Dairy, Cheese, Eggs / Fortifications and Minerals / Ingredients and Formulation / R&D / Nuts

Dairy Processors Continue to Innovate

Yogurt still leads the category in innovation; all sub-categories are reducing sugar and cleaning up labels.

By Lauren R. Hartman, Product Development Editor

Public pressure on food processors to substantively reformulate foods and beverages using simpler, cleaner ingredients hasn’t missed the dairy aisle. Requests for less added sugar also are prevalent, underscored by the addition of an added-sugars listing on the Nutritional Facts Panel next year. Yet new dairy developments are not only keeping clean and wholesome ingredients in mind, some feature premium, richer components.

Ingredients are being more scrutinized in the dairy industry, as they are in other parts of the food and beverage market, said Michael Dykes, the new president/CEO of the International Dairy Foods Assn., at the group’s annual forum.

“We are in a new food culture. Food has emotions around it. Millennials have ... different views on food, looking for food with a story. They want to know about it.”

Dairy may have the shortest path of all foods back to the farm. Few milk cartons pass up the chance at using a cow on their packages. “Farms” shows up in many companies’ names. Few ingredients has always been the norm for dairy products. And despite the complexity of the end product, milk is almost always the first ingredient on the statement.

Opportunities abound for indulgence in dairy, adds Lu Ann Williams, director of innovation at Innova Market Insights (www.innovadatabase.com), Arnhem, The Netherlands, at a recent U.S. dairy protein seminar. “Indulgence is going to be a major driver of new product development,” she notes. For products to stand out, “it’s going to take a lot more effort than in the past.”

Conagra Brands reformulated Reddi-wip Whipped Topping (www.reddiwip.com) with no artificial flavors and simpler ingredients, per consumer requests, explains Ciare James, senior brand manager for Reddi-wip. The changes are part of a larger clean-label focus at the Chicago-based company, reflecting consumers’ evolving ingredient preferences and their desire for increased transparency, James said. Cream has always been Reddi-wip’s primary ingredient, but now, the brand uses Grade A cream from growth hormone-free cows and there’s no hydrogenated oil. Made in the Midwest, the topping goes from “farm to can” in five days, the company adds.

Yogurt’s new frontiers

Despite the flattening of the Greek yogurt craze, yogurt remains a hotbed of innovation. Yogurt-makers are revising recipes with clean, simple, ingredients, bold, sweet and savory flavors and less added sugar. To help feed the good bacteria yogurt provides, some yogurt makers are adding soluble fibers – such is the case with Dannon’s (dannonyogurt.us.com) Activia Fiber probiotic yogurt. A 4-oz. cup of the low-fat, 100-calorie yogurt comes in strawberry, peach or pineapple and has 8 percent of the daily value of protein and 12 percent of dietary fiber, the White Plains, N.Y. company says.

Raspberry Yoplait DippersAvailable in six flavors, Yoplait Dippers from General Mills (www.generalmills.com), Minneapolis, are a new mashup of soft, creamy yogurt and crunchy pretzels, chips or crisps. Flavors are either sweet or savory, and include Chocolate Raspberry Chunk with Chocolate Drizzled Pretzels, savory Chipotle Ranch Yogurt with Tortilla Chips and Coffee Chocolate Chunk Yogurt with Cinnamon Crisps.

In response to consumer requests, General Mills brought back its richer Yoplait Custard yogurt after a 10-year hiatus. Now, the silky smooth product is made with whole milk and no artificial colors or flavors or high-fructose corn syrup. The company is also said to be testing non-dairy yogurts containing chickpeas, fava beans and other legumes.

The popularity of Noosa Yoghurt LLC ‘s (www.noosayoghurt.com) Australian-style “yoghurt” continues to soar, thanks to its offbeat sweet and tart flavors like Strawberry & Hibiscus, Orange & Ginger and Pear & Cardamom. The Bellevue, Colo., dairy says the Strawberry & Hibiscus flavor contains 260 calories, 11g of fat, 23g of sugar and 12g of protein —  not exactly a low-fat offering. But the ingredients are simple, including milk from family-owned dairy farms, probiotics, honey and fruit purees. A rich, creamy texture in part comes from the addition of Kosher bovine gelatin.

“We make our yoghurt in small batches so we can use fresh whole milk, honey and purée made with real fruit,” the company says.

While some yogurt companies are making more indulgent products, others bow to the pressure to cut back on sugar. WhiteWave Foods (soon to be a division of Danone) launched Wallaby Organic Purely Unsweetened Whole Milk Greek Yogurt. One side of the two-compartment package has unsweetened plain yogurt and the other has an unsweetened fruit prep.

Stonyfield Farm, another division of Danone, is cutting sugar in its yogurt by at least 25 percent this year. The Londonderry, N.H., company’s food scientists avoid affecting flavor by reducing the lactic acid in the yogurt cultures and maximizing the use of whole milk, Lisa Hammer, Stonyfield’s product development manager, told Fortune last month.

Despite minimalist ingredient statements, some yogurts and other dairy products need some ingredient help. Increasingly, these additives must be “clean.” To that end, TIC Gums (www.ticgums.com) White Marsh, Md., created what it calls a “clean-label” stabilizer specifically designed for ready-to-drink protein dairy beverages. Hydrocolloids Ticaloid Pro 192 AGD and Ticaloid Pro 192 AGD High Viscosity prevent solidifying and clumping in smoothies, dairy-based pediatric products and meal replacement drinks. They also allow manufacturers to extend shelf life. “These were challenges the industry previously faced without many solutions,” notes Dan Grazaitis, beverage technology manager at TIC Gums. “The line allows formulators to expand shelf life, protein content and increased fat levels, while maintaining a clean label.”

Alternative cows?

Other dairy categories, such as fluid milk, are experiencing weaker performance as alternatives that are non-dairy and plant-based enjoy growing popularity. Almond milks were a primary reason for traditional milk’s sales declines, along with other nut milks including cashew milk, according to Dairy Management Inc. (www.dairy.org), the Rosemont, Ill., organization that manages the national dairy checkoff.

But they may not be able to call themselves “milk” for long. Last December, 25 bipartisan members of Congress asked the FDA to investigate and take action against “milks” that don’t come from cows. They want the FDA to require plant-based products to adopt a more appropriate name, other than milk, which they say is deceptive. So far, the agency hasn’t responded.

Most Americans still consume dairy milk (91 percent), but it’s commonly used as an addition to other foods (69 percent) or as an ingredient (61 percent). Elizabeth Sisel, beverage analyst at Mintel (www.mintel.com), Chicago, says the steady decline in consumption signals a need for brands to convey milk’s benefits as a beverage. She says milk is naturally nutritious, free of additives and can be flavored. “Brands can re-engage consumers by developing innovative offerings focused on improving already favorable aspects, such as taste profile and nutritional value.”

One tactic has small entrepreneurs creating boutique formats of “high-end” milk in small batches, citing their provenances. One alternative to regular milk known as A2 milk comes from a unique type of cow, yet is said to look and taste exactly like conventional milk and is homogenized. The main difference is the type of casein. Almost a third of milk’s protein is beta casein, which can be either the A1 or A2 strain. The A2 type of beta-casein protein is said to be easier to digest by those who experience lactose intolerance than the A1 protein found in most U.S. milk.

a2 milk cartonsA2 milk is licensed and marketed by Australia’s a2 Milk Co., Sydney, which is gaining an international following, and developed the milk on the premise that most milk of the industrialized world can cause digestive discomfort. Expanding distribution to the U.S. in 2015, the company reportedly sources the American milk from four U.S. dairies.

So far, the milk only has preliminary science to support its benefits above and beyond the nutrition and health of regular cow’s milk, according to the National Dairy Council.

Fairlife Milk is still trying to make a dent in grocery stores. The “improved” milk was created by a 2015 joint venture among Coca-Cola Co., dairy co-op Select Milk Producers and Fair Oaks Farms, a northwest Indiana dairy farm. Fairlife is “ultra-filtered” to concentrate nutrients and separate fats and sugars. The result is milk with 50 percent more protein, 30 percent more calcium and half as much fat as regular milk and no lactose. But at $3.50 {Walmart’s latest price] for a 52-oz. bottle, it’s having a hard time gaining traction with consumers. While it touts “from cows not treated with rBST” (an artificial bovine growth hormone), it’s not organic.

A later Superkids version added 125mg of DHA omega-3 — several times that of other DHA-fortified milks.