this way and part of its story. The future of precision fermentation is now.  

Did you know that Foremost Farms USA has teamed up with Ginkgo Bioworks to use advances in biotechnology to enable domestic, sustainable biomanufacturing of materials from dairy co-products to benefit the environment, family farms and the dairy industry as a whole? Through this partnership, Foremost Farms will leverage Ginkgo’s bioproduction services to develop and commercialize a new technology that could help upcycle billions of pounds of dairy co-products each year. Foremost Farms has selected Ginkgo as its partner of choice to develop a new upcycling technology because of Ginkgo’s leading metabolic engineering and analytical capabilities, which allow it to optimize strains for challenging environmental conditions while avoiding common toxicity issues. It’s all about precision fermentation.  

Observation #3: Plant-based is getting better through the help of AI. 

I finally had a great-tasting plant-based cheese. I swear, you would never know it was made from more than four ingredients (milk, cultures, enzymes and salt). It was at the S2G Ventures event the evening prior to Future Food Tech. The cheese was from Climax Foods. 

It took two years for Climax to develop and commercialize its first “zero-compromise” plant-based products. From a galaxy far, far away comes  Climax’s “moonshot products,” which are cultured and aged Blue, Brie, Feta and Chèvre cheeses. They are made using sustainably grown plant ingredients and match the taste, nutrition and price of dairy cheeses. 

“We started from a profound appreciation for the complex flavors and textures of dairy products,” explains Oliver Zahn, founder and CEO. “Cows have made our milk for thousands of years. It is human nature to rethink ancient practices, so we came up with a smarter way. By using data science to accelerate plant-based ingredient and process discoveries, we are saving thousands of years of tinkering to create products that are just as tasty as the cow-based predecessors.”

(Photo: Climax Foods' Blue)

After years of studying the intricacies of space and time, Zahn’s desire to drive positive global change called him to become a data science and thought leader at Google, SpaceX and Impossible Foods before starting Climax in 2020. Armed with the largest-ever seed raise for a food-tech startup, Climax converted an old chocolate factory in Berkeley, California, into cutting-edge laboratories. The company’s 40 scientists have since combined molecular-level learnings about animal products with proprietary plant ingredient functionality databases to converge on optimal “digital recipes” from ingredients selected from thousands of edible plants. 

“Our technology and ingredient discoveries will soon power the replacements of bigger categories with successors that will be equally delicious and nutritious but more sustainable and--because our products are not heavily processed--substantially more economical and environmentally friendly,” he said. 

Climax products rely on non-allergenic ingredients, such as seeds, legumes and plant oils. They are free of nuts, cholesterol and GMO ingredients. 

The future of food is high-tech technology. The opportunities are infinite. But never forget, “just because you can make it, does not mean you should.” Use technology wisely to develop nutritious and delicious foods to feed the growing population.  

Friday, March 15, 2024

Expo West 2024: Ten observations for all food industry professionals and five for the dairy industry


The global consumer wellness market is estimated to be valued at $1.8 trillion by McKinsey. The company’s latest Future of Wellness research surveyed more than 5,000 consumers across China, the United Kingdom and the United States. Many of those wellness products were on display—many made their debut—this week at Natural Products Expo West in Anaheim, Calif. 

Observation #1: Just because you can make it, does not mean you should. 

McKinsey reports that the global consumer wellness market is no stranger to fads, which can sometimes surface with limited clinical research or credibility. That is true of about half of the new products that debuted at Expo. 

“Today, consumers are no longer simply trying out these wellness trends and hoping for the best, but rather asking, ‘What does the science say?,’” according to the McKinsey report. 

You can download the whitepaper HERE.

McKinsey estimates that the wellness market reached $480 billion in the U.S., growing at 5% to 10% per year, with 82% of U.S. consumers now considering wellness a top or important priority in their everyday lives.

Observation #2: The “supposedly” better-for-you beverage business is out of control, with the majority of products targeted to Gen Z and millennials. And back to observation #1, just because you can put all that stuff into a can or bottle, does not mean you should. Further, most of that “stuff” is not backed by science. 

McKinsey reports that Gen Z and millennial consumers are now purchasing more wellness products and services than older generations. These products are targeted to health, sleep, nutrition, fitness, appearance and mindfulness.

The WHITE PAPER provides demographic data. 

Observation #3: While beverages may be big for Gen Z and millennials, snacks are big for older consumers, with many designed for healthy aging.
McKinsey agrees. Demand for products and services that support healthy aging and longevity is on the rise.

Observation #4: Products designed for varied “times” of life for women is booming, too. 

There were beverages, snacks and supplements for pregnancy and post-partum, and for all four stages of menopause: pre-, peri-, the long pauses, and the post.

McKinsey reports that women’s health has historically been underserved and underfunded. That is changing. But again, science matters, and many of the products at Expo were not backed by peer-reviewed research.

Observation #5: There’s real fear of the Ozempic factor by food and beverage companies. 
Thus, as a result, there’s more marketing at weight management and changing bad eating habits once the weight-loss pill subscription runs out. 

McKinsey research shows that weight management is top of mind for consumers in the U.S., with nearly one in three adults reporting that they struggle with obesity. Three out of five U.S. consumers in the McKinsey survey said they are currently trying to lose weight.

Observation #6: Gut health is mainstream and it’s going to continue to grow. Probiotics, prebiotics, postbiotics and all types of funky fermented foods were everywhere…and in all shapes and forms. Of course there were plenty of gut-friendly (or so they claimed) beverages and snacks, but there were also condiments, cookies and even bread. Think kimchi, kombucha and yogurt. 

My favorite fermented innovation was snacking almonds. There was also a new sour dough pasta. The product was not necessarily playing in the gut healthy space, but was riding the fermented/ cultured flavor trend. 
McKinsey reports that more than 80% of consumers in China, the United Kingdom and the United States consider gut health to be important, and over 50% anticipate making it a higher priority in the next two to three years.

The remaining four observations are: 
Observation #7: Kids’ foods and beverages are hot, hot, hot. Even during inflationary times, parents are willing to spend more on only the best for their kiddos. 

Observation #8: Banana is becoming the new coconut. It’s being promoted for potassium content, hydration and, most importantly, affordability and reliable supply chains. 

Observation #9: Protein remains a talking point, with “complete” and “quality” protein messaging become more dominant in the plant-based space. This means that real meat, real dairy and real eggs need to up their game with marketing protein. 

Observation #10: Real meat, real dairy and real eggs were everywhere. They came with organic, regenerative agriculture or other sustainable claims. And, these claims were backed with numbers, something many of the plant-based products are not able to do because of the large number of ingredients in the formulations. Simple labels makes it easier to make sustainability claims. 

Let’s Talk Dairy. 

Dairy Observation #1: Danone North America was noticeably missing from the show. All other key natural and organic dairy players were there and shining! There were also a number of new players proudly displaying their innovations containing real dairy. 

Here’s one of my favorites. Once Upon a Farm, a childhood nutrition company, is entering the dairy category with real dairy! The company is launching organic A2/A2 Whole Milk Shakes. Available in three flavors—Banana Crème, Strawberry Crème and Triple Berry--these organic whole milk shakes are made with farm-fresh fruits and veggies, A2/A2 organic whole milk and no added sugar. These sippable shakes use organic A2/A2 grass-based whole milk sourced from Alexandre Family Farm. 

In addition, Once Upon a Farm will release a second product line in its dairy portfolio--Whole Milk Smoothies—this spring. Varieties are Banana Berry Blast, Mango Pear-adise and Orange Squeeze. The whole milk smoothies compliment the brand’s existing Dairy-Free Smoothie line. 

“At Once Upon a Farm, we are committed to maximizing nutrition for our customers, little and big,” says Jennifer Garner, co-founder and chief brand officer. (Yes, it’s the actress.) “This announcement is so exciting we are dancing in the barn. We are launching scrumptious, sumptuous, A2/A2 Whole Milk Shakes, in partnership with Alexandre Family Farms. You asked and boy, are we excited to share with you.”

Dairy Observation #2: There were way too many alt-milk brands. Might there be a correlation between Danone pulling two of its plant-based milks (Silk Nextmilk and So Delicious Dairy Free Wondermilk) from the U.S. and not being at Expo? 

Plant-based dairy marketer Miyoko’s had scaled down its booth size and Daiya, likely the leader in the alt-dairy products with its many varied offerings, was also notably not at Expo. Could it be because:

“We’ve seen the pendulum go from alt-dairy back to real dairy, but it has to be clean label,” said Julie Smolyansky, personal friend, amazing woman and CEO of Lifeway Foods. 

The company will be modifying its product portfolio to give consumers what they want. 

Dairy Observation #3: Salty snacks with dairy flavor profiles and featuring dairy proteins continues to proliferate. 

Dairy Observation #4: Ditto with prepared foods, in particular pizza. Nothing beats the melt of real cheese. 

Dairy Observation #5: Dairy innovation was alive and thriving at Expo. New products will be featured over the next few weeks as a Daily Dose of Dairy. Butter innovations were numerous, and came from the U.S., Ireland, New Zealand and more. There was a kefir with collagen and fruit and veggie yogurt pouches for adults. Canned Vietnamese coffee made with sweetened condensed milk was available from many domestic beverage manufacturers and importers. 

And, this is why it’s important to walk up and down every aisle and take it all in. That last aisle—5700—of Hall E, a half dozen or so booths away from me exiting Expo for the year, there was Alamance Foods. I got a sneak peek and taste of the company’s new whipped cream cheese. Wowza. It was amazing. 

Put Expo West 2025 on your calendar. Dairy will likely have a stronger presence next year thanks to efforts by Dairy Management Inc., at this year’s show. The checkoff-funded organization debuted its new innovation tool geared toward assisting dairy entrepreneurs. The program—Innovate with Dairy--is designed to be a one-stop shop for anyone seeking information about the innovation process. The tool gives entrepreneurs access to more than 250 vetted dairy resources, including many leading researchers and professors who comprise the checkoff-founded Dairy Foods Research Centers network. 

The DMI team met with dairy innovators at Expo West and hosted a seminar about Innovate with Dairy. Four companies--Amazing Ice Cream, Darigold, Fiscalini Farmstead and Spare Tonic—were hosted by DMI in an Undeniably Dairy booth. Their products were also displayed in two innovation cabinets. To learn more about Innovate with Dairy, link HERE.

Also, plan to attend IDDBA in Houston this June. See you there!

Friday, March 8, 2024

What You Need to Know About the New Qualified Health Claim for Yogurt: And why it should be used judiciously


As many of us were ending our work week seven days ago, we were surprised that FDA announced the first-ever qualified health claim for yogurt. It was in response to a petition submitted by Danone North America nearly five years ago. During this time, FDA reviewed the existing research on yogurt and type 2 diabetes, which included data from more than 300,000 individuals, and found including yogurt in the typical American diet could have a benefit to public health.

I agree. Yogurt is a nutrient-dense food. It is packed with high-quality, complete protein. It contains many vitamins and minerals, and today, most yogurts also include beneficial bacteria. But, not all yogurts are created equal, especially when it comes to added sugars. The latter has already generated a lot of criticism regarding the approval of the claim and its use. After all, added sugar intake has been linked to obesity, which is turn is associated with type 2 diabetes, among other health concerns.  

Two versions of the new claim were permitted by FDA. They are: “Eating yogurt regularly (at least three servings per week) may reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, according to limited scientific evidence” and “Eating yogurt regularly may reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes. FDA has concluded there is limited information supporting this claim.” 

Diabetes is one of the top 10 causes of death in the U.S., impacting more than 37 million Americans with 1.4 million new cases diagnosed every year. Trust me, I know. My husband of 25 years died this past June from type 1 diabetes-related ailments. 

The overwhelming majority of annual new diabetes cases in the U.S. are type 2, not type 1. Type 2 can often be managed with lifestyle changes, such as being more active and eating nutrient-rich foods. Based on this new qualified health claim, yogurt could be one of those foods. But what about the sugar? 

Well, CNN took note of this. The news outlet interviewed Marion Nestle, the Paulette Goddard Professor of Nutrition, Food Studies and Public Health, Emerita, at New York University, who is a very vocal critique of processed foods and added sugars. 
She told CNN, “Why would any sensible person think that all you have to do to prevent type 2 diabetes is eat 2 cups of yogurt a week? All we can hope is that the yogurt is at least unsweetened, but since it’s really hard to find unsweetened yogurt, this is telling people who want to avoid type 2 diabetes that sweetened yogurts are good for them.”

Read the CNN article HERE

Here’s what you need to understand about qualified health claims (QHC). These QHCs are supported by scientific evidence, but do not meet the more rigorous “significant scientific agreement” standard required for an authorized health claim. To ensure that these claims are not misleading, they must be accompanied by a disclaimer or other qualifying language to accurately communicate to consumers the level of scientific evidence supporting the claim.

Qualified health claims have only been allowed by FDA for dietary supplements since 2000 and for food since 2002. They are also rarely announced, reports CNN. “In the past decade, only 10 foods have been allowed to be sold with such claims, including high-flavonol cocoa powder for reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, and certain cranberry products for lowered odds of recurrent urinary tract infections among women.”

The Fine Print
Halfway through the March 1, 2024, letter in response to Docket No. FDA-2019-P-1594, which can be accessed HERE, we learn that FDA warns that the new claim should not be used on yogurts that contain specified maximum levels (to make any health claim) for total fat, saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium in accordance with 21 CFR 101.14(a)(4).  FDA also states that this should not be an issue, as yogurt generally does not exceed these levels. 

But, FDA also states that the agency has not set a disqualifying nutrient level for added sugars. So, the amount of sugar or added sugar in yogurt currently does not impact use of the claim. 

In the claim’s defense, the credible scientific evidence found a statistically significant association between risk reduction of type 2 diabetes and yogurt as a food, rather than any single nutrient or compound in yogurt, and irrespective of fat or sugar content. 

Still, FDA recognized that use of the qualified health claim on yogurts that contain a significant amount of added sugars could contribute empty calories to the diet. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025 recommend limiting added sugars to less than 10% of total calories and note that added sugars account, on average, for almost 270 calories, or more than 13% of total calories per day in the U.S. population.  

Please be smart when using this claim. Yogurt is such a powerful superfood, we don’t want this claim to tarnish its healthful reputation. 

Here’s a better approach to communicate its power. 

To help consumers better identify yogurt, frozen yogurt and other cultured dairy products containing live and active yogurt cultures, the International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA) is relaunching its Live & Active Cultures (LAC) Seal for manufacturers. IDFA’s LAC Seal is the only widely recognized, independent verification that a dairy product contains significant levels of live and active yogurt cultures. Recently, IDFA updated the policies and guidelines around use of the LAC Seal and is broadening the availability of the logo to the full yogurt and cultured dairy products industry. 

“If your company manufactures yogurt or other cultured dairy products—such as frozen yogurt and kefir—and you are interested in using the LAC Seal on your products, IDFA is now making it easier than ever to obtain the seal for use on product packaging and labels, demonstrating to consumers and other customers that your products contain valuable live and active yogurt cultures,” said John Allan, IDFA vice president of regulatory affairs and administrator of the IDFA’s LAC Seal program. “The LAC Seal is the best way to reach consumers with this unique health and wellness attribute.” 

I agree. 

The LAC Seal is a voluntary certification available to all manufacturers of yogurt and cultured dairy products whose products contain at least 100 million cultures per gram, which is 10 times higher than the minimum levels required by FDA. The LAC Seal can also be used for frozen yogurt that contains at least 10 million cultures per gram at the time of manufacture.

When it comes to yogurt and similar cultured dairy products, the words “live and active cultures” are persuasive. Two-thirds (67%) of those who have at least heard of live and active cultures believe that a product containing them is better for them, according to 2021 consumer research from the International Food Information Council (IFIC). The 2023 Food and Health Survey from IFIC showed that nearly one in three (32%) consumers seek out foods that provide digestive health/gut health benefits. This is up from 25% in 2021. 

The words “live and active cultures” refer to the living organisms—in this case the bacteria, Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus—which convert pasteurized milk to yogurt and other cultured dairy products during fermentation. This fermentation process is what creates yogurt, with its unique taste, texture and healthful attributes. This includes gut health. Live and active cultures also help break down lactose in milk, assisting people who have trouble breaking down lactose so they can eat yogurt without digestive discomfort. Live and active cultures also include probiotic bacteria, which are recognized as providing the host a healthful benefit. 

Please proceed with caution with the qualified health claim. Consider adding the LAC Seal, as well as promoting yogurt’s nutrient density. The latter is a concept that research shows resonates with younger consumers.