Thursday, January 18, 2018

Never Underestimate the Power of the Package; Are You Due for a Redesign?

The Winter Fancy Food Show starts in two days. During the past few weeks I have received many sneak peaks of food and beverage innovations to debut at the show. Many product descriptions sound enticing, and then, yikes, I see a photo of the packaged product.

It’s truly amazing how so many innovators think so little of the package.

Today’s innovators have these great new product concepts. These are products they are passionate about and consume their life. (Think Shark Tank.) Then they package it in a low-quality, generic container with non-descriptive graphics.   

Repeat after me: The package is the first thing the potential customer sees. It’s the first step to a sale.

You must make package selection a priority. And when possible, make the package work for the product.

When I was in research and development at Kraft more than 25 years ago, the 3 P’s of innovation—product, process and package--were the foundation of every project. All three departments worked together from concept to execution. Make package development part of your first day of innovation.

At the beginning of February, Unilever will roll out Magnum tubs to the U.S. market. This product made its global debut this past October in select European markets. It is one of the best examples ever of having the package work for the product.

Until now, the Magnum brand was limited to premium stick bar novelties. These ice cream bars were known for their signature crunch as one bites into the outer shell of exquisite chocolate. The company believed it was important for the consumer to experience this interaction in a tub container. This new concept takes the signature Magnum chocolate and silky ice cream from the classic bar and reimagines it into a scoopable format.

This first-of-a-kind indulgent ice cream experience relies on the internal sides of the Magnum tub to be encased in a shell of chocolate, which preserves the iconic chocolate crack that ice cream lovers hear upon biting into a Magnum ice cream bar. The consumer squeezes the sides of the tub to crack the chocolate shell and then break into the top thick chocolate layer, for the perfect mixture of rich chocolate shards and silky ice cream in every spoonful. The four varieties are: Dark Chocolate Raspberry, Milk Chocolate Hazelnut, Milk Chocolate Vanilla and White Chocolate Vanilla.

“Magnum tubs offer a new, multisensory way to enjoy Magnum ice cream that is unlike anything available in the category today,” says Bruno Francisco, marketing director of ice cream at Unilever. “It is truly a revolutionary ice cream experience that our fans are going to love.”

One must never forget the purpose of the package, as I explained to attendees of the inaugural Frozen Dessert Conference sponsored by the University of Wisconsin-Madison Department of Food Science this past October. 

The purpose of the package is to contain, protect product, distribute, merchandise, showcase, protect consumer with tamper evident feature, and allow the consumer to store and use as needed. But it can do more.

The first questions every ice cream innovator must answer during the development process are:
  • Paper or plastic?
  • Size: 10-, 12-, 14-, 16-, 32-, 48-, 64-ounces or ???
  • Square flat, round, squround?
  • Clear?
  • Mixed materials?
  • Extra functions, e.g., easy open, tamper evidence?
Influencing the answers to these questions will be decisions regarding graphics and brand identity.

Clearly Magnum’s message is premium indulgence, unlike anything you ever experienced before.

This past fall, with the competition growing from national and regional competitors, United Dairy Farmers (UDF) decided to redesign the graphics on its ice cream packaging. The goal was to communicate the unique emotion of the brand’s story.

“We needed someone who could translate the pride we have in our legacy brand to a complete redesign that conveys our commitment to producing the best ice cream for our customers and making it relevant to a new generation of families,” says Brad Lindner, president and ceo.

According to Simon Thorneycroft, founder and ceo of Perspective: Branding, San Francisco, the company that did the redesign, “This is a story about a classic American family with a rich history that has always been devoted to producing the best quality and a commitment to always deliver great products and excellent service. It’s the singular idea of ‘passing down the good stuff,’ that speaks to the brand character, the product and the origins of the recipes.”

After an extensive strategic visual audit, Perspective: Branding revamped the UDF’s Homemade Brand line starting with a new distinctive identity: the image of a father and son gazing out to the future sitting atop the brand name.

“We are paying homage to the wholesome values and family history, the passing of the baton from generation to generation,” Thorneycroft adds.

The design includes a white contemporary font with a twirl in the letter ‘o’ on a solid black rectangle, which represents the creaminess and the act of mixing in all of the quality ingredients. Photography of a luscious and large ice cream scoop and natural ingredients used to make the product cues the high-quality ingredients (many of which UDF makes itself) that go into the creation of the ice cream and its’ unforgettable taste appeal. A white marble background evokes a modern kitchen countertop, or a slab where the ice cream is cut, to check for quality and consistency. Each flavor is written on a recipe card to highlight the homemade ingredients and allude to the traditional passing down of recipes. Finally, the lid color was changed from a generic black to a premium gold reflecting both the quality and a cue to dairy.

Speaking of colors, here are some generalizations regarding color considerations.
  • Green=warm, friendly, good-for-you
  • Orange, Red and Yellow=action colors to attract younger consumers
  • Gold or Silver=premium, upscale
  • Black or Metallic=slick, modern
  • Clear=purity, naturalness
And the newest addition to this list is
  • Blue=high protein content

Packaging and graphics showcase what’s inside. It gets the mouth watering.

La Terra Fina recently did a redesign as well. The goal was to better communicate the real, premium ingredients and fresh flavors in their dips to further differentiate on shelf.

Ripe artichokes, deep green spinach, lemons and chunks of Parmesan cheese are among the fresh ingredients that adorn the brand’s new look. La Terra Fina’s brand revitalization marks a shift for the company to include a food-inspired focus, with a fresh, contemporary and worldly vibe. The brand has a new logo, too, with packaging showcasing vibrant, real food photography that highlights the fresh ingredients used in each product. 

“A fresh look at our packaging was long overdue,” says Stephanie Robbins, director of brand development. “Our goal is to reflect our emphasis on premium ingredients and flavors, along with our passion for making food you’d be proud to call homemade.”

Another ice cream package recently redesigned comes from Tillamook County Creamery Association. The 108-year-old farmer-owned cooperative from the Pacific Northwest has a new look for its superpremium line. The redesign features a cleaner, bold font, and places an emphasis on flavor, with each of the 14 flavors in the series owning a unique color. Re-named “Special Batch,” a cream band around the lid ties the entire line together to help consumers identify Tillamook Special Batch items on-shelf.

“As a farmer-owned co-op, it is important to us that our farmer-heritage is reflected within the package redesign, while still achieving the playful tone that is consistent with our brand character,” says Stephanie Carson, ice cream category manager. “This line is a celebration of specialty flavors made with real artisan ingredients so the new look puts flavor front and center.”

And then there’s Chobani. In celebration of its 10th anniversary, the brand had a makeover.

Chobani’s in-house creative team spent more than a year developing the evolved brand look and feel.
 This differentiates the brand at shelf and reflects its founding mission to provide better food for more people. The brand’s creative expression—Fighting for Happily Ever After—is shaping everything from the brand’s packaging, website and campaigns to its cafés, and more.

I love that: fighting for happily ever after.

Does your package talk to the consumer? Does it compel them to buy? Maybe it’s time for a makeover.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Sugar will be a Leading Label Claim on Dairy Foods in 2018

Two weeks into the New Year and I am confident in stating that sugar content will a leading label claim on dairy foods in 2018. If reducing or eliminating added sugar is not a priority for you yet, it’s time to make it one.

HealthFocus International reports that consumers around the world have decreased their use of sugar. The International Food Information Council (IFIC) 2017 Food & Health Survey shows that the majority (76%) of U.S. shoppers are trying to avoid or limit their sugar intake. They are doing so by eliminating certain foods from their diet. Let’s make sure it’s not dairy.

Further, six in 10 consumers view added sugars negatively, according to IFIC research.

The dairy industry, in particular yogurt marketers, are responding. Just look at the new products rolling out to assist consumers with their New Year health and wellness resolutions, which for many is avoiding or limiting sugar intake.

On January 3rd, siggi’s launched 4% No Added Sugar Yogurt. The new yogurt comes in 4.4-ounce flat containers, with a single serving containing 4 grams of fat, 10 grams of protein, 5 grams of sugar (from the milk and fruit), and 110 to 120 calories, depending on variety. There are two initial flavors. They are: Banana & Cinnamon and Peach & Mango.

“We have always been at the forefront of reducing sugar in yogurt, and we are constantly pushing ourselves to use even less sugar while still making delicious yogurt with no strange additives,” says Siggi Hilmarsson, founder. “We understand that consumers today more than ever want less sugar. For example, in a recent survey we conducted, over 80% of participants noted that they are actively trying to reduce their sugar consumption. Our hope in launching this no-added-sugar line of skyr is to provide everyone with a tasty new yogurt that takes one step further in sugar reduction. We’re excited about it and hope our fans are too.”

All siggi’s yogurts are made without any artificial preservatives, sweeteners, flavors or colors. The new product has a suggested retail price of $1.69.

DanoneWave is introducing Happy Family Organics branded yogurt. Happy Baby Organics Whole Milk Yogurt is a “baby’s first” yogurt and is described as the “perfect size for tiny tummies.” With no added sweetener, and enhanced with vitamin D and probiotics, this non GMO-certified yogurt comes in four varieties. They are: Banana & Sweet Potato, Blueberry, Peach & Mango and Plain. The yogurt comes in six packs of 1.76-ounce containers.

There’s also new Happy Tot Whole Milk Yogurt in 4-ounce cups and 3.5-ounce pouches. The cups come in six packs and the pouches in boxes of four. The tot line, designed for toddlers up to three years old, is also void of added sweetener and is enhanced with vitamin D and probiotics. The cups come in Apple & Pear; Apple, Mango & Carrot; and Strawberry, Banana, Oats & Chia varieties. The three pouch flavors are: Apple & Blackberry; Banana, Mango & Spinach; and Strawberry, Banana, Oats & Chia.
General Mills is following suit. The company will soon be rolling out Annie’s Homegrown No Sugar Added Whole Milk Yogurt in pouches. Varieties are: Banana, Blueberry Avocado; Mango Sweet Potato; Peach Pumpkin; and Raspberry, Strawberry Spinach.

Icelandic Provisions, which sweetens its skyr with just a “little bit” of cane sugar, proudly boasts sugar content on front panels of its newly redesigned package. The company has the tagline of “rich in culture, not in sugar.” This month the company is rolling out a Cherry Black Currant variety, which was crafted in partnership with Chef Gunnar Gislason, one of Iceland’s most acclaimed chefs and a pioneer ushering in the Nordic food movement in the U.S. The new flavor combines naturally sweet ripe black cherries with the tart punch of black currant, both of which are commonly found throughout the Nordics.

“Eating skyr with ripe berries is a tradition in Iceland that goes back centuries. For this flavor, we wanted to craft a cherry that was more complex than what Americans currently have access to and pay homage to that Nordic food tradition of being playful in ingredient pairings,” says Chef Gunnar regarding how the flavor was approached.

Here’s what formulators need to address when reducing or eliminating added sugars in dairy foods.

1)    If fruit is part of the product, a higher brix, more premium fruit may be necessary. This will deliver extra natural sweetness to the product.
2)    When you are removing or reducing added sugar, you are decreasing solids. Something needs to be added to replace the bulk in order to maintain desirable texture, mouthfeel and product consistency through shelf life. Clean-label options include everything from organic tapioca starch (used in many of the baby and tot products because tapioca is easy on sensitive tummies) to pectin and locust bean gum. Various fibers are also an option, with some adding natural sweetness.
3)    In frozen desserts, sugar impacts freezing temperature of the mix. Extra stabilization is required when sugar is reduced or removed. Protein helps. That’s the secret to the low-sugar, high-protein frozen dairy desserts in the market.
4)    Lastly, a little all-natural, high-intensity stevia sweetener may just be what the formulation requires to meet the sweet threshold of today’s consumers. Don’t be afraid to try the next-generation of stevia ingredients in the market. 

Now, don’t believe the data that sugar content is important to today’s shoppers? Here’s one of my famous real-life educational encounters that support the data. (Sometimes these scenarios, and they are true, make me feel like I am on a Saturday Night Live skit. It sure makes my job fun!)

The stage: The other day while relaxing at a pedicure salon, I was catching up on my reading of food industry publications. The 40-something woman next to me queried about my profession because of my reading materials. After I explained, here’s how the conversation went down:

“So tell me about fairlife milk. How come it has less sugar?”

“Sure, I would love to explain. It’s really quite simple. Similar to how when all milk is delivered fresh from the farm to the processing plant and gets separated into skim milk and cream, and then the cream gets added back to make products such as 1% low-fat milk and 2% reduced-fat milk, fairlife uses similar separation technology to remove other nutrients, namely lactose, which is milk sugar, and protein. The company then combines the desired amounts of all these milk components to have a product with half the sugar, of which none is lactose, and 50% more protein. It’s a pretty straightforward, yet quite sophisticated system.”

“Well, I was buying unsweetened almond milk because it has no sugar. See, I am trying to cut sugar out of my diet wherever possible so I can still enjoy some dessert and wine, of course. But I don’t really care for almond milk and it also does not have much protein. I’m thinking of switching to fairlife, but it is pricey.”

“It costs more because you are paying for the technology to concentrate the protein and remove sugar. Kool-Aid is cheaper than orange juice, but are you going to serve your family orange Kool-Aid for breakfast?”  

I think I returned her back to milk. (Is that pedicure a business expense???)

Commit to reducing the sugar content of your dairy products in 2018!

Hope to see you in less than two weeks at either Fancy Food in San Fran or Dairy Forum in Palm Springs!

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Dairy Foods Innovations: Five Opportunities for Dairy Foods Innovating and Marketing in 2018

Photo source: DMK Group

Happy New Year!

Love. Peace. Hope. My personal mantra for 2018.

Professionally, let’s commit to make 2018 dairy’s best year ever by working together to promote dairy’s deliciousness, wholesomeness and nutritional superiority. Let’s never forget that when the dairy industry works together we become stronger and have a more believable message. Competition keeps us motivated. It’s time to embrace the current food and beverage landscape with a unified positive dairy message.

Here are five suggestions to include in your innovation and marketing plans of dairy foods this coming year.

1. Qualify the protein. It’s time to not just flag protein content but flag that it's dairy/milk/whey protein. Talk about the quality and complete amino acid profile. Why? Well, I have to say, watch what you ask for. Many non-dairy/dairy alternative/nut juice product marketers are no longer using the word milk on their products because they’ve discovered more powerful words: plant based.
The Specialty Food Association’s Trendspotter Panel identified plant-based foods as the hottest food trend in 2018. Consumers have been hearing and reading nutritional advice to have a more plant based diet, and as a result shoppers are gravitating to alternative dairy products because they are “plant based.” Let’s not waste time trying to dispute this message, rather, let’s explain why dairy protein is superior to plant protein.

MOPRO Nutrition does a great job of doing this. This cultured dairy product, which is making its debut in a vanilla flavor, is made with only six ingredients. They are: whole milk, whey protein isolate, soy lecithin, organic blue agave syrup, vanilla extract, and live and active cultures, including probiotics.

A 5.3-ounce cup contains 24 grams of total protein. The majority (13 grams) of this comes from cross-flow microfiltration (CFM) whey protein isolate. The other 11 grams is inherent to the yogurt. CFM is a proprietary membrane technique used to yield a highly pure, nutritionally superior and undenatured whey protein isolate.

Each container also has 3 grams of branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), which are essential nutrients that the body obtains from proteins found in food, especially meat, dairy products and legumes. They include leucine, isoleucine and valine. “Branched-chain” refers to the chemical structure of these amino acids. There is research that indicates BCAAs promote muscle synthesis and increase muscle growth over time as well as help with fatigue from athletic training.

A container of MOPRO has 250 calories, 13 grams of fat and 4 grams of sugar, of which 1 gram is classified as added sugar. All of the ingredients in this gluten-free product are non-GMO. And it’s delicious. (Congrats Michael!)

2.  Probiotics and prebiotics need to take center stage. Consumers historically have associated probiotics with yogurt and other fermented dairy foods. This has evolved over the past decade as scientists gained a better understanding of how these microorganisms survive, thrive and exert health benefits on the host. Researchers also continue to learn how prebiotics, which are fuel for probiotics, selectively influence probiotic activity in the gut. Together, probiotics and prebiotics are recognized as a natural solution for overall wellness, as research suggests the gastrointestinal system is at the center of metabolic health and disease prevention.

Roughly a quarter of U.S. adults seek out foods and beverages with high amounts of probiotics or prebiotics, according to a 2017 national consumer survey conducted by Packaged Facts, Rockville, Md. This interest is motivating innovation in the food and beverage industry.

From April 2016 to April 2017, nearly 2% of new food and beverage products globally contained probiotics, rising to 3% in the U.S. market, according to Innova Market Insights. The number of probiotic product introductions globally grew from less than 100 in 2002 to nearly 1,800 in 2016, with U.S. by far the leading market, followed by the U.K. and Canada. Cup yogurt, drinkable yogurt and similar beverages, infant products, and sports powders are the top probiotic food and beverage categories globally. It’s time to better market the inclusion of probiotics and prebiotics in dairy foods. Those plant-based food and beverage marketers are doing it.

To read more about next-generation probiotics and prebiotics, link HERE to a special report I recently wrote for Food Business News.

3. Make dairy foods more accessible. Fruit and granola parfaits at Starbucks and single-serve bottles of milk at McDonald’s are not enough. It’s time to brainstorm with local retailers and foodservice operators to identify ways to make dairy foods more accessible. The plant people are doing it.

Just this week I received a press release from Interstate Hotels & Resorts, a leading global hotel management company, about the launch of 27 new vegetarian and vegan culinary menu items for its managed hotels.

“We recognized a shift in the growing demand of consumers craving healthier options and it is our job to cater to the desires of our guests and meeting attendees,” said Interstates Vice President of Food & Beverage Operations Bradley Moore. “There is a clear need to offer plant-based menu items and we are thrilled about the quality, variety and benefits our hotels will be able to provide to travelers seeking healthy alternatives while on the road.”

I bet these travelers would buy more dairy-based snack and on-the-go foods if they were made accessible.

A few months ago I reported on what DMK Group, Germany’s largest dairy cooperative, is doing to shake up the convenience market. This innovation is the Milram to-go concept “Frischer Genuss.” Way to go DMK (Hi Oliver!)

The assortment consists of three products: quark-creme, classic rice pudding and skyr. Each Milram-branded 185-gram clear plastic cup is filled half way with one of the products. The cups are sealed to maintain freshness for about three-weeks. Retailers, or foodservice operators, receive the sealed cups, along with dome lids and sealing tape, so they can turn the product into fresh parfaits with fruits, nuts, granola, etc., on an as-needed basis. This decreases waste in terms of on-site scooping of product into cups as well as reduced shelf life because of opened perishability.

“Ready-to-eat snacks with fresh ingredients are totally on-trend. Consumers expect ultra-fresh products with a hand-made character in this segment,” says Matthias Rensch, chief operating officer at DMK Brand. “With Milram Frischer Genuss, our retail partners can respond to their customers’ continuing demand from now on and give sales an added boost. The new to-go concept combines ultra-fresh convenience with well-known brand quality and minimal handling.”

My Dutch friends at De Zuivelmakers (Hi Niels!) have been very aggressive in their efforts to offer fresh dairy to on-the-go consumers. Congrats. Most recently they debuted a yogurt bar concept, which is now in more than 150 stores--both foodservice and retail--around the Benelux. This VIDEO shows you what the yogurt bar is all about.

4. Be transparent in your process. I just submitted a beverages trends special report to Food Business News. It publishes next week. When conducting my research, numerous beverage processors emphasized that consumers want transparency in their beverage brands. They want clean label with minimal ingredients, and minimal processing is also being marketed to the consumer. Think “cold brew,” “cold press” and “high-pressure processing.” One juice beverage marketer said that 2018 will be the year that the relevancy of processing becomes mainstream.

Consumers increasingly want full disclosure regarding food additives, including source and function, as well as how a product is made. Think about Greek yogurt. This is something we missed when trying to figure out what made Greek yogurt such a game changer. Yes, it’s higher in protein. Yes, it tastes different. Yes, it has a different texture and mouthfeel than mainstream yogurt. And YES: authentically produced Greek yogurt is made using a more hands-on approach, a different process. Consumers were as fascinated about the product as the straining process. They likely imagined Greek dairymen standing around a strainer watching the product thicken for hours at a time.

In 2018, commit to clean label and clean process. The two are the perfect marriage. And the dairy industry is well poised to be a leader in the clean-food movement. Today’s shoppers want to understand how their food was made. Tell them. Engage them.

5. Protect your product. Part of that transparency in ingredients and process includes the steps you take to ensure food safety. Further, new portable formats require special attention to food safety, as exposure to the elements exposes product to contamination.

Protect. Promote. Protein. Probiotics. Portability.
Love. Peace. Hope.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Dairy Foods Forecast: Ice Cream Flavor Trends 2018

Think dark, rich, ethnic, culinary…and comfort flavors.

As the year starts to wind down, food and beverage market analysts issue forecasts for macro trends that will drive innovation. I take those trends and combine them with the knowledge gained throughout the year from attending international trade shows and talking with suppliers and marketers.

In case you missed last week’s blog titled “Dairy Foods Forecast 2018: It’s All About Creating Disruption,” you can link to it HERE. I provide five macro-trends to assist with your product development and marketing efforts this coming year. I explain how it’s time to disrupt in order to differentiate.

Today’s annual blog is one of my favorites to write. It’s my forecast of what to expect in ice cream the next year or two. This forecast is fueled by the disruption taking place in the world. Good, bad or simply different, when there’s unknowns, consumers tend to seek out familiar and comforting foods.

That brings me to Flavor Forecast #1: The Basics, Premiumized. Yes, that means vanilla and chocolate, smooth. No ripples or crunchies. This is best exemplified by a recent rollout by Coolhaus. The Best of Both Worlds Vanilla is made with both Tahitian and Madagascar vanilla beans to yield a rich, sweet and sophisticated flavor with clean floral notes.

“There is nothing #basic about this elevated classic,” according to the company.

It’s time to revisit your basic flavor line--the ice creams without any inclusions--and give the flavors a makeover. Coffee might now be cold-brew. Lemon, make it with Meyer lemons.

That brings me to Flavor Forecast #2: Sophisticated Fruits. Meyer lemon is one example. Others include Sicilian blood orange, Asian pear and dragon fruit. It’s easier to add these whole fruits to the top of freshly made gelato, so for packaged retail products, it’s best to source natural flavor extracts and use them to deliver robust fruit aromas. Tell the story of the fruit. Describe it. Communicate what makes this fruit special.

Flavor Forecast #3: Deep and Dark. As much as consumers appreciate lighter, simpler comfort foods and flavors during disruptive times, they also have a darker side where they like to escape. Here’s where flavors such as brown butter, smoky almond, burned pineapple and candied bacon come into play.

Also part of Deep and Dark is boozy. Think barrel-aged flavors, whiskey, rum. Spirits with a comforting twist make Deep and Dark more inviting.

Earlier this year, Nestle Ice Cream rolled out five varieties of Haagen-Dazs Spirits to the Canadian marketplace. The new line comes in five alcohol-filled flavors. They are: Irish Cream Coffee & Biscotti (Irish cream-flavored ice cream with coffee swirl and biscotti bites), Rum Ginger Cookie (rum-infused ginger ice cream with ginger cookie pieces), Rum Vanilla Caramel Blondie (rum-infused vanilla ice cream, blondie chunks and caramel ripple), Vodka Key Lime Pie (vodka-infused key lime ice cream with graham cracker ripple) and Whiskey Chocolate Truffle (whiskey infused chocolate and white mousse ice creams with truffle pieces). With less than 1% alcohol content, the ice creams are not considered an alcohol product. 

Flavor Forecast #4: Cocktails Deconstructed. That’s a nice lead into this next trend. Youngers drinkers today have an affinity for mixed cocktails. Everything from the higher-end cosmopolitan to the tropical pina colada. Deconstructing these drinks and turning them into a non-alcoholic frozen dessert is trending in restaurants. It can happen in the packaged ice cream sector, too. 

Flavor Forecast #5: Deconstructing Desserts. For long, ice cream manufacturers offered “two-fers.” That’s when you put one dessert into another, such as brownie or cheesecake bites into ice cream. The trend of Deconstructing Desserts is more sophisticated. It’s the unique addition of individual dessert ingredients to recreate the dessert in ice cream format. An example might be blueberry cobbler, where the ice cream version has a buttery ice cream base with real blueberries and oat and graham clusters.

Flavor Forecast #6: Street Food. Food trucks, push carts and open markets, consumers love them. I challenge an ice cream marketer to roll out a line of street food-inspired ice creams. Think street cart churros. Sweet bao buns. Fruit-filled crepes.

Flavor Forecast #7: Asian Flavors. As consumers gain a better appreciation of Asian cuisine—there’s more than Chinese takeout and sushi—they want to explore the flavors of Eastern Asia. Think black sesame, matcha tea and candied ginger, as well as that Asian pear and bao buns already mentioned. Maybe it comes packed in a takeout-style cardboard box. 

Flavor Forecast #8: Honey and Butter. Honey and butter, together or separate, are trending flavors across all foods. They are appreciated as natural and delicious. In ice cream they can be used to add a premium layer of flavor. Butter did it to pecan and honey brought vanilla up notch. Work these flavors into your next creation.

Flavor Forecast #9: Coconut. The healthfulness of coconut water and coconut milk/juice has made anything and everything with coconut highly attractive to today’s consumers. Ice cream makers know that working with shredded coconut can be challenging. It’s sticky and clumps. But there’s ways around this, including having the coconut as part of an inclusion piece.

Flavor Forecast #10: Caramel with Kick. Ice cream and caramel are a match made in heaven, which was recently confirmed with the sea salt caramel flavor. The next generation of caramel variegates will have an extra layer of flavor, just not salt. Think smoky, spicy, candied, bacon, coconut, and wait for it…honey. The latest from Martha Stewart is to take caramel to new heights with a couple spoonfuls of honey. What an awesome variegate for ice cream, maybe with pieces of Asian pear.

This is the last blog of 2017. Talk soon in 2018. Happy holidays!

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Dairy Foods Forecast 2018: It’s All About Creating Disruption

Photo source: Starbucks

‘Tis the season for commentary on what to expect this coming year. So, of course, I must chime in. I would like to preface that many of my predictions come from observing, listening and looking beyond the traditional dairy departments. I highly recommend it.

It is exhausting- and time-consuming work, but remember, scanner data only tells you what consumers purchased in the past, and only in select channels. It does not tell you why they made those purchases. It’s also not a promise of what consumers will buy tomorrow.

Survey data should be helpful, but responses often include fabrications. (That’s a fancy word for lies.) Consumers say one thing and behave differently. It’s like parallel universes. They claim to avoid meat yet the popularity of In-N-Out Burger, which is located in some of the most health-conscious regions of the U.S., is at an all-time high. (For those of you unfamiliar with the chain, it only sells beef burgers (with optional cheese), fries, milkshakes and soda. That’s it. No salads. No grilled chicken sandwiches.)

It’s amazing what you can learn from real people going about their daily life.


Just two days ago at my gym, I overheard the woman in front of me at the coffee kiosk order a latte with almond milk (what many of us prefer to call almond juice). The barista informed her they were temporarily out but have soy as an option. I almost spoke up to say there’s real milk as an option, too! I refrained and was rewarded. The woman responded that she doesn’t do soy but will take cream. She then added, with a giggle, that she prefers cream but orders almond milk because it’s healthier.

Alright my friends, digest that for a moment. There clearly is an opportunity to educate about dairy nutrition while communicating its deliciousness.

Here’s an ah hah moment. This one happened standing in an almost two-hour long line—outside the store--on Saturday at Bath & Body Works’ Annual Candle Sale. Yes, this is a thing. It was my first—and likely last—time but as long as I was there, and it was a 60F day in Chicago in December, I figured why not stand in line for normally $24.50 candles now priced at $8.99, limit 15. (I maxed my purchase.)

After about 10 minutes of self entertaining on my phone, I started conversing with my line mates. Most were alone and equally bored. I was the elder in the group, surrounded by millennial women, professionals, a few were school teachers. They started sharing online coupons, app deals, pop-up sales. I quickly learned that many Millennials, though they appreciate quality over quantity, value deals. They shop sales. They might not be clipping coupons from the Sunday paper like me, but they are downloading and scanning all types of savings. Their personal device never leaves their side.

They also crave new and different. I bought five candles of each of my three favorite scents to reach the 15 limit. Two of my new acquaintances urged me to expand my horizons and try 15 different scents, some of which the store was only offering this holiday season. They explained how exploring the unknown is an important part of who they are.

When one of them queried about my profession, her response was that she could not survive without cheese snacks. She loves them all, from Hillshire to Oscar Mayer to Sargento. Her two complaints were there’s no cheese snack app with coupons and she would like more variety. Frankly, I think there’s a great deal of options in this space, but what do I know? Sounds like limited-edition and seasonal offerings make sense for cheese snacks, too. Opportunity?

I could go on and on, but I will end with this third observation. I arrived early to Northwestern Hospital for my annual checkup a few weeks ago. Early was planned, as I love their made-to-order omelet station for breakfast. So do a lot of patients and staff. While waiting for my order, I walked around to see what else was offered. There were a lot of portion packs of fresh food, such as two hard-boiled eggs, fruit cups and, wait for it, cottage cheese bowls. Imagine yogurt and fruit parfaits, but instead, lidded plastic bowls with hand-portioned cottage cheese. Then there were sides of berries, granola and other toppings.

Of course, I had to ask about this a la carte item. I was told it sells out daily. They can’t keep it stocked during the lunch hour.

This brings me to an item I featured a few weeks ago as a Daily Dose of Dairy. This dairy parfait cup concept from DMK Group is definitely a category disruptor. The assortment consists of three products: quark-creme, classic rice pudding and skyr. The clear plastic cups carry DMK’s Milram brand and are filled half way with one of the products. The cups are sealed to maintain freshness for about three-weeks. Retailers receive the sealed cups, along with dome lids and sealing tape, so they can turn the product into fresh parfaits with fruits, nuts, granola, etc., on an as-needed basis. This decreases waste in terms of on-site scooping of product into cups as well as reduced shelf life because of opened perishability.

“Ready-to-eat snacks with fresh ingredients are totally on-trend. Consumers expect ultra-fresh products with a hand-made character in this segment,” says Matthias Rensch, chief operating officer at DMK Brand. “The new to-go concept combines ultra-fresh convenience with well-known brand quality and minimal handling.”

This type of product can also be sold alongside a self-serve topping bar. Maybe cottage cheese is one of the products.

Here are the five opportunities I’ve identified for dairy in 2018.

1. Get your products placed in foodservice channels and in supermarket departments beyond the dairy case and ice cream freezer. Do this with innovative single-serve portion packaging and creative foodservice formats.

This week, the market research experts at Packaged Facts rolled out a free e-book featuring the firm’s top food industry trends for 2018. Unlike the company’s previous predictions focusing primarily on culinary foodservice and restaurant developments, this latest e-book highlights retail food and beverage trends. It’s a must-read for brands looking to stay one step ahead of the competition as they adapt to changing consumer preferences and prepare for major market shifts in 2018 and beyond. You can download it by linking HERE.

“Grocery retail has never been more cutthroat. With razor-thin profit margins and new pricing pressure from Amazon, Lidl and ALDI, U.S. food retailers must adapt quickly in order to remain competitive and appeal to shifting consumer preferences,” says David Sprinkle, publisher for Packaged Facts and author of the e-book.

In other words, they must disrupt and change their way of doing business.

Though the report focuses on the U.S., much of the content applies to all developed countries. The fact is that the current consumer landscape prioritizes quality over quantity, but still values a good deal.

2. Focus on quality over quantity. Connect with the consumer through social media and tell them a story about the product. Offer them a deal. Ask them for feedback. Build a relationship.

It’s important to remember that these days, the term quality, in regards to food and beverage, refers to ingredient sourcing, processing method and even nutrition profile. Food and beverage entrepreneurs are disrupting the way supermarkets and foodservice channels prepare, merchandise and sell food, which means dairy processors need to shake things up.

This is no longer your granddaddy’s dairy when the family name on the side of a truck was enough to get noticed. Have your granddaddy talk about the family farm on the company app and then offer a coupon via Facebook.

3. Limited-edition and seasonal flavors must be part of every product line: butter, cheese, ice cream, milk, yogurt, etc. This includes ready-to-drink single-serve beverages. This is an important segment of food retailing and tends to be highly profitable, for manufacturers, retailers and operators. Because turnover also tends to be quick, retailers and operators are often willing to try new concepts. Single-serve beverages tend to be easier to reformulate than many foods and limited-edition and seasonal formulations and promotions are an easy way to attract shoppers.

4. Natural, organic, non-GMO…these attributes are now mainstream. The Packaged Facts e-book states that the natural and organic foods market segment is worth nearly $70 billion. From 2012 to 2016, U.S. retail sales for natural and organic foods rose at a compound annual growth rate of 7%. By 2021, growth is expected to hit double digits. Dairy processors cannot afford to not be in this space. Choose your ingredients cleanly.

5. Deliciousness, consumers want it and dairy’s got it. You know it. I know it. Even vegans know it, which is why they try so hard to duplicate dairy’s deliciousness. Sometimes the dairy industry forgets to communicate the unmatchable deliciousness of dairy. Commit to it in 2018.

It’s no longer your granddaddy’s dairy. It’s time to get disruptive to differentiate in the crowded food and beverage sector.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Formulating Fitness Foods

There’s been a lot of talk about how long the protein craze can maintain momentum. Many in the health and wellness space are preparing for the protein story to change direction, with buzz words such as refuel and weight management changing to total fitness and healthful lifestyle.

Historically the term fit has been associated with exercise and clothing size. But over the years, consumers have come to embrace a more holistic definition, one that includes both the mind and body, and with the latter not dictated by dress size or number on the bathroom scale.

The dairy industry is so vested in the refueling and weight management platforms that many have failed to notice the shift in how other foods, and food ingredients, are positioning themselves to this evolving consumer who values total fitness and healthful lifestyle. It’s about choosing the right foods to not only help one build muscle, improve endurance and speedup recovery, but also to assist with fighting inflammation, staving off fatigue, improving sleep, reducing signs of aging and more.

Protein remains part of the picture. In fact, it’s a critical part of a food’s story. It’s the approach to marketing protein content that is changing.

Here’s what I am talking about. At Anuga this past October, Elsdorfer Molkerei of Germany rolled out numerous new products under its MeinQ + Protein brand. The company refers to the line as a “powerful range” for the “fitness dimension for high-protein nutrition.”

The line includes MyQ Fitness Drink. Sold in four-packs of shot-style 100-milliliter drinks, each bottle contains 10 gram of protein. Initial flavors are strawberry and vanilla. There’s a line of refrigerated yogurt dressings in Mango-Chili, Yoghurt and Yoghurt Mustard varieties. There is also new MyQ Fitness Pudding in chocolate and vanilla flavors. The puddings are low-carb, low-fat and high in protein, with a 100-gram serving providing 10-grams of protein.

Lastly, the company debuted what it calls MyQ Fitness Base. With a consistency of yogurt, this thick, creamy, unflavored high-protein dairy product can be used in cooking, with cereal or blended with fruit and whole grains.

In the U.S., to support its growing ready-to-drink (RTD) beverage business, Arizona-based Shamrock Farms is unveiling new branding and packaging to be used across all its RTD products, which currently are distributed to more than 50,000 quick service restaurants and upwards of 40,000 grocery and c-store outlets nationwide.

“Shamrock Farms continues to elevate milk, making it relevant for today’s consumers with innovative, delicious products,” says Ann Ocana, chief marketing officer. “With this change, we are taking our brand to the next level as we continue to develop a variety of milk-based beverage offerings.”

The company tapped award-winning packaging and brand design firm Flood Creative to lead the effort. Flood is well-known for its work for entrepreneurial RTD beverages, including Fuze, Body Armor and Core Hydration. The team built the new branding based on research showing a tremendous opportunity to leverage the Shamrock Farms name to reach a mainstream audience.

An updated Shamrock Farms logo now sits in a field of vibrant green on top of all Shamrock Farms RTD products, unifying the brand while connoting the pure, fresh and healthy Shamrock Farms milk inside. The new PET bottle is slightly indented on the sides making it easy to grip and hold on-the-go for an active lifestyle. The new look is debuting with the Rockin’ Refuel protein-fortified milk line, which is renaming to Rockin’ Protein in order to bring the number-one product benefit--protein for active people--to the forefront. On the new Rockin’ Protein bottle, new graphics spotlight appetite appeal and delicious taste, while showcasing protein content and flavor variety. Meanwhile, the new Cold Brew Coffee and Milk bottle will now feature graphics to showcase the blend of pure, fresh Shamrock Farms milk and Colombian coffee inside. It’s all about energizing and fighting off fatigue.

“The new design system allows each product line to showcase their individual benefits whilst unifying them quite literally under an umbrella of freshness, purity and quality,” says Paula Grant Flood Creative founder.
In addition to the new RTD bottles for Rockin’ Protein, the brand is issuing its first-ever limited-edition bottle in support of the U.S. Ski and Snowboard team and its partner athletes. The bottles feature red, white and blue graphics along with images of snowboarding and skiing, and feature the new name Rockin’ Protein. This limited-time offering will be available December to March.

“Our promise is that we are real. Shamrock Farms products are made with real milk, with real protein and real, great taste,” says Ocana. “Now with these efforts it will be easy to spot our products on shelf and know they come from Shamrock Farms, famous for pure, fresh, high-quality milk.”

And, you may have already heard that Chobani is unveiling a major brand evolution alongside its 10th anniversary. The company is expanding its vision and mission towards “universal wellness.”

Chobani’s vision of universal wellness builds on the company’s founding mission to provide better food for more people. The company plans to invest in: nutritional wellness to provide better food for more people; social wellness to increase investment in the communities it serves and the people who craft Chobani foods; and environmental wellness to build a supply chain that ensures the planet’s health.
To bring this vision to life for consumers, Chobani is launching an evolution of the brand’s creative expression—Fighting for Happily Ever After—which is shaping everything from the brand’s packaging, website and campaigns to its cafés and more. Chobani’s in-house creative team spent more than a year developing the evolved brand look and feel. This evolution differentiates the brand at shelf and reflects the values of the company.

The new creative will be supported by a robust integrated campaign to inform and educate consumers, including online video, shopper marketing, social and public relations programs. In February, the brand is planning a major commemoration of its 10th anniversary, including activations for fans and initiatives focused on strengthening communities. This wellness positioning includes new products that will be featured soon as a Daily Dose of Dairy.

The time is now to communicate the role of dairy protein in fitness and well-being.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Dairy Foods Vision: Clean Evolves to Premium and Health-Promoting in 2018 and Beyond

Thank you to my friends at William Reed for inviting me to your conference extraordinaire this week. Food Vision USA, in its third installment, was held in Chicago and featured an impressive line-up of speakers. Clean label, sustainability and transparency were recurring themes throughout the three-day conference.

I participated in a roundtable working lunch hosted by Shelley Balanko, senior vice president, The Hartman Group, where we discussed the similarities and differences between value and quality and how this influences consumers’ shopping habits.

Today’s consumers expect more than just great-tasting foods and beverages, according to Balanko. They want to know what’s in their food and drink, how it was made, who made it and why. They seek the answers to these questions not to satisfy a craving for data in this information-age, but to determine food and beverage quality. Clean, natural and less processed foods are deemed high quality in a culture that is increasingly focused on health and wellness.

Here’s what I want to emphasize to dairy processors. Balanko said that “premium” is a rapidly growing segment within the food and beverage marketplace. It is driven by consumer demand for better health and more compelling food and beverage experiences.

I’ll take this a step further and say, in dairy, premium is the new clean. This is not to say clean label should be ignored. In fact, just the contrary, it’s expected and should be the norm. But dairy can only go so clean before becoming, well, unaffordable, poor quality and simply, bad.

An incredible piece was issued by Iowa State University a few weeks ago. It’s something I’ve communicated for some time and now I feel validated. Read this and you will understand why focusing on the quality and function of ingredients is so important moving forward in the world of dairy.

“Consumers may not recognize costs, consequences of demand for ‘clean’ food,” posted Oct 31, 2017.

Eating “clean” is all about avoiding foods with additives, preservatives or other chemicals on the label. Considering the numerous studies linking certain foods with health ailments, clean eating makes sense, right?

While it may seem well intentioned, Ruth MacDonald and Ruth Litchfield, professors of food science and human nutrition at Iowa State University, warn of the consequences in terms of food waste, safety and cost. Clean food advocates suggest avoiding foods with ingredients you cannot pronounce.

MacDonald says several food manufacturers, restaurants and grocery stores have responded by removing additives to fit the definition of clean. 

The ISU professors say just because an ingredient or additive has an unfamiliar name does not automatically make it bad for you.

[I would like to add that “dihydrogen monoxide” sounds horrible. Right? That’s water!]

The decision to remove additives appears to be driven more by market demand than consideration of the benefits these additives provide and the potential food safety risk, they said. Removing nitrates from deli meats and hot dogs is just one example.

MacDonald, who has spent more than 25 years investigating links between diet and cancer, says nitrates play a necessary role in preventing the growth of Clostridium botulinum, a deadly bacterium that causes food poisoning. Therefore, completely removing nitrates would be problematic. MacDonald says food labels boasting “no nitrates” are typically referring to the synthetic version. If the package says “naturally cured” or “uncured” it likely includes celery juice--a natural source of nitrates--as an ingredient. The nitrates in celery juice are not chemically different from synthetic forms, she said. 

Consumer concern over nitrates is not without merit. Studies using animal models have found high doses of nitrates may increase the risk for colon cancer. Before rushing to eliminate nitrates from your diet, MacDonald says it is important to understand what that risk means:

Nitrates are a naturally occurring chemical found in many fruits and vegetables and do have some health benefits.

The research is based on animal tests, and evidence for similar effects in humans has not been found.

Human diets are complex and many factors influence the potential effects of nitrates on the colon.

“People have a hard time understanding the risk-benefit ratio when it comes to foods. They see a chemical, such as nitrates, listed on the label and assume it is bad or the food contains a high amount,” MacDonald said. “The food safety risk without these preservatives is so much greater.”

The chemical function of nitrates is the same regardless of the source, MacDonald added, so replacing synthetic nitrates with natural sources does not make food safer. In fact, research has shown that the amount of nitrates in celery juice is not always consistent. MacDonald says with synthetic nitrates, food manufacturers can add the precise amount to protect against food poisoning.

The same is true for products with “no high fructose corn syrup” on the label. Litchfield and MacDonald say that does not mean it is sugar free. Similar to nitrates, manufacturers replace the corn syrup with other sweeteners such as tapioca syrup, a common substitute in ketchup. MacDonald says the syrups are made using a similar conversion process, but consumers may notice a difference in price. That’s because tapioca syrup comes from cassava, which must be imported and may cost more.

“There is no evidence that high fructose corn syrup is bad for you or less natural or safe,” MacDonald said. “The food industry is developing all these alternative sweeteners--beet syrup, fruit sugars and agave syrup--but they are all sugar. The names just sound better on the label.”

[I just wrote a very comprehensive article on clean-label dairy foods--the whole farm-to-fridge story--for Food Business News. It can be accessed HERE. In addition, just this week I wrote an online Q&A on formulating next-generation clean-label dairy foods. It can be accessed HERE.]

Here’s the deal with clean label, in general.

Litchfield expects food waste in the U.S.--already about 20 pounds per person each month--will only get worse with the removal of additives and preservatives. Ingredients such as sodium benzoate, calcium propionate and potassium sorbate control the growth of microorganisms in foods without changing the character or taste of the food, she said. Without these and many other additives, foods will spoil faster, increasing food safety risk and the likelihood of more food ending up in the trash.

“Many food additives make the food structure more stable, such as keeping marshmallows soft and crackers crispy. Additives reduce off-flavors, prevent separation of liquids or oils or give foods a pleasant feel in our mouths. Taking these types of ingredients out of foods will probably increase the amount of food we throw away,” Litchfield said.

Americans expect their food supply to be safe, plentiful, convenient and low cost, which explains why grocery stores now offer more than 40,000 different food items. The convenience and choice many consumers value would not be possible without advances in food technology, the professors said--all things for consumers to consider when they ask for “clean” food.

Thank you Ruth MacDonald and Ruth Litchfield!

OK, folks. Not so fast. Like I mentioned, clean label should not be ignored by dairy foods processors. It’s expected. This is food from Mother Nature. Keep it that way. But, depending on the product, its intended distribution and its “affordable” price point, a few “less desirable” ingredients may be necessary. This is where we focus on premium and value-added nutrition. That brings me to dairy foods’ potential roll in health, wellbeing and weight management.

The International Food Information Council (IFIC) Foundation’s 2017 Annual Food and Health Survey shows that one in three shoppers are interested in the benefit of weight loss or weight management in foods. This is particularly true of younger shoppers, those between the ages of 18 and 49 years.

Dairy foods can play in this space, cleanly!

An improved understanding of appetite regulation mechanisms is enabling formulators to develop foods that help consumers feel full and satisfied. This in turn helps them eat less and ultimately lose weight, followed by maintaining weight. Fat, fiber and protein contribute to a feeling of fullness, with each of these macronutrients possessing unique benefits. For example, emerging research shows that prebiotic fibers may positively affect gut microbiota influencing the host—the consumer--to eat less while also increasing metabolism.

The BENEO-Institute, an initiative of BENEO, hosted an expert exchange during the recent Food and Nutrition Conference and Expo (FNCE) in Chicago. Dr. Raylene Reimer, associate professor in the faculties of kinesiology and medicine at the University of Calgary, explained how prebiotic fibers from chicory root benefit the gut microbiota and how this relates to successful weight management. She presented emerging science regarding the gut-brain axis, effects on body composition, satiety, energy intake in adults, children, and during pregnancy, and much more.

Rapidly growing science is showing that the role of gut microbiota in weight management is leading to an increased interest in the quality of carbohydrates and dietary fibers, which play an important role when it comes to influencing the gut microbiota. The good news is that these fibers can also assist with clean-label formulating of functional dairy foods.

Prebiotic chicory root fibers effectively support digestive health in children and adults. Chicory root fibers, inulin and oligofructose are the best-studied prebiotic fibers. They support regularity and wellbeing, which meet consumers’ needs and make them an important focus for product development efforts. The physiological mechanisms underlying digestive support by chicory root fibers are related to their prebiotic effect. They selectively stimulate the growth of good bacteria promoting saccharolytic fermentation, in particular, Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli.

Dr. Reimer has conducted numerous randomized controlled trials with prebiotics that have helped take evidence-based findings into clinical and consumer application. In addition, Dr. Reimer was one of 12 experts worldwide to recently draft and publish the updated definition and consensus statement on prebiotics.

So, what’s the latest on that updated definition and the ingredients that fit the bill?
My colleague at Food Business News, Jeff Gelski, wrote an excellent review of the status of the fiber definition. You can read it HERE.

To summarize his reporting, FDA received 12 petitions on nine different potential fibers for inclusion in the definition. This list includes inulin, soy fiber, polydextrose and resistant starch.

“The petitions were all nicely put together in providing all the evidence that they could find for a specific end point (in regard to a beneficial physiological effect),” said Paula Trumbo, who works within FDA’s Office of Nutrition and Food Labeling, Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition.

She said FDA will not amend its fiber definition, but it will amend the list of isolated and non-digestible carbohydrates that meet the definition. This situation should create new opportunities for businesses to manufacture products that address the specific physiological benefits of fiber.
This is great news for dairy foods, which can use fiber food ingredients to add value in terms of reducing added sugars, replacing fat, increasing fiber content, assisting with weight loss and weight management, and cleaning up labels.

Adding fiber to dairy foods is a win-win for processors and consumers.

The Daily Dose of Dairy blog will not publish on Friday, Nov. 24, 2017. For those who partake in turkey, stuffing, cranberries and green bean casserole, Happy Thanksgiving! To you and to readers outside the U.S., thank you for being the best you can possibly be to promote the beauty of all foods dairy!