2018 Dairy Trends Take a Closer Look at Products and Production

Indulgence is driving growth in this steady category; new filtration methods are improving processes.

By Dave Fusaro, Editor in Chief, and Kevin T. Higgins, Managing Editor

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Dairy is a steady retail category, with a presence in the freezer and multiple refrigerator locations. The declines in total milk consumption are being offset by increases in cheese and ice cream. That’s right, the two most indulgent dairy categories are driving category growth.

In truth, indulgence and, with many products, nutrient density (think protein and calcium) are what keep consumers coming back to dairy, even with aggressive marketing and innovation by plant-based and dairy alternative companies. The fact is fat is back, making full-fat dairy foods — even whole milk -- attractive to today’s shoppers who want better-for-you deliciousness.

Whole-fat milk is the largest segment by fat level in the U.S. at 37 percent of volume, according to data from IRI. It’s the only fat level that posted growth in the first quarter of 2018 (+3.0 percent). Whole-fat yogurts were up 9.1 percent. And, when it comes to cheese, the vast majority (92 percent) of cheese sold at retail is regular fat, and this shows no sign of changing.

The story is a bit different for ice cream. Indulgence still reigns, but the category disruptor this past year is the range of high-protein, low-sugar, low-calorie products. It all started with Halo Top and Enlightened a few years ago and now every major brand, as well as every major retailer (private label) has an offering.

The simple front-label call-out is compelling: 280 calories for a whole pint of Halo Top, not per serving.

Target Corp., Minneapolis, for example, now offers six varieties of such a concept under the Archer Farms brand. The better-for-you formulations make deliciousness a priority with flavors such as Caramel Maple Bourbon Pie, Cookie Dough and Mini Donut.

Conestoga, Pa.-based Turkey Hill Dairy takes a different spin on making ice cream a little bit healthier. The company’s new Decadent Delights focus on the inclusion of real fruit. The new line of indulgent, sophisticated bars and parfaits blends premium ice cream with an abundance of fruit.

In the parfait line, Lemon Blueberry, for example, is lemon-flavored ice cream with ribbons of blueberry puree topped with whipped topping and lemon chips. Single-serve packaging, such as these parfaits, enables dairy foods to complete for share of the snacking dollar. With indulgent products, the smaller pack size provides portion control.

This is demonstrated in the eight varieties of Blue Bunny Load’d Sundaes from Wells Enterprises, Le Mars, Iowa. The 8.5-oz single-serve cups of soft, spoonable ice cream come with tons of toppings and gooey swirls. Bunny Tracks, for example, is vanilla-flavored ice cream, caramel and fudge swirls, chocolatey covered peanuts and chocolatey peanut butter bunnies. Strawberry Shortcake is strawberry ice cream, strawberry swirls, strawberries, shortcake pieces and candy-coated strawberry bunnies.

Cheese snacks have come a long way from the string mozzarella for kids’ lunchboxes. Eggland’s Best LLC, Malvern, Pa., developed four adult-centric snack packs, each featuring a hard-cooked peeled egg along with cheese and one other food, such as nuts, olives or salami. Cello Quick Fix snack packs from Schuman Cheese, Fairfield, N.J., combine specialty cheeses, with artisan slow-cured salami and gourmet crackers. Sargento Balanced Breaks team natural cheese cubes with dried fruits and nuts.

Indulgence is also influencing yogurt innovation. The segment is evolving now that Greek has become mainstream, with many new products focusing on whole milk and less sugar.

Springfield Creamery, Eugene, Ore., for example, is rolling out Nancy’s Organic 100 percent Grass-Fed Yogurts. These rich, cream-on-top-style yogurts are made with milk from cows that enjoy a diet of organic grass and no grains, yielding milk that’s high in omega-3 fatty acids. Milk is sourced from organic family-owned farms, all within 60 miles of Springfield Creamery. And, like all of its products, the new yogurts contain live probiotics, including strains delivered at therapeutic levels to help support immune and digestive health.

New York City-based Siggis, the maker of Icelandic yogurt with simple ingredients and not a lot of sugar, is rolling out Siggi’s Simple Sides. The new line features whole milk yogurt and simple, no-added-sugar mix-ins for a nourishing, wholesome snack with more protein than sugar in every cup.

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