Thursday, December 17, 2015

Dairy Foods Partners: Let’s Do the Right Things in 2016.

‘Tis that time of year when predictions and lists are posted in abundance. I promise to keep these points brief and simple. I won’t even number them, as they all sort of meld together. They are common sense, with your conscience guiding you the right way.

It’s hard to ignore Chipotle these days. The company has become fodder for all media outlets and a case study for advertising and marketing professors. For microbiologists and food scientists, Chipotle just makes us shake our heads and think this could have been prevented.

The fact is that the company may never know the ingredient source of the E. coli outbreak that occurred about a month ago. This is because the infecting inventory was no longer in house when the quick-service chain that prides itself on fresh and natural ingredients was identified by the Center for Disease Control as the provider of the deadly pathogen. By that time, the food had either been served or tossed. One thing Chipotle does know is that it will be much more discriminating with its suppliers on food safety precautions, as all of its sourcing practices may sound appealing to today’s consumers, until someone gets sick, then “food with integrity”—the company’s tagline—is not all that attractive.

There’s something for all in the food industry to learn from Chipotle. Technologies—ingredients, processes and packages--have been developed and incorporated into the evolving food chain for a reason. To be fair, for some, adaptation is purely selfish. It’s all about the bottom line. But for many, and I do believe that is most of the dairy industry, it has to do with ensuring safety and delivering on quality at an affordable price to provide balanced nutrition.

Chipotle’s mantra of fresh, never frozen, minimally cooked and unprocessed, has come to haunt the company. A key lesson for all in the food industry is to refrain from negative marketing of traditional food practices. Chipotle says it now plans to slice and dice at off-site commissaries and deliver cleaned and trimmed produce to its stores. How’s this different than purchasing the same ingredients from an approved food manufacturer following good manufacturing procedures and a proper HACCP plan?

This commissary approach comes with a hefty price tag. There’s rent, labor, packaging materials and transportation. It does not sound like a sustainable approach to sourcing ingredients. It sounds like a company that dug itself in a hole and is not sure how to get out.

Then there’s the bashing of artificial ingredients Chipotle has made in its advertising campaigns, all while the company continues to source tortillas made with chemical preservatives that inhibit the growth of mold, yeast and some bacteria. The company states on its website “We are working with our tortilla suppliers to reduce and eventually eliminate artificial preservatives from our tortillas.”

Your efforts are appreciated Chipotle, but there’s a reason why those preservatives are in the shells, and why so many others in the food industry rely on them. It’s to reduce food waste, a major issue in the U.S. and around the world.

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations estimates that about one third of the food produced globally for human consumption--approximately 1.3 billion tons every year--is lost or wasted. Accidental or intentional, this discard at both the retail and consumer levels has far-reaching social, economic and environmental ramifications. Seems to me that a little preservative makes those tortillas a more sustainable product. Natamycin in cheese, yogurt and sour cream, especially in products intended for foodservice or require lengthy shelf lives because of distribution chains, also makes sense, as do other food safety technologies.

Jayson Lusk, president-elect of the Agricultural and Applied Economics Association, told U.S. News & World Report, “If you want to make products fresh, that means you’re not going to use a preservative or it’s going to be unprocessed. It does provide a real tradeoff in terms of providing a safe product for the consumer.”

The dairy industry must unite and protect our powerful, effective food safety practices…from farm to fork. This includes medicines for maintaining the health of cows all the way to pasteurizing milk. But that does not mean we cannot do some things better.

The Listeria outbreaks in ice cream and soft cheese this year hurt all of us. The problem with Listeria is that it is everywhere. About 10% of humans are carriers without even knowing it. It’s found in soil, water and the intestines of some animals. Most infected animals show no symptoms, so the bacterium can be transferred to raw foods such as unpasteurized dairy products, raw vegetables and raw meats. Further, unlike other types of foodborne pathogens, Listeria grows at refrigerated temperatures. When it invades a manufacturing facility, it can survive and thrive for many years. Extra testing and proper sanitation are paramount, so is proper pasteurization. Heat kills Listeria. Pasteurization is not an unnecessary technology. It’s a proven food safety technique.

In closing, I would like to say reach for the low-hanging fruitful opportunities in 2016 to make your products more appealing to today’s consumers. Maybe it’s time to revisit product formulations and simplify them. I cannot tell you the times that product developers have said that the only reason an ingredient was added to a formulation was to fix a problem, rather than eliminate the problem. Some ingredients—often ones with not so nice names--function only as a bandage. This includes the full spectrum: from stabilizing ingredients to sweeteners to colors.

Let’s not give anyone a reason to critique our products or practices. Dairy foods have a healthful halo. Let’s—together—make that halo stronger in the New Year.

The Daily Dose of Dairy Friday blogs will resume on January 8th. The daily new products will continue to be sent Monday through Thursday during the holiday season. Many will have a holiday theme, such as the YoCrunch Marshmallow Hot Cocoa yogurt that opened this blog. We must never lose sight of the fact that dairy foods should be safe, delicious, nutritious, affordable, and yes, at times, fun. After all, there’s always raw almonds and kale leaves.

Happy Holidays to you and yours.
Donna Berry

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Dairy Foods Industry Trends 2016

Photo source: Chobani SoHo

In case you find it as hard to believe as I do, here’s a quick reminder, it’s almost 2016! All I can say is thank God for Amazon Prime, or else my sons would not have much under the tree this Christmas. There’s no time to shop.

Though I’m not working from dawn to dusk milking cows or converting their great gift to delicious dairy foods, it is time consuming staying on top of innovation, science and policy. I sincerely appreciate the positive feedback from the 7,000-plus global subscribers to the Daily Dose of Dairy. You make it all worth it.

Quick favor: if you have not already, please complete a very brief survey by linking HERE.

Positive feedback motivates industry suppliers to support Daily Dose of Dairy/ and without that support, this innovation tool could not stay alive.

For every survey completed, I will be donating $1.00 to the Great American Milk Drive. (If you all respond, that’s a lot of milk money.) Learn more about this powerful program that donates gallons of milk to families in need through local foodbanks by linking HERE. Thanks in advance.

Let’s kick off today’s blog with an innovation idea, a challenge, per se, for your 2016 product development team. This week I wrote an article for commissary insider, a monthly supplement to instore magazine, on boosting protein in ready-to-eat, grab-and-go foods. The reader is the culinary professional who designs the sandwiches, salads, sides and entrees sold at kiosks, coffee shops and retail foodservice merchandisers.

This is a booming segment. With retailers such as CVS, Walgreens and 7-Eleven expanding refrigerator space dedicated to such freshly hand-packed convenience foods.

Just this week, McDonald’s Canada unveiled its first-ever standalone McCafé experience at Union Station in Toronto. The concept allows the company to build its strong coffee credentials and create even stronger connections with the brand by offering guests a more complete café-style menu, rather than burgers and fries. Unique menu items include an assortment of ready-made artisan sandwiches and salads. (What is missing in the adjacent photo of the grab-and-go case is milk. Please, whoever sells milk to McDonald’s, make sure this changes.)

Here’s the innovation challenge. A growing array of commissary-prepared meals and sides have started touting nutrient contents, most notably protein. Let’s make sure they are choosing dairy proteins. The basic dairy foods staples are great add-ins, but what if you were to formulate a Greek yogurt-style dressing or spread as a high-protein alternative to mayo or cream cheese.

According to the Natural Marketing Institute, the demand for protein has increased significantly during the past eight years. The research firm has data that indicates more than half (53%) of consumers sought out foods high in protein in 2014, up from 39% in 2006. Let’s make sure dairy protein is a readily available option.

I recently visited My Fit Foods, a Houston-headquartered business that provides fresh, healthful, on-the-go foods in a retail shop environment for take-home consumption. The company emphasizes lean proteins, low-glycemic carbohydrates and heart-healthy fats in all of its meals and snacks. According to the company, a daily average of 40% protein, 40% carbohydrate and 20% fat is the optimal macronutrient percentages for balancing blood sugar and optimal energy production and fat burning.

Photo source: My Fit Foods

The culinary professionals at My Fit Foods make smart ingredient choices to boost protein contents. For example, a small serving (two) of breakfast tacos contains 370 calories and a whopping 29 grams of protein. This is achieved through the use of lean ground turkey with eggs and cheddar cheese.

For lunch or dinner there are enchiladas filled with chicken and spinach held together by nonfat Greek yogurt. They get topped with tomatillo salsa and cheese and come with a side of beans. A small serving contains 360 calories and 25 grams of protein.

A small serving of Fit Nugget Nation, which is described as house-made almond-crusted chicken nuggets with a side of cauliflower mash and green beans, provides 29 grams of protein and 410 calories. One of the little tricks to increase protein is to prepare the mash by blending cottage cheese with the cauliflower.

The protein trend is expected to grow, as is the demand for hand-packed foods. Make sure product designers are packing in dairy proteins.

According to Tammy Anderson-Wise, CEO of the Dairy Council of California, dairy processors are sitting atop one of the hottest trends in nutrition with a product line that naturally delivers what consumers seek more of in the name of good nutrition: foods high in protein.

“While the competition for protein foods, beverages and supplements may be intense, milk and dairy products enjoy a competitive edge with its irreplaceable mix of nutrients,” she says. “Consumers also value milk’s fresh, local and minimally processed attributes. I can’t think of an industry better positioned than dairy to capitalize on the demand for protein-rich foods and beverages.”

The Dairy Council of California recently published its fall Trends newsletter, which contains food and nutrition issues likely to impact the dairy industry in the next one to three years.

Here are some highlights.
  • Dietary Guidelines. The 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, slated to be released before the end of the year, but it’s looking like it could get pushed into early 2016, are more contentious than in the past. The good news is that milk and dairy foods fare well in the Dietary Guidelines as they are included in all three recommended dietary patterns.
  • Local Foods Movement. Locally produced natural foods top consumers’ desirable list. Consumers are increasingly vocal about wanting to know where their food comes from. Nutrition and health are not always top of mind as other factors are being considered such as where and how food is produced, how fresh it is and whether sustainable methods of processing and packaging are used. Consumers are skeptical of big food industry practices with regard to animal welfare, genetically modified organisms and use of pesticides and antibiotics. There is a small but growing movement back to whole foods as a way to eat more natural and fewer processed foods. For dairy, this means a growing acceptance of whole milk, butter and full-fat yogurt as dairy fats are perceived more favorably.
Read more about “Putting transparency first” in an article I recently wrote for Food Business News by linking HERE.

  • Nutrition Makes Sense. The link between nutrition and mental and cognitive health is gaining steam. Many experts consider foods to assist mental and cognitive health as the next “big thing” in nutrition. The good news is that science shows that dairy plays a role as part of a healthy diet throughout life. Consumption of milk and milk products has been linked to improved cognitive function in children and older people in preliminary studies; however, more research is needed to confirm this connection.
  • Cheese Unlimited. Cheese—once shunned for its high content of saturated fat and sodium—is cautiously coming back into favor for its high protein and calcium levels and low sugar and lactose levels. With only a few ingredients, many cheeses are seen as natural and fresh. Research showing that saturated fat is not associated with heart disease as once believed, and that sodium may not be harmful in many people, is also slowly taking the stigma off cheese.
You can read the complete Dairy Council of California Trends newsletter by linking HERE.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

The Return of Milkfat…It’s Time to Make Cheese the Snack Food Leader in 2016!

Source: Today's blog is sponsored by Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board (thank you!)

Cheese—a food long shunned for its saturated fat and sodium content, yet ironically, per-capita consumption has been on an upswing forever—is being openly embraced by consumers for its protein content, flavor versatility and snacking convenience.

Science shows that saturated fat is no longer associated with heart disease, as once believed. And research indicates that fat, in particular, animal fat, is no longer the enemy.

Hot-off-the-presses research from Coast Packing Company and Ipsos Research indicates that younger Americans are more receptive to animal fats in their diet than their elders, and are eating accordingly. 

A survey of 1,000 adults conducted in mid-November examined how attitudes about animal fats in the American diet have changed in recent years, and how consumption patterns may be changing as well. Respondents were asked whether they were more or less open to animal fats, and whether those views extended to actual behavior. The clear finding: where animal fats are concerned, youth will be served. 

This is an excellent opportunity to get creative in snacking cheeses geared towards the palates of the millennial generation.

According to the survey, those in the 18 to 34 age bracket are twice as open to animal fats as the next oldest group (35 to 54)—15% vs. 7%--and three times as open as those 55 and over (5%). Behavior does indeed follow attitudes. By a wide margin, those 18 to 34 are leading the charge back to animal fats. Thirteen percent say their consumption has increased. In fact, consumption is dramatically higher than those 35 to 54 (5%) and those 55-plus years (2%). Just 28% of those 18 to 34 say they have reduced their intake of animal fats, vs. 33% of those 35 to 54 and 46% of those 55-plus years.

“Millennials are concluding that animal fats have been demonized for too long,” says Eric Gustafson, CEO of Coast Packing Company. “The reality is that animal fats, in moderation, are not as problematic as they once were thought to be. And in today’s foodie culture, taste is increasingly on par with health concerns.”

Age is the most decisive differentiator among the various demographic filters, the survey found. Flipping the age bracket around, a greater percentage of those 55 and up were less open to animal fats (35%) than any other age group, by a roughly 10% margin. Those 35 to 54 were most set in their ways, with 67% indicating that there had been no change in their attitudes in recent years. 

By gender, men are more open to animal fats than women (11%, compared to 7% for women); similarly, a smaller percentage of men reported being less open to animal fats (27%, to 31% for women). Think manly cheese snacks, big sticks in bold flavors.

To request a complete copy of the survey results, link HERE.
This research supports findings published in another hot-off-the-presses report, the annual trends publication--What’s in Store--from the International Dairy-Deli-Bakery Association (IDDBA). In its 30th year of credible reporting, What’s in Store 2016 is an essential dairy-deli-supermarket foodservice-bakery-cheese resource providing vital data on the retail and market trends, growth and category changes shaping the food industry.

According to IDDBA findings, 53% of shoppers are now opting for smaller snacks; 47% say they really enjoy anything new and different or trying new kinds of ethnic cuisine; and 61% are now opting for healthier snacks.

“Local” is a quality distinction marker and signifies for consumers: greater transparency and trust; fresher and more seasonal products: good taste; and support of the proximate food economy.

When it comes to cheese, the report shows that per-capita cheese consumption in the U.S. is at an all-time high, with nearly 34 pounds per person. U.S. per-capita cheese spending has increased by 37% since 2008. Ninety-eight percent of American households purchase cheese; 97% buy natural cheese and 70% buy process cheese.
Millennials are an important cheese consumer, given their desire to try new flavors and textures, as well as belief that specialty/craft and imported cheeses are worth paying more for. This includes in snacking and “tasting” formats.

Protein is a top consideration for consumers when purchasing dairy products, as 78% believe it contributes to a healthy diet and 16% look at the amount of protein when shopping.

According to Nielsen data cited in What’s in Store 2016, snacking cheese dollar sales in 2014 through all U.S. retail outlets increased 7.7%, reaching almost $1.5 billion. Unit sales were up 3.1%, indicating consumers are paying more for snacking cheeses, which suggests snacking cheeses have gone premium and command a higher price tag. 

For more information on the report, link HERE.

Separately, IDDBA also recently published a report entitled “Snacking Opportunities: Building Better Snacks.”

Developed in conjunction with The Hartman Group, the report identifies key ways food retailers can elevate snacking experiences across bakery, dairy, deli, prepared foods and specialty cheese to meet consumers’ evolving needs for customizable, convenient and healthier snacking options, as well as new taste discoveries.

“The rise in daily snacking occasions creates ideal opportunities for retailers to connect with shoppers, as fresh perimeter departments are prime locations to feature fresh, healthy and single-serve products,” says Alan Hiebert, senior education coordinator, IDDBA. “Our latest research provides retailers with data and insight on how to engage with customers by examining their snacking shopping habits and food preferences.”

Here are some recent millennial-centric snacking cheese innovations from America’s Dairyland: Wisconsin.

Saputo Cheese USA now offers a Wisconsin Snacking Cheese line with the tagline of “robust snacking cheese.” There are seven millennial-friendly varieties: Cheddar with Parmesan Notes, Chipotle Cheddar, Colby Habanero, Colby Jack, Pepper Jack, Sharp Cheddar and Smoke Flavor White Cheddar.

And here’s one that screams millennial palate: Sargento Sriracha Jack cheese sticks.

Happy snacking!

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Understanding Natural and Natural Colors

Early this month, FDA issued a request for public comment on use of the term “natural” in the labeling of all human food products. This was in direct response to consumer petitions. 

According to FDA, the agency has a longstanding policy concerning the use of the term natural in human food labeling. The FDA has considered the term to mean that nothing artificial or synthetic (including all color additives, regardless of source) has been included in, or has been added to, a food that would not normally be expected to be in that food. However, this policy was not intended to address food production methods, such as the use of pesticides, nor did it explicitly address food processing or manufacturing methods, such as thermal technologies, pasteurization or irradiation. The agency also did not consider whether the term should describe any nutritional or other health benefit.

Indeed, there’s a lot of confusion among consumers.

The Organic & Natural Health Association recently released the results of a consumer research study conducted as a first step in its initiative to set the standard for the term natural. The online research study of 1,005 U.S. consumers was conducted by Natural Marketing Institute and found that one in three consumers do not make a quality distinction between the terms natural and organic and/or government regulation for products with such labels.

Other findings from the study confirmed more confusion in the marketplace with the term natural. Common misconceptions include the belief that most vitamins come from natural sources and that natural means no pesticides are used. And while three-fourths of consumers perceive that organic foods must be at least 95% free from synthetic additives, almost two-thirds of consumers expect the same standard from natural foods. Further, approximately half of the consumers surveyed believe that natural means the product is free of synthetic pesticides and are non-GMO, attributes that are unique characteristics of organic products.

With 46% of consumers surveyed believing that the U.S. government regulates the term natural, the study concluded that the organic industry should improve education for consumers regarding the differing attributes of organic and natural in order to elevate the status of organic. Furthermore, manufacturers producing natural products need to continue to clarify the meaning of natural so the term does not become diluted and lose significance among consumers.

In the research study, consumers indicated that they were more likely to use natural than organic foods; in fact, 60% reported using organic less than once a week or not at all with more than a third using natural once a day or more.

The association’s next step is to develop a voluntary regulatory compliance and certification program for the term natural to be released during the first half of 2016, in conjunction with a consumer education campaign supporting transparency of product purchases.

To view results from the complete study, “Consumer Insights on Organic and Natural,” link HERE.

Food Colors 101
The term color additive is legally defined in Title 21, Part 70 of the Code of Federal Regulations (21 CFR 70). Basically, any ingredient with the sole purpose of adding color to a food or beverage is a color additive, with all color additives requiring approval by FDA as a food additive.

In the U.S., synthetic food colors are classified by FDA as color additives subject to certification (21 CFR 74). They are certified with an FD&C number. This indicates that the additive has been tested for safety and is approved for used in foods, drugs and cosmetics, or FD&C. Seven colors were initially approved under the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906. Over time, several have been delisted and replaced. Today there are still seven, which can be combined into an infinite number of colors; hence, the seven are considered primary colors.

The seven synthetics are further classified as standardized dyes or lakes. Dyes are a concentrated source of color and are water soluble and oil insoluble. Lakes, on the other hand, are made by combining dyes with salts to make them water-insoluble compounds. Thus, they are best described as providing color by dispersion. Lakes are considered to be more stable than dyes and are ideal for coloring products that either contain fat or lack sufficient moisture to dissolve dyes.

FDA also provides a list of color additives that are exempt from certification (21 CFR 73). By default, these colors are often characterized as natural but FDA does not consider any color added to as food unless the color is natural to the product itself. For example, consumers expect strawberry milk to have a red hue. If strawberry juice is added for color, and providing that none of the other ingredients in the milk were characterized as artificial, this product could be labeled “all-natural strawberry milk.” Such a description is not possible if beet juice, an FDA-recognized exempt-from-certification color additive, is used for a colorful boost. What is appropriate to say is “does not contain any artificial colors.”

In general, artificial colorings are manufactured from petroleum-based raw materials. Colors exempt from certification are obtained from a variety of sources, including plants, minerals, insects and fermentation, resources considered by many to be natural.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Clean Label Is the Buzz in Food Biz News This Week; Why Salmon and Beef Should Inspire You to Clean Up Your Dairy Foods’ Labels

How much do Americans really care about what goes into their food? Instantly polled more than 4,200 consumers about their feelings on artificial ingredients, all-natural alternatives and the companies that make consumer packaged goods. Check out the infographic to see the findings.

Highlights from the survey include:
  • 72% of consumers consult labels before making a purchase.
  • 75% say removing artificial ingredients would make them more likely to purchase a product.
  • 75% of consumers trust smaller companies more when it comes to all-natural products.

Without a doubt, the clean-eating movement is driving product developers to a back-to-basics approach to sourcing ingredients and formulating new products. Innova Market Insights’ recent release of its Top-10 Trends for 2016 has been all over food business news this week, so I won’t get into too much detail here. But in a nut shell, new global products tracked with an “organic” claim have risen from 6.3% in the first half of 2013 to 9.5% in the first half of 2015. A surge in “free from” launches and “flexitarian” options has also been reported.

Innova will be conducting a live webinar on the Top-10 Trends for 2016 on November 24. For more information and to register for this free event, link HERE.

Interest in a return to food processing the natural or old-fashioned way, along with a search for permissible indulgence and the re-establishment of links to “real” food is growing stronger. Clear label established itself as a key trend in 2015, with greater transparency and the focus on simpler products with fewer artificial additives taking clean label to the next level. The biggest surge in new product development has been reported in organic products, indicating that this will be a key platform going forward in the short term, although the challenges involved may result in more beneficial platforms for clear label in the longer term.

The organic movement has always been strong in dairy, in particular in fluid milk, albeit still a relatively small piece of the pie. Organic milk represents only about 5% share of all retail fluid milk sales.

Some recent regulatory rulings and queries will likely drive consumer demand for organic foods. Of course, a completely organic food supply chain is not possible…or at least not in this lifetime.

Here’s what’s going on. Based on sound science and a comprehensive review, FDA is taking several important steps regarding food from genetically engineered (GE) plants and animals, including the first approval for a genetically engineered animal intended for food, AquAdvantage Salmon. The agency has also issued guidance for manufacturers who wish to voluntarily label their products as containing ingredients from GE or non-GE sources.

First the salmon…it is an Atlantic salmon that reaches market size more quickly than non-GE farm-raised Atlantic salmon. It is the first genetically engineered food animal approved for sale in the U.S. Genetically modified fruits and vegetables have been sold for more than 20 years.

Interestingly, the salmon is not legally required to be labeled as genetically engineered, as there is no material difference when compared to conventionally farmed salmon. The way for consumers adverse to GE foods to avoid this salmon is to purchase organic salmon or salmon labeled as non-GMO. For more information, link HERE.

Why does this matter to dairy processors? Because consumers are only going to become increasingly more discerning when foods like this enter the marketplace. Dairy processors need to be transparent and communicate to consumers a product’s naturalness.

That brings me to beef. This week I had the opportunity to sample a new beef line. Chicago-based PRE Brands is delivering what it describes as a superior beef experience with the launch of PRE 100% Grass Fed Beef. The new line of steak and ground beef options focuses on taste, tenderness and juiciness. Starting at the farm and ending with 100% clear packaging, the company is always transparent.

The company only sources beef from producers that do not use added antibiotics, added hormones or feedlots. It follows a meticulous selection process, measuring every aspect of the cuts, from marbling to color. The process includes only sourcing from regions recognized as being the best environments possible for raising cattle, as well as from ranchers who ensure proper and ethical health and wellness standards.

Other considerations include age, breed and weight of the animal, as well as fat color, an indicator of 100% grass fed beef. The company communicates this to the consumer on the package, which again, as mentioned, is 100% clear. The product does not sport a certified organic seal, but I think the package says so much more. (And by the way, it’s some of the best beef I have ever tasted.)
For more information, link HERE.

When it comes to milk and flavored milk, consumers expect these powerhouse beverages to be as close to what Mother Nature intended as possible. This includes, for flavored milks, choice of flavor, color, stabilizer and sweetener.

Wholesomeness is clearly communicated by The Farmer’s Cow of Connecticut, which to celebrate its 10th anniversary recently rolled out a new limited-edition product: Holiday Egg Nog. The all-natural egg nog is made with cream, Grade A milk and real egg yolks mixed with cane sugar. It is elegantly packaged in a 32-ounce glass bottle that is perfect for serving on holiday tables or giving as a hostess gift.

Clearly, this product is clean and simple. Happy Holidays!

Friday, November 13, 2015

Obsessing on Protein, Focusing on Millennials (and not Skinnygirls)

This week’s launch of Skinnygirl Protein Tasty Nutrition Shakes should have many of us thinking about the future of protein beverage innovation. To read more about the product, link HERE.

Here’s my take. Protein-centric beverages will continue to boom, but to make a real impact, there will need to be more customization of formulations to target specific demographics. With that said, and sorry Bethenny Frankel, founder and CEO of the Skinnygirl brand, your new product appeals to me (Gen X) and probably young Boomers, but Millennials (18- to 34-year-olds) are not into skinny. They are into fitness.

Here’s a flashback. I have been obsessed with food since very early on, mostly the mechanics of food, like why butter builds a better shortbread than vegetable oil and how bread toasts. I recall carrying around the 25-cent pocket-sized calorie counter books sold near the supermarket register. Remember those? There were the generic ones and the branded lists.

I kept food intake logs and counted calories. I measured and weighed portions. I still remember that one large egg is 80 calories, a cup of skim milk the same.

Skinny was an aspiration, albeit not a healthful one. Thankfully, over time, skinny evolved into fit, and that’s where many Millennials are today. The good news for the dairy industry is that dairy proteins are truly one of a handful of all-natural, clean-label, simple and nutritious food ingredients that can deliver what Millennials are looking for.

I agree with Ms. Frankel’s statement: “Protein is an important part of our daily diet. It helps us feel full and satisfied. We developed these new protein bars and shakes to make an easy and delicious way for women to get their protein fix.”

Women do need an easier way to include high-quality protein in their diet. At only 80-calories, each 11.5-ounce shelf-stable Skinnygirl shake provides 12 grams of protein from milk protein concentrate, along with 1.5 grams of fat, 3 grams of fiber and zero grams of sugar. The formulation relies on stevia and monk fruit extract for sweetness. In two-dessert inspired flavors--Rich Chocolate Brownie and Vanilla Bean Sundae—it’s my dream beverage. I’m sure other pocket-calorie-counter Gen Xer’s would agree. But, here’s the deal with Millennials.

According to the International Food Information Council (IFIC) Foundation’s 2015 Food and Health Survey published earlier this year, compared to the general U.S. population, Millennials have differing opinions on traditional eating habits, usage of resources and information for staying healthy, and even on the value of some nutrients.

Although Millennials view protein favorably and see the importance of protein in their diets, there are still a wide range of misconceptions surrounding protein.

For starters, Millennials say the top reasons they don’t consume more protein is the belief that protein foods are sometimes more expensive (37%) and that they already get enough protein (34%).

More Millennials (21%) think that foods with protein will spoil if not used quickly, compared to the general population (15%).

One in five Millennials believe that higher-protein foods often have a lot of unhealthful components, compared to one in seven of the general population.

True or not, these are their perceptions. And let’s look at some facts. Greek yogurt—the higher protein yogurt—does cost more than traditional yogurt. Milk, eggs and meat, traditional sources of protein are highly perishable. Regarding unhealthful components, that could be the cholesterol in eggs and the nitrates in bacon. 

“Millennials are a unique generation, and their approach to health and fitness is no exception,” says Sarah Romotsky, R.D., director of health and wellness for the IFIC Foundation. “This research gave us an inside look at how Millennials are optimistic about the future of food, they look to their friends and family for support, they use technology as a tool to reach their health goals, and they have shifting attitudes about the value of certain nutrients.”

Dairy foods formulators need to think fit foods, not skinny foods.
Dairy proteins are the key to innovation. Keep the product clean and affordable.

Here are more interesting Millennials facts. They are less likely to have adopted healthful habits. Sound strange, read on. Only 70% of Millennials state that they have cut calories by drinking water, or low- and no-calorie beverages, compared to 76% of the general population who have reduced calories in this fashion. When it comes to fat intake, 54% of Millennials state that they have cut back on foods higher in solid fats, compared to 61% of the general population who have done so. (They must have done the butter vs. oil shortbread experiment.)

In addition to different perceived barriers to better health, Millennials are more likely to seek alternative sources for trusted food information. Despite most Millennials stating that they trust their personal healthcare professional to provide accurate information about the foods they should be eating, more Millennials than other age groups are trusting additional information sources. For example, more Millennials (33% vs. 24% of the general population) trust health, food and nutrition bloggers as sources of food information. (You should have one on staff or contracted to promote your dairy foods.)

Beyond turning to alternative sources for trusted information, Millennials are improving their diets in different ways. Gone are the days of pocket calorie counters. Millennials are turning to digital resources to improve their diets. Thirty-six percent of Millennials are using an app or other means to track daily food and beverage intake, compared to 22% of the population. Twice as many Millennials (12%) are using an online support group, blog or other online community, compared to the general population (6%).

Millennials also have different opinions about nutrition. When asked specifically about calorie sources and weight gain, only 20% of Millennials state that all sources of calories have the same effect on weight gain, compared to 27% of the general population. They are also less focused on limiting or avoiding calories than the general population.

Like the general population, Millennials are more concerned about the amount and type of sugars they eat than they are about the type or amount of carbohydrates consumed. Within the Millennial demographic, women and those with higher household incomes are the most concerned.
Millennials also agree with the general population that moderate sugar intake can be a part of a healthful diet and believe that there are differences between the healthfulness of naturally occurring and other types of sugars.

When it comes to dietary fat, Millennials realize the healthfulness of omega fatty acids but do not fully understand the differences between different types of fats. In fact, 64% of Millennials rate omega-3 fatty acids, a type of polyunsaturated fat, as healthful, yet only 17% of Millennials rate polyunsaturated fats as healthful. Moreover, 42% of Millennials report that they are unaware of the healthfulness of polyunsaturated fats.

Here’s one that’s long overdue and a win for dairy. One in three Millennials have recently changed their view on the healthfulness of saturated fat. Of those shifting their opinion of saturated fat in the last year, Millennial men are more likely to view its healthfulness more favorably.

Back to the benefits of dairy proteins. Let’s talk specifically about whey proteins.

At the recent SupplySide West in Las Vegas, Moises Torres-Gonzalez, director of nutrition research at the National Dairy Council, spoke about opportunities in formulating with whey proteins. In terms of the general population, he explained that recent research indicates 23% of adults are increasing the amount of protein in their daily diets because of the recognized benefits protein provides to the body and the flexibility of protein ingredients to be incorporated into a variety of food and beverages, including dairy foods.

Consumers want protein in their meals, snacks and after workouts. When protein’s functionality and nutritional benefits are understood, it can be integrated into products consumers want, he explained. This is where the opportunity lies for whey protein, as whey protein is one of the highest quality proteins and a source of highly functional amino acids and bioactive compounds. Whey offers health benefits to consumers of all ages.

At one point in time, whey was considered a byproduct of cheese. Today, cheese is often made for the sole purpose of obtaining whey.

This past August at Alpha Summit 2015, which was a whey protein conference held in Jerome, Idaho, sponsored by Davisco, a business unit of Agropur Inc., the quality of the protein in cows milk was a major focal point.

To read more highlights from Alpha Summit 2015, link HERE to an article I wrote for Food Business News.

Paul Moughan, distinguished professor and director of the Riddet Institute in New Zealand, explained the importance of dietary protein quality in nutrition and health.

“Protein is vital to support the health and well-being of human populations. However, not all proteins are alike, as they vary according to their origin, animal vs. plant, as well as their individual amino acid composition and their level of amino acid bioavailability,” he said. “High-quality proteins are those that are readily digestible in a form that can be utilized and contain the dietary essential amino acids in quantities that correspond to human requirements.”

In 2013, the Food and Agriculture Organization of United Nations recommended that a new, advanced method for assessing the quality of dietary proteins--Digestible Indispensable Amino Acid Score (D.I.A.A.S.)--replace the Protein Digestibility Corrected Amino Acid Score (P.D.C.A.A.S.) as the preferred method of measuring protein quality.

“The recommendation of the D.I.A.A.S. method is a dramatic change that will provide an accurate measure of the amounts of amino acids absorbed by the body and an individual protein source’s contribution to a human’s amino acid and nitrogen requirements,” said Dr. Moughan. “This will be an important piece of information for decision makers assessing foods that should be part of a sustainable diet for our growing global population.”

He explained that with the P.D.C.A.A.S. method, values are truncated to a maximum score of 1.00, even if scores derived are higher. Using the D.I.A.A.S. method, researchers are now able to differentiate protein sources by their ability to supply amino acids for use by the body. The D.I.A.A.S. method is able to demonstrate the higher bioavailability of dairy proteins when compared to plant-based protein sources.

Dr. Moughan did say that even with the D.I.A.A.S. score, you don’t get the whole story about the quality of the protein. “The single score is based on the limiting amino acid in the protein,” he said. For example, the leucine component of alpha-lactalbumin—a type of whey protein--has a D.I.A.A.S. score of 2.00 and the tryptophan component is 5.50. By reporting only the single score of 1.14, which is based on the limiting amino acid valine, the quality of the alpha-lactalbumin is not accurately communicated.

“High-quality data on the bioavailable amounts of individual amino acids in proteins and foods will maximize the information to consumers and health professionals,” said Dr. Moughan. “This will become a lot more important as the food industry increases efforts to support health and different physiological needs.” 

According to Donald Layman, professor emeritus of nutrition, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, data indicate all humans need to make about the same amount of new protein every day for basic lean muscle repair and remodeling. But as we age, the efficiency of building new protein decreases. To reap the benefits of healthy muscles, one must consider the quality of the protein and the quantity of the protein at every meal.

“Below the age of 30, hormones drive growth. Even with a low-protein diet, children can still grow and produce new muscle,” he said. “But as you age, hormones no longer drive muscle growth and the essential muscle replacement is driven by the quality of the diet. Aging reduces the efficiency of protein use, but does not impair the capacity to respond.”

For optimum muscle health and function, research suggests that 30 grams of high-quality protein should be consumed at every meal, and preferably proteins high in the essential amino acid leucine.

As this information gets better communicated to Millennials, they will be seeking out high-quality protein products to make them lean, mean, fit machines…not skinny girls. Put dairy proteins, especially whey proteins, back into dairy foods.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Natural Cheese: Understanding its Complexity to Best Market its Deliciousness

Photo source: Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board

The majority of people, including many in the dairy industry—that’s you—do not realize that almost all of the 1,400-plus natural cheese varieties cataloged in the World Cheese Exchange Database are made with the same four ingredients: milk, cultures, enzymes and salt. That’s what’s listed on the ingredient statement. Of course, it does not take a rocket scientist to figure out that the words “cultures” and “enzymes” are simplified terms for very complex, powerhouse ingredients capable of turning milk into a Brie, a cheddar or a mozzarella.

To learn more about the role of cultures and enzymes in cheese product development, please link HERE to an article I recently wrote for Food Business News on this topic.

If you missed last week’s blog on innovations in natural and process cheese products, as experienced in person at Anuga 2015, the world’s largest food fair, you can read it by linking HERE.

It truly is amazing how three ingredients—cultures, enzymes and salt--can transform milk into so many different cheeses. And with the help of herbs, spices, peppers and other flavorful additions, cheesemakers can create entertaining masterpieces.

And entertaining with cheese is the name of the game during the winter holiday season. From Thanksgiving to Super Bowl Sunday, cheese is on the menu. It’s that time of year when consumers are often very willing to reach deeper into their pockets and splurge on specialty cheeses. Will your cheese be part of the story?

Here’s something to keep in mind. Many of today’s consumers—the millennials--spend more time talking about their food—or taking pictures of it and posting it in social media—than eating it. Cheese makes a great story, and it’s yours to tell. The holidays present an incredible opportunity for cheese marketers to tell stories…and to package and merchandise cheese in holiday-ready formats.

The Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board (WMMB) provides tools to assist in communicating and marketing the deliciousness and versatility of cheese. Did you know that Wisconsin offers more than 600 varieties, types and styles of cheese? Cheese can star as an appetizer, an exceptional entrée or a memorable dessert. The possibilities are limitless and always delicious, explains WMMB.

Flavored cheese is one of the “hottest” segments right now and represents a growth opportunity for the category. Recent data from IRI show that the U.S. retail flavored cheese market is $1.5 billion. In volume, that’s close to a quarter-billion pounds or 7% of the total cheese category. Year-to-date 2015 data from IRI find flavored cheeses up by 4.5% in volume sales and year-to-date dollar sales of flavored cheeses are up 8.3%.

The most popular flavors used in cheese are:
1.      Jalapeno
2.      Smoked
3.      Taco
4.      Pimento
5.      Berry
6.      Habanero
7.      Onion
8.      Herbs
9.      Garlic
10.   Vegetable

The fastest-growing flavors enhancing cheese are:
1.      Spice
2.      Vanilla
3.      Bacon
4.      Caramel/Maple/Sugar
5.      Cajun/Creole
6.      Fruit
7.      Alcohol
8.      Hot
9.      Seafood
10.   Olive/Olive Oil
11.   Cinnamon
12.   Nut
13.   Mushroom/Truffle
14.   Buffalo
15.   Roasted

New Flavored Cheese Products from Wisconsin 
Country Connection Cheese Co., a company known for its flavored and smoked cheeses, does a fabulous job of communicating the premium nature of its products. This 40-year-old Wisconsin dairy handcrafts all of its cheeses in small batches. Traditional cheesemaking techniques and attention to detail give each Country Connection cheese a distinctive texture and flavor.

Country Connection doesn’t just toss a handful of a flavorful inclusions, such as bacon pieces, into a vat of curd to make a bacon cheddar. “What we do is combine various natural ingredients and age them in the cheese so that the marriage of taste sensations is complex, harmonious and unique,” according to the company’s website.
One of the company’s most recent additions is Cheddar Sriracha. Sriracha’s heat is balanced and cooled by the cheese so that even those with a low tolerance for hot spices can enjoy the actual taste of sriracha. For more information, link HERE.

Buffalo Wing Monterey Jack has a smooth, creamy texture with the distinct flavor of ever popular Buffalo wings. The cheese is produced by an award-winning Wisconsin Master Cheesemaker. For more information, link HERE.

Saxon Creamery Big Ed’s with Serrano Peppers is a rich, young, buttery Gouda style cheese that that brings the heat. Bits of Serrano Peppers deliver a nice warmth that will have you coming back for more.  This semi-soft cheese is great on sandwiches and bold enough to stand alone on a cheese platter. The rich milk flavors speak of the lush green pastures where the cows are grazed, the season in which it was made, the particular craftsmanship of the cheesemaker, the time the cheese spends in the aging rooms. For more information, link HERE.

Cheesemaker Marieke Penterman crafts her award-winning Gouda cheese using an Old World recipe with fresh milk from the family’s farm in northern Wisconsin. This new addition to the lineup--Marieke Gouda Truffle--is a flavorful variation made with raw cows milk, cultures, enzymes, salt, Italian black truffles and Italian truffle oil. For more information, link HERE.

Many of these products, and so many, many more, will be featured in the WMMB booth (4713) at the Winter Fancy Food Show, which takes place in San Francisco January 17 to 19. For more information, link HERE. Hope to see you there. I’ll be the one in the WMMB booth enjoying the magic of milk, cultures, enzymes and salt.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Anuga 2015 Report: Innovations in Natural and Process Cheese Products

This is the third and final review of innovations from Anuga, the world’s largest food exhibition held every two years in Cologne, Germany. Anuga is where you find tomorrow’s hottest new products. To watch a brief video on what Anuga is all about, link HERE.

It’s always very inspiring to see the wide range of cheese offerings at global food shows. After all, most cheeses, or at least cheeses with the “natural” designation, are made with only four ingredients: pasteurized milk, cheese cultures, enzymes and salt. Yet, there are more than 1,400 natural cheese varieties cataloged in the World Cheese Exchange Database.

Here are more than a dozen innovations that caught my eye.

The best of the best is what you get with Taste 15, an accolade bestowed upon the best new products debuting at Anuga. This year, more than 830 companies applied to have their over 2,000 ideas included in the competition. In total, the jury selected 61 products and concepts that convinced in terms of idea, innovative power and creative implementation. There were many winners in the dairy hall, specifically in the cheese category.

One such winner was Switzerland’s Züger Frischkäse AG, which processes fresh, high-quality milk from the Eastern region to produce an array of fresh cheese products, including mascarpone, mozzarella, quark, ricotta and more. Around 200 employees work at the Oberbüren site, refining the milk from more than 380 regional farms. The company received accolades for its new Bio Mozzarella Herzen, organic heart-shaped pieces of mozzarella suitable as an appetizer, especially on “loving” holidays such as Mother’s Day and Valentine’s Day.

Also from Switzerland, Lustenberger & Dürst SA received Taste 15 accolades for this cheese seasoned with needles from the Swiss pine, a species from high elevations in the Alps. The sophisticated, essential oils from the needles provide a surprisingly fresh, tangy and woody taste.

The SalzburgMilch Cheese Collection includes three individually wrapped premium Bavarian cheeses packaged in an attractive presentation box suitable as a hostess gift. The Austrian cheesemaker labels the product as being lactose free and made from 100% genetically unmodified milk.

Danish cheesemaker Nordex received a Taste 15 award for its pesto-infused grilling cheese. Taverna Grill Cheese Snack Cubes with Green Pesto are designed to be grilled with a touch of oil in a pan until the surface browns. This gives the cheese a slight caramelized note. The sweetness of the caramelized surface provides a delicious contrast to the mildly salty cheese and the fresh green pesto, according to the company.

Germany’s Jermi Kasewerk won an award for its Kasetaler, which is described as no-melt cheese medallions. They are prepared in a pan or on the grill and can be served as an appetizer, atop a salad or as a main dish.

Fire-up the Barbecue

Such no-melt cheeses intended for grilling were very prominent at Anuga. These real-dairy cheese products function as meat alternatives for the growing number of consumers—known as flexitarians--who avoid meat on a regular basis.

The term flexitarian comes from a combination of the words “flexible” and “vegetarian.” Following a flexitarian diet simply means eating more plant-based meals and less meat. This is often done for nutritional reasons, such as trying to reduce consumption of saturated fat and cholesterol. Other times it is to assist with improving animal welfare and reducing carbon footprint.

Such no-melt cheeses are high in protein and can be seasoned, prepared and served in a manner similar to a burger, chop or steak. That’s what the chefs from Petrou Bros. Dairy Products of Greece were showing attendees when they were grilling up Halloumi cheese that came in varieties including “with basil” and “with chilli.”

Austria’s Concept Fresh continues to grow its no-melt cheese sold under the Gusteria brand. The most recent introduction is a snacking size that comes in two packs of four medallions. The cheese comes with grill marks, so that it can be easily microwaved and served. There are three flavors: Chili-Paprika, Classic and Herbs.
Greece’s Kourellas S.A. has new retail packs of Feta Bites. These bite-sized balls of sheep and goat’s milk feta cheese are loaded with flavorful goodies, including With Black Olives & Chili, With Greek Herbs and With Poppy Seeds. The “Greek treats” come in 5.3-ounce containers, the same size and shape of many Greek yogurts.

“The story of Feta Bites begins with our love for feta and the inspiration to use it differently,” said Ifigeneia Barlagianni, quality assurance-quality control manager. “Our R&D department developed a new line of feta snacks in several different versions. Feta Bites can be eaten as a snack, or appetizer, over salads or, why not, even as a dessert.”

Germany’s Jermi Kasewerk introduced an upscale line of snacking cheese cubes. Packed 16 to a 110-gram tray, these cheese cubes are ready for serving. The four varieties are: Belgian-style, Farmers, Goat and Gouda.

There’s also a new line of seasoned cream-style cheeses for the cheese counter. Cut and sold to order, the Crème Finesse line comes in four varieties: Garlic & Onion, Peppadew, Pineapple and Wild Herbs.

Koninklijke ERU, the trend-setting producer of quality processed cheese products in the Netherlands since 1824, has a passion for cheese and has an extensive portfolio of fine cheese products to prove it. One of its finest additions this year is a la Truffle, a conveniently packaged spread suitable for sandwiches, crackers or even crudité.

Germany’s Emmi Fondu has been repackaged into a more modern looking pack with cooking tips and serving suggestions. The microwaveable fondue cheese comes in three varieties: Family (without wine), Gorgonzola and Original.

Latvia’s Trikata rolled out a line of premium appetizer cheeses. These soft, fresh, bite-sized cheese balls called Snowballs are rolled in premium seasonings. Varieties are: Fenugreek, Garlic, Paprika and Tomato & Basil. There’s also a classic (non-seasoned) variety. Hand-formed into little balls from fresh cows milk curd, Snowballs come packed in rosemary-infused canola oil, which functions as a natural preservative. Snowballs are sold in 240-gram plastic jars and have a 70-day refrigerated shelf life.

From The Netherlands, Veldhuyzen Kaas B.V. developed TriColor goats milk cheese. Sold in waxed rounds, the cheese combines three different flavored and colored curds to create one very unique cheese. The curd flavors are bell pepper, chili pepper and garlic.

Displayed in the meat hall, Switzerland’s Micarna SA introduced what it calls “meat and cheese candies.” The company layers air-dried beef with Bavarian cheese to make this high-protein, low-carbohydrate multi-layered, bite-sized delicacy.

Mark your calendar and plan early for the next Anuga, which will take place October 7 to 11, 2017, in Cologne, Germany. For more information, link HERE.