The contents of those gallons of milk, cups of yogurt and pints of ice cream we've been enjoying for years are evolving, in light of innovations that make classics such as chocolate, vanilla and strawberry seem mundane. New flavors address both expanding palates and demand for healthful dairy aisle options, including low-cal, low-fat varieties with fewer additives and preservatives.
"There is significant product activity in the dairy segment, specifically among drinking yogurts and liquid cultured milk, largely due to the perceived health benefits of these products and the skyrocketing healthy eating trend," says Victoria Vaynberger, marketing and consumer insights manager for David Michael & Co. (www.dmflavors.com), Philadelphia
For example, "It's no secret that the Greek yogurt trend is driving product activity in the yogurt sector, as well as in frozen desserts," she notes. "Product naturalness is on the rise in the ice cream category, and while traditional flavors rule, ice cream lovers are always looking for fun, new flavors to try. We're especially seeing a consumer demand for indulgent flavors like s'mores and salted caramel."
She also notes her company is "having a lot of fun with speculoos," via flavored ice cream and coffee creamer that pay homage to the spiced Belgian/Dutch biscuit.
Inventive dairy introductions include new twists on familiar profiles. Introduce consumers to a new concept "by pairing something novel with something they already know and love, something 'safe,'" Vaynberger continues. "For example, a consumer might already love coffee ice cream, so use that as the gateway to introduce them to a new-to-them flavor like cardamom via a coffee-and-cardamom ice cream."
Indeed, ice cream is one category that's wide open to change.
"Ice cream marketers are introducing ice cream flavors that appeal to all consumer trends," says Tom Schufreider, vice president of marketing and business development for Synergy (us.synergytaste.com), Wauconda, Ill. He cites as example traditional dessert profiles such as red velvet cake, pineapple upside-down cake, tiramisu, carrot cake and triple chocolate cake, "which satisfy the desire for premium, indulgent flavors."
He also says chefs and product developers are at work on "wonderfully evocative pairings to satisfy those looking for a new flavor experience, such as goat cheese cashew caramel, jasmine lychee, and ube (asian purple yam)."
The target audience appears to be "younger consumers and 'hip' foodies,'" he observes, noting that since "there is no learning curve with ice cream," it's a great vehicle for experimentation.
Meanwhile, both traditional and Greek yogurt are gaining shelf space, "and flavored milks are gaining popularity as drinks targeted toward activity-minded consumers looking for a natural energy boost," says Catherine Barry, director of marketing for the National Honey Board (www.dairywithhoney.com), Firestone, Colo.
"Honey has played a prominent role in satisfying consumer trends toward natural but flavorful dairy products," giving manufacturers a marketing platform for new product launches, she says. "Today's consumers are looking for ingredients they are familiar with, and dairy manufacturers are capitalizing on honey's popularity by introducing honey varieties of yogurt, milk, butter and other dairy products."
Barry cites a honey board survey of 423 consumers where 17 percent bought yogurt sweetened with honey and 42 percent said they would buy it, while 9 percent of participants bought ice cream sweetened with honey, and 45 percent said they would do so. In addition, 17 percent of respondents said they would buy milk sweetened with honey.
"Complementing honey's sweet flavor profile is the ingredient's ability to offer dairy product manufacturers an all-natural sweetener," she adds.
Examples include Athlete's Honey Milk (www.corepower.com), milk made with a touch of honey. And Stonyfield Farm's (www.stonyfield.com) new honey-flavored frozen Greek yogurt.
Looking ahead, Vaynberger predicts "continued growth in better-for-you products, product naturalness, and the availability of more varied and innovative flavors, as consumers continue to become more adventurous and strive to overcome flavor boredom."
Schufreider agrees, adding, "I expect to see more tea-based profiles, especially green tea. Superfruits such as pomegranate, acai and blueberries will continue to be included in more ice cream recipes." He also anticipates the emergence of African/Southeast Asian spices such as coriander, cinnamon, black pepper and Vietnamese cinnamon, "skillfully paired with popular flavors," as well as tamarind and grains of paradise, which "pique the interest of experimenters."
Ultimately, "As the healthy eating trend soars, consumers want to make better choices in terms of products that offer healthy attributes," Vaynberger says, "but they don't want to trade in the indulgence and enjoyment — this is where flavor is key."