INDUSTRY REINVENTS THE OLD, VENTURES INTO THE NEW TO DRAW CONSUMERS BACK TO THE DAIRY CASE


People love to follow trends — fashion, sports, technology and, yes, even dairy. Americans seem to love what’s new, unique or different, and an interesting product on the shelf is sometimes too enticing to pass by.

So what’s trending in dairy right now? Northeast Dairy magazine asked one of the experts, Donna Berry, owner of Dairy and Foods Communications, Inc. Her website,
www.berryondairy.com, is the place to go to find out what’s new on the shelves or in the minds of consumers. Berry has a degree in food science and worked in product development for Kraft Foods before venturing out on her own to decipher the world of dairy. Interestingly, all of these “trends” are not necessarily new foods or products. Some reflect consumer habits and concerns, as well.

BLENDING DAIRY AND PLANTS
Remember the 1980s Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup commercials that claimed, “Hey, you got chocolate in my peanut butter? You got peanut butter in my chocolate.”? Well, what’s old has somehow become new again, but this time it’s plants and dairy.

The popularity of plant-based alternatives (e.g., almond “milk”) has remained strong, as many consumers believe that these items are healthier than dairy products. It remains controversial in the dairy industry, as some, like the Northeast Dairy Foods Association leadership, strongly oppose the labeling of plant-based products as “milk” and question the legitimacy of health claims, while others, including some of our members, are adding plant-based items to their product lines in order to tap into consumer purchasing power and counteract the decrease in the sale of cow’s milk and other traditional dairy.

A “real game changer” has hit the market, however, in the form of products that blend dairy with plants in various ways, according to Berry. Recently, Dairy Farmers of America released cow’s milk blended with almonds and cow’s milk blended with oats under its Live Real Farms brand. Yogurt maker Chobani has introduced dual component products with yogurt on one side and nut butter on the other, making for a flavorful mix that consumers seem to like. And both dairy manufacturers and other food producers are coming out with items that combine cheese cubes with apple slices and nuts or fruit with yogurt for dipping. This combination is a way of “keeping dairy foods relevant in more versatile forms,” according to Berry, who added that often these combo items aren’t sold in the dairy case but in the produce section. “Many people say they are avoiding dairy all together these days, so they don’t even venture near the dairy case,” explained Berry. “So combination food items are becoming more high profile. Consumers, at least at first, don’t really think they’re buying dairy products, but soon they see that these combination products are pretty darn good and start thinking, ‘Maybe I should be eating some dairy after all.’”

ADULTS AVOID DAIRY BUT SEEK IT OUT FOR KIDS
According to the International Food Informational Council Foundation’s 2019 Food and Health Survey, 23% of all consumers seek out foods for their health benefits, and of those more than half are looking for foods that promote digestive health benefits. The interest in prebiotics and probiotics has continued to rise, as many consumers are convinced that these healthy little bacteria have their benefits. According to Berry, the digestive health movement continues to gain momentum, and there seems to be no signs of stopping, which is a huge opportunity for the dairy industry. In an interesting twist, adults who avoid dairy themselves still believe it provides nutritional value for their kids. This has opened up new markets for products like Dannon’s Danimals, 7 oz. four packs of yogurt full of probiotics and protein aimed at teens and tweens, rather than toddlers. “For the most part, pediatricians emphasize dairy for kids,” said Berry, who expects to continue to see a growing space for dairy products aimed at children of all ages. Dairy products that tout nutritional benefits for brain health are increasingly popular, too. Product names like Brainiac Kids couldn’t be more obvious in their intent, as the brand’s whole milk yogurt promotes not only the traditional nutritional elements like calcium and protein, but also nutrients like Omega-3 that claim to boost children’s full potential through brain nutrition. This new “brain food” often comes in forms and flavors that kids are already consuming every day, which makes the transition simple for parents. Expect to see this kind of brain food to cross over into other food categories, as well. Genius, isn’t it?

ADVENTUROUS EATING
More and more people are looking for adventurous eating opportunities. Consumers are discovering new foods, new flavors and new uses for dairy products, including the inclusion of ethnic flavors and spice. While some of this has been driven by Millennials, who seem to be particularly adventurous in their food choices, it is also just human nature to say, “Hey, I want to try that!” According to Berry, those in the dairy industry that benefit most from this quest for adventure are those who understand the potential success for limited edition products that introduce a unique and exciting flavor but then soon rotate it out for another. This keeps consumers asking for more and wondering what the next curious flavor will be. Ice cream manufacturers, like Northeast Dairy Foods Association member Perry’s Ice Cream, have done a great job of introducing seasonal flavors and this trend can also be found in items like flavored milk, creamers and butter. Maple butter, for example, has seen recent popularity as a seasonal favorite. Consumers are buying it for the maple taste, but, in the end, it’s still butter, so it’s a win-win.

COTTAGE CHEESE, PLEASE?
What used to be considered a bland food served on the “diet plate” may be making a comeback. Cottage cheese seems to be popular again based on its nutritional value and modern portability, according to Berry. “It’s a great product and the original high protein food,” she said. But the jury is still out. “Even though there is a lot of innovation in cottage cheese, people still aren’t headed to the dairy case in general.” To counteract the shopping habits in the grocery store, retailers are now putting cottage cheese next to the yogurt, not the milk. “It has potential but is still struggling,” said Berry. “People need to get over the ‘diet plate’ perception, but, interestingly, younger consumers don’t make that association and are going in with an open mind about it.” In her blog, Berry noted a recent study where menu developers did research on cottage cheese and noted that Millennials and GenZers were very positive about cottage cheese for its high protein and creaminess. According to a study from Culinary Visions of Chicago, cottage cheese is making a comeback, and many are investing in cottage cheese innovation and marketing the experience of this long-held dairy staple but with a more contemporary twist. Sixty four percent of those surveyed in the study said they liked the idea of a cottage cheese bar (similar to a salad bar), while others said they would be open to trying cottage cheese-based dips and salad dressings. The re-emergence of cottage cheese is most popular with consumers age 18 to 34, who are primarily interested in adventurous eating (and were less likely to be subjected to too much cottage cheese during their childhoods).

ICE CREAM: TREND OR STAPLE?
Whether it’s a trend or a staple, ice cream is BIG, according to Berry, who recently attended the Fancy Food Show in New York City and spent some time visiting icecream parlors and scoop shops throughout the Big Apple as part of a research initiative through the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “In the past five to seven years, ice cream has become such an important part of the New York City lifestyle,” said Berry, who noted more artisanal flavors, locally sourced ingredients and even alcohol in the frozen favorites. Going out for ice cream has become a destination, as people meet up in everything from corner scoop shops to gourmet food stores for a frozen treat. Across the U.S., consumers see ice cream as an indulgence and expendable calories. “Millennials are all over this trend, as are their kids,” said Berry. GenZers, who are especially health conscious, still want a treat, and they are willing to splurge on it, both in terms of calories and price. This trend is keeping dairy relevant, according to Berry. “People aren’t buying bulk ice cream to keep in their freezers at home anymore, but they will gladly go out for the indulgence of a delicious ice cream cone or sundae.”

CBD
There is a lot of conversation around the use of CBD in food. By definition, cannabidiol is an organic compound found in cannabis, otherwise known as marijuana. While there are food and beverage products out there now that claim to contain CBD, the bottom line is that, according to the FDA and the Drug Enforcement Administration, CBD is illegal at the national level, despite some individual states’ laws. It seems, however, that lines are blurred based on interpretation of laws and ingredients, and the result is a lot of confusion. “Dairies all have CBD in their back pockets,” said Berry, noting that there are great possibilities out there. However, she also acknowledges that the dairy industry is both highly conservative and highly regulated, so most likely you won’t be seeing CBD in dairy until it becomes universally legal in the U.S. Berry believes that as soon as CBD does become legal (and chances are it will to at least some degree), “It’s going to be everywhere.” This is definitely one to watch.