Thursday, April 25, 2024

Is Dairy Dead? Explore insights from the Dairy Innovation Strategies 2024 conference.


(left) Stay Strong is a brand from Lactalis in Denmark. It is a range of protein-rich dairy products marketed as “helping with muscle building and bone maintenance.” The 150-gram container of skyr has no added sugars and provides 18 grams of dairy protein, which come from protein inherent to cows’ milk and from added whey protein concentrate. 

This brand markets dairy as a “supplier of nutrition.” The formulation also includes lactase, enabling a lactose-free claim. This makes the product attractive to consumers who avoid dairy because of lactose intolerance or sensitivity. 

At the end of last week, two major announcements were made in the dairy manufacturing world. For starters, The Coca-Cola Company and fairlife broke ground on a new fairlife $650 million production facility in upstate New York, just outside Rochester. The 745,000 square-foot facility will serve as fairlife’s flagship Northeast location and is expected to be operational by the fourth quarter of 2025. The Daisy Brand announced it is investing $626.5 million to build a 750,000-square-foot manufacturing facility in Boone, Iowa, to expand its production of its clean-label cottage cheese and sour cream products. (I can’t help but note the similarity in dollars and space.)

These brands show us that value-added, premium, nutritious dairy is alive and thriving.

Is dairy dead? Clearly, no! This question, however, was posed this week at the Dairy Innovation Strategies 2024 conference in Copenhagen, Denmark. The consensus was that dairy is not dead, but it needs to evolve. 

After listening to many informative education sessions, I hope you agree: Dairy processors needs to redefine themselves as suppliers of nutrition and providers of indulgence.  

That’s exactly what fairlife and Daisy Brand do with their dairy products. It’s also trending in very progressive Denmark. 

The Protein Lab brand of drinking yogurt is made with milk protein concentrate and skimmed milk. The labeling includes statements such as “products designed for you,” “products for those who want more protein,” “a deliberate choice in your everyday life” and “enjoy without compromising on taste.” This is the perfect example of dairy being defined as a nutrition powerhouse and delicious!

And that’s something American students will get to continue to enjoy. Thank you!

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) released a final rule this week to update meal patterns for the National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program to align school meal nutrition standards with the goals of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025. This rulemaking is effective July 1, 2024; however, program operators are not required to make any changes to their menus as a result of this rulemaking until school year 2025-26, at the earliest. 
Schools are allowed to serve flavored milk to students in all grades given they meet specific standards and new limits on added sugars. The latter should not be an issue, as dairies have made a commitment to reducing calories and added sugars in flavored milk.

The added sugar maximum for flavored milk is 10 grams per 8 ounces beginning with the 2025-26 school year. There is also an added sugar maximum for flavored yogurt, which is 12 grams per 6 ounces. There will be a weekly menu-wide limit of an average of less than 10% of calories per meal from added sugars beginning with the 2027-28 school year. 

The National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) praised its member cooperatives for their tireless work to decrease the level of added sugar in flavored school milk, which now generally falls below the added sugar maximum established in this final rule. 

“Not only does flavored milk offer the same nutrients as regular milk, its presence correlates with decreased waste in school cafeterias,” said Gregg Doud, CEO and president of NMPF. “Many children prefer low-fat flavored milk over fat-free, and flavored milk offers the same nutrients as regular milk with a minor amount of added sugar.”

The International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA) established the Healthy School Milk Commitment to lower the added sugars in flavored milk intended for schools in early 2023. Today, the average added sugar level is 7.5 grams per serving for flavored milk in schools. Approximately 70% of all milk consumed in school meals is flavored milk. 

The USDA new rule re-emphasizes lactose-free milk as an option in all reimbursable meals. Offering lactose-free milk as a choice to all students supports child health and nutrition equity in school meals.

“Schools should offer lactose-free milk as a choice to all students, which would mark major progress for child health and nutrition equity in our school meals,” said Michael Dykes, president and CEO of IDFA. “Providing lactose-free milk, as well as other dairy products with low-lactose content, will allow more school children, including those with lactose malabsorption or lactose intolerance, to choose a dairy option that meets their needs and provides all the same essential nutrients as traditional dairy.” 

The updated standards provide schools with time to gradually reduce sodium in school meals by instituting one achievable sodium reduction. These limits apply to the average amount of sodium in lunch and breakfast menus offered during a school week.  For the next three school years, schools will maintain current sodium limits. Beginning July 1, 2027, schools will implement an approximate 15% reduction for lunch and 10% reduction for breakfast from current sodium limits. 

“While IDFA had sought to exclude sodium used for food safety and functional purposes in cheesemaking, IDFA appreciates USDA’s final rule maintaining current school meal sodium targets through School Year 2026-27 before adopting a more attainable, and permanent, school meal sodium target,” said Dykes. 

“Despite these positive developments for child nutrition, we are disappointed the USDA final rule released today sets an added sugar limit for yogurt that is out of step with the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines,” he continued. “The DGA is clear that added sugars may be used to increase the intake of nutrient-dense foods like yogurt. As an essential meat alternative for many children, consumption of yogurt has also been associated with higher diet quality in children, higher intake of multiple nutrients including calcium, potassium, magnesium, and vitamin D, and lower incidence of cardiovascular risk factors in adolescents, particularly total and excess abdominal body fat. 

“USDA also missed an opportunity to restore 2% and whole milk to school breakfast and lunch,” he said. “A plethora of science demonstrates dairy fat is unique, unlike typical saturated fats, in delivering positive and neutral health outcomes to people across all demographics. IDFA will continue to work with policymakers and lawmakers to enact the Whole Milk for Healthy Kids Act (H.R. 1147/S. 1957).”

Friday, April 19, 2024

“Imitation is the Sincerest Form of Flattery.” This is so true for dairy foods.


“Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” It’s sometimes a challenge to handle copycats with a smile. Think back to when refrigerated orange juice started including calcium. That ticked dairy farmers and processors off.

Now it’s the plant-based beverages touting various qualities inherent to fluid milk, namely protein content, as a number of brands have been aggressively improving the nutrition profile of their product. To do so, it takes a number of ingredients, which contributes to a lengthier ingredient statement. And guess what? Consumers are catching on.

Trend #1: Ingredient Lists are Gaining Attention. 

“While the nutrition panel has long ranked #1 in information consumers looked for on labels, ingredients have jumped ahead in importance,” according to Julie Johnson, president, HealthFocus International. “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.”

Globally, consumers in 17 of 23 countries ranked ingredients above nutrition as highly important packaging information, according to HealthFocus. This is huge for dairy, where products like fluid milk, may simply list “milk” or “milk and vitamin D.”

Here’s where that flattery adage comes into play again, but now with the tables turned. Plant-based beverages are very proud of their lactose-free composition. In fact, for many consumers, lactose-free is the appeal in these beverages. It’s no wonder that fluid milk processors decided it’s alright to add one more ingredient to this very simple product. That’s lactase.  

Trend #2: Lactose Free Dairy (and there will be more on this trend in next week’s blog).

Clover Sonoma, a trailblazer in sustainable and regenerative farming has a refreshed line of Organic Lactose Free Milk in Whole, 2% Reduced Fat and three 2% flavors: Chocolate, Strawberry and Vanilla. The milk comes from pasture-raised cows raised at local, American Humane Certified organic farms.

“Research shows a demand for value-added milk across the organic, lactose-free and flavored categories,” said Susan Shields, vice president of marketing and innovation. “With this lineup, we deliver on all of those requests and more. Those looking for lactose-free options can still benefit from the nutrition milk has to offer, like protein, calcium and vitamins A and D, while our flavored milks also offer a delicious option with no or low added sugars.”

Trend #3: Dairy Proteins and Bioactives. 

Again, here’s where that flattery adage comes into play. The copycat is in the form of using precision fermentation to produce whey proteins, casein proteins and various bioactives, including lactoferrin. The fact is that the biotech folks recognize that dairy proteins and bioactives are superior ingredients. And when there’s a couple more billion people on this planet in 25 years or so—and in places where there are no cows--there will not be enough fresh cows’ milk to provide these amazing nutrients. Thank you, precision fermentation. Countries like the UAE, which currently import about 90% of all food will be able to build bioreactors and produce these amazing dairy nutrients.  

Real dairy proteins and bioactives are not going away. Now’s the time to be increasing the dairy protein content of your dairy foods and talking about it…loudly!

FYI, fermentation without the “precision” has been around forever. That’s how grapes turn into wine, bread rises and kombucha becomes effervescent and probiotic. Precision fermentation is, as the name suggests, more precise. It’s calculated technology.  

In precision fermentation, bioengineering techniques are used to program microorganisms by giving them a specific genetic code to produce a compound of interest when fermented under precise conditions. The genetic code is the exact copy of the DNA sequence found in a digitized database on animal or plant DNA sequence; however, it requires no animal or plant involvement. The result is the molecularly identical ingredient made by microorganisms. 

Trend #4: Yogurt Is Getting a Makeover. 

My colleague Sarah Straughn at Food Business News just wrote an article—with a slideshow of recent rollouts-- on yogurt getting a makeover. You can access it HERE.  

“Yogurt is evolving as dairy manufacturers tap into consumer interest in health, eating occasions and functional ingredients,” wrote Straughn.

Trend #5: Dairy Processors Betting on Health and Wellness for Growth. 

And I just wrote an article for Food Business News on this topic. You can access it HERE.

Health and wellness is the number-one area for consumer disposable income spending, according to research from Dairy Management Inc. The farmer-funded association is investing in efforts to get dairy to be a bigger part of the health and wellness platform through new product innovation. Key areas for innovation are hydration, growth, performance, weight loss and weight management.  

Some recent dairy innovations to support these health and wellness platforms include GoodSport,  a clear hydration beverage that is 97% dairy. It delivers three times the electrolytes and 33% less sugar than traditional sports drinks, providing faster and longer-lasting hydration. 

Another is Protality, a new dairy-based, high-protein nutrition shake from Abbott. The shelf-stable beverage is formulated to support the growing number of adults interested in pursuing weight loss while maintaining muscle mass and good nutrition. That’s the power of dairy proteins. 

Need assistance with your next powerhouse dairy product innovation? Plan to attend this short course: Yogurt, Fermented Milks and Probiotic Dairy Products at the University of California. It is sponsored by the California Dairy Innovation Center and organized in collaboration with the University of California-Davis, the Dairy Council of California and the California Dairy Research Foundation, with support from the Pacific Coast Coalition. For more information, link HERE. As one of the speakers, I hope to see you there.

Thursday, April 11, 2024

Flavor Trends in the Frozen Dairy Desserts Space for Summer 2024


Photo source: Perry's Ice Cream

Supermarket ice cream freezers will see a lot less chocolate--as there is a global cocoa bean shortage--and a lot more nostalgia during Summer 2024. Extreme “fruity and sweet flavors”—in particular strawberry, banana and blue—are trending. Blue as a flavor leans towards cotton candy or birthday cake frosting, with or without some bubble gum or lollipop blueberry. Cinnamon is everywhere, as is honey, with and without heat. 

Perry’s Ice Cream’s newest flavors complement these trends. They were developed to meet the trend in nostalgia as consumers seek products that remind them of the past and provide comfort, while offering a modern interpretation. 

Caramel Panda Paws (sea salt caramel ice cream with caramel panda paw cups and swirls of thick rich fudge) and Cookie Jar (sea salt caramel ice cream with chocolate chip cookie chunks) come in 1.5-quart containers. Notice how the dark Cookie Jar packaging is suggestive of the ice cream having some chocolate flair, despite the fact that it is quite limited due to general chocolate sourcing issues. 

Over the Moon (toffee ice cream with crushed cookie swirls and sponge candy pieces) is the latest addition to Perry’s Extra Indulgent pint line. Those sponge candy pieces are part of the sweet flavor trend.

Nostalgic flavor innovation continues for Perry’s with the introduction of new three-gallon tub flavors for scoop shops. Bee Sting offers a twist to graham cracker and vanilla pudding flavors by adding a “sting” with a hot honey swirl. Inspired by cereals from childhood, Fruit Scoops is reminiscent of the delicious fruity milk at the end of the cereal bowl. 

Blue Bell Creameries is celebrating its St. Louis expansion with a new ice cream flavor inspired by the cake made famous there, Gooey Butter Cake Ice Cream. No chocolate here!  

Gooey Butter Cake is cake batter ice cream combined with a cream cheese swirl and rich, gooey butter cake pieces. The new flavor comes in half gallon and pint containers. 

Blue Bell introduced Cinnamon Twist Ice Cream in January. The flavor is a rich, creamy base with hints of brown sugar and cinnamon combined with cinnamon bun dough pieces and a cinnamon icing swirl. 

Continuing with the nostalgia trend, Rich Products Corp., is adding Funfetti Ice Cream Cake to its lineup. It’s made with birthday cake-flavored vanilla ice cream, classic Funfetti cake, whipped icing and colorful sprinkles. It’s all about sweetness. 

Soft-serve ice cream is also nostalgic to many, especially older consumers. It reminds them of getting a twisted cone at places such as the Tastee Freez that John Mellencamp references in his 1982 hit “Jack and Diane.”

Blue Bunny is all about making soft-serve available in retail packages. The brand’s Summer 2024 innovation is Twist pints. The frozen treats combine two indulgent flavors of soft ice cream, expertly twisted to perfection, and adorned with a decadent ribbon of ooey gooey goodness. Flavors are Chocolate Vanilla, Strawberries & Cream, Cookies & Cream, Candy Bar, Mint Chocolate, Blu’s Birthday Cake, and Cherry Chocolate. Notice there’s not much chocolate and there’s that blue flavor. 

Dippin’ Dots wants in on the blue thing, too. It’s visible in the company’s newest flavor: Frozeti Dough. The flavor was inspired by Dippin’ Dots’ mascot Frozeti the Yeti’s cool blue color. It tastes like sugar cookie, with occasional dots of chocolate chip and chocolate sandwich. Limited chocolate and lots of sweet blue!

Foodservice has jumped on the soft-serve bandwagon. Chicken Guy!, the chicken chain owned by Guy Fieri and Robert Earl, is debuting the Berry Bomb Shake. It is described as hand-spun vanilla soft-serve with mixed berry puree, topped with fresh whipped cream and cinnamon toast crumble.

Yogurtland’s newest soft-serve frozen yogurts are also right on trend. There’s Strawberry Matcha and Milk & Honey. Guests can also enjoy limited-time-only toppings such as Lychee Star Jelly and Strawberry Heart Jelly. There’s that very sweet fruity trend. 

Fanci Freez, a restaurant brand with locations in Idaho, is taking its popular milkshakes from local acclaim to a product positioned for national distribution. Patent-pending technology was required to accomplish bringing a soft-serve milkshake product to the grocery aisle. This allows consumers to enjoy a milkshake at home after just 30 seconds in the microwave.

And in the U.K., Premier Foods is coating a soft-serve like ice cream with chocolate and selling it on a stick. Angel Delight stick novelties feature a fluffy, light ice cream that comes in Butterscotch and Banana varieties. 

Bakery-Derived Flavors Rule at Innovative Ice Cream Contest 

Peanut Butter Overload by Windy Knoll Farm Market took home top honors in the Most Innovative Ice Cream Flavor competition this week at the International Dairy Foods Association’s (IDFA) annual Ice Cream Technology conference. Banana Pudding Eclair by Hershey’s Ice Cream was awarded Most Innovative Ice Cream Novelty; and Insta Graham by The Ice Cream Club was named Most Innovative Prototype Ice Cream Flavor—the award for flavors not yet found in the marketplace.

“We all love classic flavors like chocolate and vanilla, but it is exciting to see the creativity these companies are bringing to the table,” said Roberta Wagner, senior vice president of regulatory and scientific affairs at IDFA. “This year’s contest highlighted… bakery-derived flavors, such as cookies, sourdough and graham crackers.”

This year’s awardees of the Innovative Flavor and Product contests are:

Most Innovative Ice Cream Flavor (currently offered for sale in the market)
1st Place: Peanut Butter Overload | Windy Knoll Farm Market
2nd Place: Lemon Meringue Pie | Graeter’s Ice Cream
3rd Place: Sweet Potato Marshmallow Pie | Van Leeuwen Ice Cream

Most Innovative Ice Cream Novelty (currently offered for sale in the market)
1st Place: Banana Pudding Eclair | Hershey’s Ice Cream
2nd Place: Deep Sea Treasure | Perry’s Ice Cream
3rd Place: Pralines ‘n Cream Ice Cream Bar | Baskin-Robbins
Most Innovative Prototype Ice Cream Flavor (not yet in the market)
1st Place: Insta Graham | The Ice Cream Club
2nd Place: Caramel Apple Pie | Balchem
3rd Place: Strawberry Guava Passion with White Chocolate and Short Bread Cookie | Fruitcrown Products, Corp.

Friday, April 5, 2024

Heat—Maybe with Sweet—Makes Sense in New Dairy Innovations


(left) For Summer 2021, Marble Slam Creamery offered the Limited-Time-Only Cheetos Flamin’ Hot Ice Cream and Shake. The mischievous matchup was a perfect combination of sweet heat and was described as “coming in hot, but surprisingly cool.”

You may have read about the spoof this week by PepsiCo in the U.K. On April Fools’ Day, the company announced it would start selling milk shots alongside its newest ‘Extra Flamin’ Hot’ spicy snacks, as research showed those in the U.K. could not handle the heat of the Extra Flamin’ Hot flavor. 

The ‘Not Extra Flamin’ Hot Milk’ was to hit the shelves on April 1st and be on sale for “as long it takes for the British taste buds to mature to the spice,” said Dalila FopsRoy, head of brand innovation. PepsiCo is onto something. 

Arby’s did this for real two years ago. The “We have the meats” fast-food chain offered the Diablo Dare Challenge. The Diablo Dare is a sandwich so spicy that it included a free vanilla shake to cool the mouth between bites. It combined heat from five sources of spice: ghost pepper jack cheese, fiery hot seasoning, fire-roasted jalapenos and diablo barbecue sauce served on a toasted red chipotle bun with choice of 13-hour smoked brisket or crispy chicken. 

Diablo, which translates to devil, is Arby’s barbecue sauce that packs in the heat from cayenne, chili, chipotle and habanero peppers. The fiery hot seasoning is made-up of cayenne red peppers, habanero powder and capsicum.

What’s capsicum? All chilies belong to the genus Capsicum, with each chili pepper possessing unique tastes and aromas because of the varying combination of the hundreds of different chemical compounds found in them. It is the odorless, tasteless, crystalline chemical compound known as capsaicin that stimulates nerve endings in the mouth and skin, triggering production of a neurotransmitter that signals the brain that the body is in pain, specifically because it is on fire. Not only is it inherently in chilies, it is available as an isolated ingredient and the compound for making foods fiery.  

The concentration of capsaicin, which is referred to as the chili’s pungency, is measured in Scoville Heat Units (SHU) using high-performance liquid chromatography. Pure capsaicin tops out the Scoville scale at 16 million SHU. To perfect the combination of flavor and heat from chilis, it’s all about managing capsaicin levels to allow the flavor of spices and chili peppers to be tasted. And, with some chilis, heat may come on fast, while with others, it may be slow. Some strike and vanish. Others linger. 

The Carolina Reaper is among the world’s hottest chilies, averaging 1.64 million SHU, with some peaking at almost 2.2 million SHU. While the pepper is said to have a fruity aroma and flavor, most tastebuds never get the chance to taste it. Bell peppers, on the other hand, which are also part of the Capsicum genus, lack capsaicin. They score zero on the Scoville scale. This is why the bell pepper’s flavor is fully tasted and is noticeably different between the different colored cultivars.

That milkshake Arby’s gave out with the Diablo Dare helped solubilize the capsaicin, allowing for more flavor to come through. This is because capsaicin is soluble in fat and the milkshake has a high fat content. So does cheese. 

But it’s more than that. Remember, capsaicin binds to pain receptors in the mouth, which causes the burning sensation. Casein—one of milk’s proteins--has the ability to bind to capsaicin molecules, reducing their ability to bind to the receptors and therefore diminishing the sensation of heat. 

And this is why dairy foods are a great vehicle for heat. 
There is a growing trend toward worldly, spicier flavors, according to the culinary experts at Affinity Group, Charlotte, N.C. They urge industry professionals to embrace the increasing demand for spicy flavors as an opportunity for innovation and collaboration in order to foster growth in the coming year.

“We’re seeing a growing interest in exploring the complexity of heat beyond just the intensity,” said Bridget McCall, vice president of culinary and innovation at Affinity Group. “It’s about understanding and appreciating the nuanced flavors that different spices bring to the table.”

She emphasized that this trend underscores a broader culinary narrative where adventurous eaters are eager to explore diverse, vibrant flavors from around the globe. Balancing the heat while enhancing and diversifying flavor profiles is key to successfully navigating this trend. Understanding how to pair the fruity notes of a habanero pepper with something as rich as dark chocolate can transform a dish into an unforgettable experience, exciting today’s diner with culinary innovation. (Sounds like a great ice cream mix-in.)

“It’s not about adding heat for the sake of heat,” said Rebecca Gruwell, corporate chef at Affinity Group. “It’s about creating a balanced dish where the spice enhances, rather than overwhelms, the overall flavor.”

2024 World Championship Cheese Contest 
This year was the 35th biennial World Championship Cheese Contest. Hosted by the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association in Madison, Wis., on March 7, this year’s contest featured an impressive array of entries, with more than 3,300 products from 25 countries and 32 U.S. states. 
A cheese from Switzerland-based Gourmino took home the top overall honor once again. This time, however, it was for the company’s Hornbacher, rather than its Gruyere, which was the star the past two contests. 

Artikaas Vintage Lot 18, an aged gouda, was named first runner-up. Artikaas is exclusively imported by Dutch Cheese Makers, the daughter company of Royal A-ware in the Netherlands. 

Eighty four best-of-class finishes went to American cheesemakers, who received the most gold medals. All results from the 2024 World Championship Cheese Contest can be found HERE. Congrats!