When it comes to desserts, companies are realizing the wisdom of catering to health concerns, both personal health and that of others. A case in point is Ben & Jerry’s, whose 3.6oz, single-serving ice creams speak to consumers looking to limit caloric intake and the same company’s Fair Trade Certified Coffee Heath Bar Crunch.

When it comes to desserts, companies are realizing the wisdom of catering to health concerns, both personal health and that of others. A case in point is Ben & Jerry’s, whose 3.6oz, single-serving ice creams speak to consumers looking to limit caloric intake and the same company’s Fair Trade Certified Coffee Heath Bar Crunch.

Looking strictly at sales growth, yogurt would appear to be the big winner among dairy products in 2006, as its dollar sales jumped more than 6%, according to Information Resources Inc. (IRI) statistics for FDM, excluding Wal-Mart. By the end of 2006, it is estimated that yogurt will have totaled roughly $3 billion in sales. Probably the most noteworthy yogurt launch in 2006 came in the form of Activia, which The Dannon Company finally brought stateside. The probiotic yogurt had performed quite well for Dannon’s parent Groupe Danone globally (it launched in 1987 in France), and the success was repeated in North America, where it achieved 20% of all category volume, according to the company. The $31 million marketing campaign capitalized on communicating Activia’s digestive benefits: it had been proven to help regulate the digestive system in two weeks when consumed daily as part of a healthy, balanced diet, all courtesy of beneficial cultures, including exclusive Bifidus regularis in each 4oz cup.

Stonyfield Farm, meanwhile, continued to deliver healthful advances for the youngest consumers with its YoBaby line. YoBaby Plus Fruit & Cereal with DHA debuted in two flavors: strawberry banana and raspberry pear. The varieties were not the story, however. Rather, it was the incorporation of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), an essential fatty acid associated with mental and visual development in the early years of life. The products remained all-natural and organic, the company assured, as Stonyfield used anchovy and sardine oils as the source of DHA. In addition, the product blended fruit and grains such as oats, flax, rice and bran, plus six live active cultures. According to the company, the product was by far its best YoBaby new item launch.

Catering to health was not restricted to youngsters. Omega Farms launched a full line of dairy products, with each serving containing 75mg of all-natural omega-3s in the form of two fatty acids: DHA and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). Yogurt was just one element of the line, which also boasted milk, cheese and orange juice. The omega-3s for the products were derived from cod fish oil—extracted, purified and filtered without chemical solvents and meeting the U.S. standards for use in certified organic foods.

Soy Well

Researchers found that a certain form of yogurt could alleviate health concerns facing some consumers. Writing in the Journal of Food Biochemistry, researchers at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst report soy yogurt (particularly that with fruit) may help control both type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure. Soy yogurt and some dairy yogurts rich in fruit seemed to help regulate enzymes that affect blood sugar levels, the researchers found. They discovered plain soy yogurt was the most potent, and blueberry dairy yogurt finished second in phenol and antioxidant content.

 Health-conscious consumers also found yogurt options to help answer their sweet tooth urges. Blue Bunny Swirl Sensations premium yogurt combined yogurt with swirls of indulgent caramel or real fruit filling. Manufacturer Wells’ Dairy Inc. launched the product in six flavors, many seemingly targeting regional tastes: New York Cherry Cheesecake, Strawberry Shortcake, Peach Cobbler, Autumn Caramel Apple, Southern Pecan Cheesecake and Bananas Foster.

Catering to a particular taste was not Wells’ exclusive territory, however. Johanna Foods Inc., the manufacturer of Sabor Latino, a Hispanic yogurt, added two flavors to its La Yogurt brand. Dulce de Leche was a rich caramel-flavored addition, while the Horchata variety was a blend of cinnamon-flavored yogurt. The latter was derived from a traditional Mexican drink made with a blend of rice, cinnamon and almonds.

The large and growing Hispanic market in the U.S. prompted a number of new rollouts in 2006. Kern’s Beverages LLC, for instance, added a pair of new varieties to its longstanding Original Horchata, which debuted in 2003 and has consistently been a strong sales performer, with retail volume rising 26% in 2006. Joining the original variety will be Mango Horchata and Coffee Horchata in 64oz cartons.

Speaking directly to the Hispanic community was an objective for the California Dairy Council. The group posted nutrition information in Spanish on diabetes and other health concerns facing Hispanics on its Meals Matter website. Topics included dealing with lactose intolerance, building strong bones and diabetes. Meanwhile, Unilever attempted to lure those seeking Hispanic flavors with Breyers Fried Ice Cream. It featured cinnamon caramel ice cream swirled with honey caramel and cinnamon-toasted pieces.

Milked Out

Despite the success stories, it is feared that yogurt’s sales success may be fleeting. According to IRI, overall sales of yogurt have been strong for years, but signs suggest the segment might be about to plateau. In the early part of the year, quarterly sales growth dipped below 5%, though this had rebounded to more than 7% by the quarter ending September 24.

Additional positive news could be found in milk, the category’s largest segment. This sluggish sector had seen unit sales drop from 2% to 5% for most of the last six quarters, but they slipped less than 1% in the most recent period. IRI data, however, did not account for some of the most active milk channels. The USDA, on the other hand, shows overall milk sales up 1.2% in the first half of 2006 over the first half of 2005.

Both milk and yogurt could well benefit from research announced late in the year. Researchers at Italy’s National Tumor Institute found regular consumption of yogurt and milk cut the risk of contracting liver disease by nearly 80%. (They also showed eating white meat, such as chicken or turkey, and fresh fruit reduced the risk by 56%.)

Milk producers sought new ways to make their beverage both more attractive and healthful. Y.U.M., “Your Ultimate Milk,” was Promised Land Dairy’s effort. This fat-free milk was enriched with natural plant sterols, which have been linked to heart health. Also somewhat unique to the line was the package: the three varieties—chocolate, white and white chocolate—are found in glass quart bottles. The product did not achieve widespread distribution, but it launched in late September throughout the southern half of the U.S. Promised Land’s president, Harold Lees, notes the product is made only with Jersey Cow milk, “because Jersey Cow milk naturally delivers more calcium and protein and has more non-fat solids…than milk from Holstein cows.”

Changing Times

One of recent years’ successes had originally capitalized on a healthful benefit, but with the changing times, a trend had passed. That led HP Hood LLC to rechristen its Carb Countdown line as Calorie Countdown. The dairy drink line featured rich, creamy dairy beverages, providing the nutrition of milk but with reduced amounts of sugar, calories and even carbohydrates. A company spokesperson notes, “The product is good for diabetics who watch their sugar and carbohydrate intake…” The three varieties are 2% reduced-fat white, 2% reduced-fat chocolate and fat-free white.

Other dairy companies had different approaches to health, many opting to avoid synthetic growth hormones amid a controversy that has persisted well over two years. Darigold, Wilcox and Schepps (the latter a Dean Foods company) announced they would sell milk produced without the synthetic growth hormone rBST.

As Randy Eronimous, Darigold’s director of marketing, noted, “It’s going to become a competitive disadvantage if you are not rBST-free.” The two largest milk producers in New England likewise will no longer accept milk from cows given the hormone. Granted, retailers there are charging as much as $0.50 a gallon more for the hormone-free milk.

The year also saw what may become the new organic in the dairy industry: products from cows that are grass-fed. Citing studies suggesting the milk from cows on a natural grass-fed diet is higher in omega-3 fatty acids, Grass Point Farms launched an entire line of milk, cheese and butter products from cows on the diet and free of artificial growth hormones and antibiotics.

That line was not organic, but the year did see a number of high-profile organic milks enter the marketplace. Unilever went green by introducing Breyers All Natural Organic Ice Cream in chocolate, coffee, vanilla bean and Vanilla Fudge Swirl varieties. In addition, Humboldt Creamery announced it would include an organic option in its line of natural milk. While the company had been producing organic dairy products for years, this was its first organic milk.

Lactose-intolerant Canadians also were treated to an organic milk option in 2006. Organic Meadow began distributing Certified Organic Lactose Free 2% Milk, joining a segment growing by more than 20% a year.

License, Please

Bravo! Brands Inc. signed a licensing agreement with Cooperative Regions of Organic Producer Pools to license the Organic Valley brand in a new line of aseptic packaged organic fluid milk products. Bravo! and Organic Valley will jointly produce organic, shelf-stable, dairy-based single-serve beverages initially rolled out through Coca-Cola Enterprises’ distribution channels. The licensed product is initially going to be 1% low-fat milk. Additions including 1% versions of chocolate, vanilla and berry flavors are expected later.

Bravo!’s tie-ups would not end there, however. The group offered Franken Berry Slammers and Boo Berry Slammers flavored milk drinks. The strawberry- and blueberry-flavored 8oz products were part of a trademark-licensing agreement with General Mills. The products were produced aseptically and have a shelflife of six months. The company is expected to add Trix, Cocoa Puffs, Wheaties, Lucky Charms and Count Chocula varieties as part of the deal as well. A similar deal is in place with Masterfoods, allowing Bravo! to produce Slammer versions of Starburst, Dove, Milky Way and 3 Musketeers.

Other licensing news saw PepsiCo ink a deal to market Ben & Jerry’s refrigerated milkshakes via its Quaker division. The three flavors included Ben & Jerry’s classics Cherry Garcia, Chunky Monkey and Chocolate Fudge Brownie.

Meanwhile, a product from Froid Coffee Company sought to give PepsiCo/Starbucks’ Frappuccinos a run for their money. The Froid organic dairy-based beverage line features two coffee beverages (original and French Vanilla) and chai tea. The products are made with natural and/or organic ingredients, including organic milk, sweet organic cane sugar and organic coffee beans.

Speaking of coffee, one of the beverage’s trends also was found in the dairy aisles this year, as Stonyfield Farm joined with Honest Tea to mix Fair Trade Certified Kashmiri chai into Stonyfield’s organic vanilla ice cream. The Vanilla Chai flavor also added such rich spices as ginger, cinnamon and cardamom.

Likewise, Unilever’s Ben & Jerry’s brand expanded its Fair Trade Certified ice cream flavors with vanilla and chocolate. The line also includes coffee, Coffee Heath Bar Crunch and Coffee Coffee Buzz Buzz Buzz.

While it might not have been a coffee flavor, a new addition to Blue Bell Creameries’ portfolio did make use of a warmed beverage, at least as an inspiration. Hot Chocolate Ice Cream combined milk chocolate ice cream with miniature marshmallows, dark chocolate shavings and a rich marshmallow sauce swirl.

Speaking of rich, the superpremium ice cream category saw a healthful entry this year. SheerBliss Ice Cream LLC packaged its namesake ice cream in a distinctive tin can. Healthful ingredients form the base for many of the brand’s flavors: one is all-natural, 100% pomegranate juice from POM Wonderful LLC.

That might be fine for humans, but Good Humor had the healthful yet indulgent needs of man’s best friend in mind. The company partnered with Pedigree, known for its pet food products, to introduce Ice Cream Sandwich Treats for Dogs. The dairy-based treats had a creamy texture like ice cream, plus added protein but no additional sugar. In addition, since some dogs are lactose-intolerant, the treats were 99% lactose-free. The perforated wafers also allow the pet owner to determine the amount of treat the dog deserves or should eat.
Much of the information in this article was derived from the Mintel Global New Products Database, www.gnpd.com, 312-932-0400. Special thanks also goes to sister publication Dairy Foods magazine.

Going Global

Composed of fresh pasteurized milk and containing 10 vitamins and minerals, Regilait Lait Concentre Sucre is a tube of sweetened, condensed milk in France designed for use in coffee and tea, as an ingredient in desserts or as a spread.

In Malaysia, Nestlé targeted children over the age of three with Nespray Original 3+ Milk Powder. It claims to have 50% more DHA than most brands of milk powder, and it also features prebio, a proprietary blend of natural fibers and nutrients that supposedly boost children’s learning ability.

Spain’s Kaiku Corp. released Kaiku Plus Sin Lactosa, a UHT lactose-free milk enriched with vitamins A, D, E and folic acid. Another Spanish milk opted to omit fat; claiming to be formulated for menopausal women, Natur Calcio Plenitud from Central Lechera Asturiana also boasts calcium, phosphorus and vitamins A, D and E.

Argentina’s Mastellone introduced Ser Skimmed Milk with Active Fibre. It was fortified with vitamins A and D and calcium. According to the company, stressful and intense lives make consumers’ intestines inefficient, and the fiber in this product will alleviate the problem.

Denmark, meanwhile, saw Unilever Bestfoods introduce Becel Pro-Activ milk. Formulated with omega-3 fatty acids and plant sterols, this skimmed milk claims to help reduce cholesterol and protect the cardiovascular system. St. Ivel Advance in the U.K., on the other hand, includes omega-3 in St. Ivel Advance to enhance learning and concentration in young children.

More indulgent flavors also are starting to emerge in dairy products. Austria’s Alpenmilch Salzburg launched Slazburgerland Mozart Drink in a marzipan, nougat and chocolate flavor. Rizii Up was a bubble-gum-flavored milk in Russia and, in Japan, Häagen-Dazs launched a black sesame-flavored ice cream, a seasonal item made with black sesame paste, another in the trend toward black foods seen strictly in the Asia-Pacific region.