By Dorothy Noble
Dairy insiders say there are lots of opportunities for dairy innovations. At the recent Dairy Innovation Forum in State College, Pa., two successful dairy farmers and several Penn State experts shared their insights.
Several things combine to produce a winning product, but flavor is key.
Pretty packaging that highlights a certain component, such as protein, or the elimination of a certain practice, such as no hormone usage, plus a marketing team with a promotional budget can all help sales, but flavor comes first.
At Turner Dairy Farms Inc. near Pittsburgh, the company’s philosophy of “perfect products, perfect service and treat people right” still stands, according to Steve Turner, area sales manager and great-great-grandfather of the farm’s founder, Charlie Turner.
It is still a family-run business with only 11 staffers. About 40 local dairies provide the milk that carries the Turner label. Steve Turner says his team looks at trends from DMI, Milk POP and the Hartman Group, plus other segments of the food and beverage industry, for their innovations.
Schoolchildren happily drink Turner’s chocolate, orange cream and strawberry milk, he says. They have also dabbled in other flavors and repackaged products with more colorful labeling, but “they’re not all winners,” he says, adding that “Gingerbread” and “Chocolate Covered Cherry” were disappointing.
“We are constantly fine-tuning and reinvesting," says Bill Kelly, chief marketing officer of Fairlife. "We’re on our fourth round of packaging development.”
Fairlife milk gets a premium price, but their bottles make certain that customers know the benefits they are paying for: 13% high-quality protein, 50% less sugar, reduced fat and no artificial growth hormones.
Kelly sounded surprised at the volume of their mainstream store sales, even with their high prices. Walmart is their largest retailer.
For the past three years, Fairlife has beat the growth of other value-added products. Their growth, at 33%, beats out lactose free at 10%; plant based at 9%; and organic at negative 4%.
‘Fat’ and flavor matter
Professor Bob Roberts, head of Penn State’s food science department, says more than 400 teenage girls surveyed — the girls were classified as “calorie counters, clean eaters, average ‘Janes,’ traditionalists and sugar okay” — said that flavor was the most important attribute in a drink. Chocolate was the clear winner over strawberry, vanilla, mocha, banana and orange.
Also, natural sweeteners were preferred in flavored milk, he says.
Fluid milk consumption research shows a preference for fat in milk. But one in four individuals, he says, prefer skim milk, just not for health reasons.
A project to reduce added sugar in flavored milk found that the aroma of vanilla enhanced perceived sweetness.
DAIRY RESEARCH: Penn State professors talk about trends in dairy and what people want from dairy products.
He says that juice drinks have stalled due to excessive sugar in their formulations.
Other research projects being looked at include the effects of fat reduction on ice cream acceptance, tolerance for bitterness in chocolate ice cream, the efficacy of probiotics in dairy foods and the consistency of farmstead cheeses.
Barriers to growth
Using data from Mintel, Penn State professor Claudia Schmidt talked about demand trends, noting that butter is growing in popularity while the yogurt market has largely matured.
The perception of natural cheese as healthy has helped its growth.
Schmidt suggests manufacturers should focus on ice cream’s wholesomeness to bolster its modest growth.
But there are many factors that limit dairy innovation in Pennsylvania. Schmidt pointed to the higher cost of production due to smaller herd size, a lower return on assets and higher debt-to-asset ratios compared to other states.
Surveys also show that meeting government regulations, and labor and financial management issues, are drawbacks for small-scale producers, she says.
Students help innovate
Dairy innovators can look to Penn State professor Dan Azzara’s students for creative ideas. A quiche-like muffin with cottage cheese curds throughout the base paired with blueberry sausage, maple bacon and bell pepper mushrooms won first place at a recent national competition.
A dairy drink the students developed called Chilk-Out incorporates chia seed to elevate protein, calcium and fiber. Original and chocolate flavors are available.
Cheese crisps called Hearty Heifers are targeted for people before and after a workout due to their concentrated nutrients.
FuZen boasts a dual bottle designed for on-the-go lifestyles. This 2017 first-prize winner is available in chocolate coconut and vanilla cardamom, together or individually.
Noble writes from central Pennsylvania.