A number of introductions touted a lack of bovine growth hormones, including Disney’s Little Einsteins Milk. This product barely mentioned that fact on the front of the package, however, opting instead to tout its 32mg of omega-3 DHA per serving.

While certain segments of the dairy category, notably ice cream, have remained strong sellers in a challenging economic climate, other areas provided a large source of introductions but could offer less in terms of dollar sales. Principally, the year saw store brands increasingly roll out organic and all-natural offerings. However, the most successful launches managed to link such a positioning with other trends affecting consumers.

For instance, on-the-go consumers were the target for Snack and Curd Cups from Ellsworth Cooperative Creamery. Available in 4oz packages, the cups paired 100% all-natural premium Cheddar cheese curds with a snacking sausage and boasted a six-month refrigerated, unopened shelflife.

Also tailored to busy consumers, Tula Foods’ Better Whey of Life yogurt promised to be the “first all-natural, high-whey protein product produced in a convenient on-the-go format.” Boasting 15-17g of protein in each 6oz container, the product’s varieties included açai mixed berry, French vanilla, peach mango, plain and strawberry banana.

A protein boost could also be found in an introduction from Wildwood Organics, though this product was more notable for its namesake active cultures. Available in blueberry, pomegranate and vanilla flavors, Probiotic Soymilk featured seven live and active cultures and 8g of soy protein in every 10oz bottle.

The Wildwood product debuted just in time to benefit from a Victoria University (Australia) report. According to theJournal of Food Science, the report found that adding probiotic bacteria to soymilk could enhance the solubility of calcium up to 90%. Furthermore, adding probiotics to soymilk affected the absorption and metabolism of the isoflavones in the gut.

It’s Alive!
Such live and active cultures made their way into foodservice as well, with Pinkberry’s launch of Granita. The “liquid frozen treat” was made with non-fat yogurt and non-fat milk, plus is a good source of calcium and live and active cultures.

A more functional dairy beverage is expected to come, courtesy of a partnership between Attitude Drinks Inc. and Nutraceutical Discoveries Inc. In August, the pair announced they would develop a “cutting-edge, functional dairy beverage with enhanced metabolic effects,” though the partnership has yet to yield a product. However, also in the busy functional dairy arena, Muscle Milk Light Nutritional Shakes sought to address the “active individual’s nutritional requirements.” The Cytosport product contained whey protein isolates to slow digestion of amino acids, to stave off hunger.

Lucerne Foods, meanwhile, favored the more frequently followed trail of probiotic functionality. Its Eating Rite Light Ice Cream Cups contained a blend of five probiotics, plus served as an excellent source of omega-3 DHA and EPA. Those omega-3 varieties were also present in two fat-free frozen yogurts from Kemps LLC and in Precious +Plus String Cheese with Omega-3 from Sorrento Cheese. The latter also featured 7g of protein.

With such an array of functional introductions, it is little surprise that dairy is one of the functional food and drink category’s strongest segments. In fact, Datamonitor anticipates dairy will lead the functional food and drink category in the U.S. by 2011, amassing $7.85 billion in sales to surpass soft drinks.

Traditionally, functional dairy products have largely come in the form of probiotic-enhanced yogurts, and 2008 proved no exception. Canadian consumers could enjoy Irresistables Life Smart Raspberry Probiotic Stirred Yogurt from Metro Brands, while in the U.S., Rachel’s introduced Rachel’s Wickedly Delicious Low-fat Variety Pack, containing four 6oz cups of each of the following flavors: Vitality Pomegranate Açai, Relax Vanilla Chai and Calm Plum Honey Lavender. All were an excellent source of omega-3 DHA, probiotics and calcium, and they were also free of r-bST, a bovine growth hormone at the center of great debate in recent years.

Hormone Alone
Some states moved to restrict hormone-free labeling, and Ben & Jerry’s Homemade Inc. was among the first to join a national campaign to block the effort. Judging by the number of entries touting a lack of r-bST and other hormones in 2008, it would seem a sizable market to eliminate.

Even Disney introduced an r-bST-free product. Disney Consumer Products and Stremicks Heritage Foods joined to launch Disney Little Einsteins Milk, a milk beverage line enriched with 32mg of omega-3 DHA per serving, to support brain and eye development and heart health. The two varieties were low-fat 1% and reduced-fat 2%.

Dairy introductions free of r-bST ran the gamut of the category’s segments. Kraft Foods reformulated its Extra Sharp Cheddar Cheese Sticks to be made with milk from cows not treated with the hormone, and the company did the same for its line of 2% Milk American Cheese Slices under the Kraft Singles brand. Likewise among r-bST-free cheeses, Quesos Del Valle launched Whole Milk Cheese, a fresh baker’s cheese, and Maple Leaf Cheese introduced Horseradish Cheddar Cheese.

The hormone-free concept even made its way into store brands. Kroger released 2% Reduced Fat Milk, containing vitamins A and D but no r-bST, while Trader Joe’s introduced a Whole Milk Yogurt Pack free of the hormone. The latter contained two flavors of grade A yogurt, three cups of blackberries and cream, and three cups of vanilla and cream. The company also introduced Super Premium Ice Cream in a French Vanilla flavor, guaranteed to be made with milk from cows not treated with r-bST. Super Store Industries, meanwhile, launched Probiotic Plus Low Fat Yogurt under its Sunnyside Farms brand. With no r-bST, the product did feature vitamins A, C and E, while promising to boost immunity and improve digestive health.

Starbucks likewise eschewed bovine hormones, but in the process, the coffee giant pulled organic milk out of its U.S. stores to make room for its full switch to milk without the rBGH hormone. In fact, the move pertained to Starbucks’ entire core dairy supply: fluid milk, half-and-half and whipping cream. It had offered organic milk as an option for consumers who wanted milk sourced without the use of rBGH, but according to a company release, “Customer orders of drinks made with organic milk have consistently been a small percentage of total orders.” The conversion to dairy products made without rBGH eliminated what it believed was the primary reason its customers ordered organic.

However, organic introductions were aplenty in the dairy category. Dairy Farmers of America Inc. introduced New Breakstone’s Organic Whipped Butter. Market research shows organic butter sales increased 26% in 2007 and have jumped by more than 200% since 2003.

Limited Engagement
Sticking to the dairy-in-foodservice theme, Baskin-Robbins teamed with The Hershey Company to create candy-infused ice cream treats in 13 varieties, four of them inspired by York Peppermint Patties. Concoctions featuring Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and Heath bars rounded out the baker’s dozen of offerings in the Candy Bar Madness line. The range was available for a limited time, however, from February until early June.

Such a limited-time-only positioning proved popular across the dairy industry again in 2008, particularly around the holidays. Specialty Desserts Inc. took the concept a bit further this year by offering an individual-portion aspect. Frosty Snowmen had 2.5oz of chocolate and vanilla ice cream (in the shape of a snowman), while Merry Mint Trees featured 2.5oz of mint ice cream in the shape of trees and decorated with candy sprinkles. Both were sold in eight-packs. Sold in six-packs, Gingerbread Men were 3oz vanilla ice cream sandwiches, with the ice cream layered between two ginger-bread-flavored cookies. Rounding out Specialty Desserts’ holiday stable were Flaming Ice Cream Snowballs, premium vanilla ice cream rolled in coconut flakes. Each four-count box included candles for lighting.

For most holiday ice creams, mint proved essential. Smith Dairy Products Co. mixed red peppermint candy into cool peppermint ice cream in its Ruggles Candy Cane Holiday Edition Ice Cream, while Tilla-Mint ice cream from Tillamook County Creamery Association interspersed creamy mint ice cream with cool mint morsels. Even foodservice saw a limited-edition minty treat, as Chick-fil-A added a Peppermint Chocolate Chip Hand-Spun Milkshake for the last two months of the year.

Also on the foodservice holiday front, Baskin-Robbins introduced several options for the year’s latter holidays. The Haunted House was an ice cream cake decorated with candy corn, spiders and ghosts, while Thanksgiving saw the chain add sugar cone legs to its classic ice cream cake shape to create an “ice cream turkey.” For Christmas, an ice cream cake was transformed into a holiday house decorated with Hershey’s Kissables and mini candy canes.

On the less-limited retail ice cream front, Blue Bell Ice Cream added Snickerdoodle Ice Cream. This featured cinnamon ice cream with chunks of snickerdoodle cookies and a praline cinnamon swirl. USA Today estimated the U.S. ice cream industry (retail and foodservice) at $13.9 billion annually, and the segment proved active in terms of introductions for the entire year. However, ice cream’s cousin gelato was not without its share of introductions, either.

A look around the industry’s expos was enough to prove gelato had emerged as a trend. Several gelato options were available at the Private Label Manufacturers Association Trade Show in November, and Ciao Bella Gelato Inc. introduced the Select Series Gelato line over the summer. Two chef-inspired flavors were available at launch in July: Maple Ginger Snap and Key Lime Graham Cracker. November saw the line expand to include Malted Milk Ball and Chocolate Jalapeno.

Ciao Bella was also notable for its seasonal gelatos. For the spring, Ciao Bella introduced Banana Date Walnut Gelato, made with South American bananas and Middle Eastern dates mixed with walnuts. Also found in the spring were Raspberry Hibiscus Sorbetto (made with real hibiscus flowers) and Ricotta Strawberry Gelato, which included creamy Italian ricotta cheese.

Talenti Gelato introduced a number of flavors over the summer: Hill Country Peach Champagne, Malaysian Mango and Pear Cinnamon Basil, and Argentine Dulce de Leche. The latter was made with pure, natural caramel and pistachios shipped directly from Sicily. Also added to Talenti’s stable were such flavors as Lisbon Lemon, Sonoma Strawberry and Italian Café Coffee.

Cheese’s presence is not altogether unusual in frozen desserts, but ricotta’s use (as in the Ciao Bella product above) was fairly unusual. Mascarpone is more likely to be found in these products. Kozy Shack Inc., for instance, introduced Tiramisu. Made in Italy, these 3oz parfait cups of the Italian dessert were made with fresh mascarpone cheese and espresso-soaked sponge cake and exemplified the trend toward dairy items with almost solely adults in mind.

Liberal Artisans
Artisanal foods were another example of that trend, and the Associated Press reported this was one of the fastest-growing segments of the $59 billion gourmet food industry. Gourmet cheese and dairy products were expected to enjoy double-digit growth through 2012, including the area of specialty cheeses. Blaser’s USA launched a new effort into the segment with Private Selection Artisan Cheese Collection under its Golden Age Cheeses brand. Traditional handcrafted production techniques produced a variety of English-style cow’s milk cheeses in eight varieties: Abergele infused with cranberry/orange, Abergele infused with apricot/ginger, Abergele plain, Caerphilly plain, Caerphilly infused with cranberry, Cheshire-style plain, Chesire-style savory infused and Double Gloucester.

With consumers expanding their culinary preferences, Castro Cheese Company Inc. introduced La Vaquita brand Panela Fresca and Cuajada Fresca cheeses. The company noted these cheeses, which promised to strike a familiar chord among Hispanic consumers, were produced daily, made to order and all-natural. Panela Fresca, a white, mild, pressed curd, non-cultured cheese had a flavor reminiscent of mozzarella, while Cuajada Fresca was a fresh, crumbly cheese frequently served as an appetizer, paired with guava paste, crumbled over black beans or topping tostones or arepas.

Speaking of mozzarella, the Italian form came under threat due to an infection spreading through herds of its water buffalo. With mozzarella di bufala being one of the country’s most important exports, the threat was grave. Some 32,000 buffalo were slaughtered--at a cost of roughly $97 million--to combat the infection. While all indications are that the cull proved a solution to the problem, it combined with other food scares in 2008 (perhaps the most notable being melamine found in infant milk powder in China that left at least five children dead and thousands seeking medical care) to result in a public increasingly ill at ease with its food supply. In turn, many of those consumers began to opt for perceived reassurances from all-natural and organic products.

U.S. manufacturers were quick to respond, with a wide variety of organic milk options introduced this year. Topco Associates introduced Whole Milk under its Full Circle Organic brand. This all-natural milk was grade A, ultra-pasteurized and fortified with vitamin D. Roundy’s Organics brand added a fat-free milk produced without the use of antibiotics, synthetic hormones or pesticides, while Winn-Dixie Stores launched Organic Reduced Fat Milk, from “stress-free cows raised on fresh air and water, a wholesome 100% organic diet and plenty of exercise.”

The organic effort was by no means confined to cow’s milk. DZA Brands introduced Original Ricemilk under its Nature’s Place Organic brand. Containing vitamins A, D, B2 and B12, it was free of cholesterol and lactose, traits shared by Target’s release of Chocolate Soymilk under its Archer Farms Organic label. The Target offering also promised to be a good source of calcium and was made from whole, organic domestically grown soybeans. Lactose and cholesterol were just the start of what was missing from a ZenSoy launch.

Kosher- and vegan-certified, ZenSoy Plain Soy Milk also boasted an absence of casein, dairy, eggs, gluten, genetically modified soybeans, MSG or peanuts. It was, however, enriched with calcium and vitamins (A, B2, B12 and D). An even lengthier list of vitamins could be found in the organic soymilk from ND Foods. Vitamin E, plus potassium and calcium, were found in its Natural Directions Organic Original Enriched Soymilk.

For its milk launch, Hiland Dairy took a cue from a completely different category--bottled water and soft drinks--by offering Multi-Paks, featuring individual bottles in packs of six in 9oz and 16oz sizes. The milk came in two flavors: 2% white or whole chocolate milk and were priced similarly to bottled water.

Dean Foods took a similar tack by offering ice cream parlor-style milkshakes in single-serve bottles. Chug Milk Shakes came in Chocolate, Cookies ‘n’ Cream and Vanilla varieties. A 12oz bottle was also the package of choice for Farmland Dairies’ Special Request Skim Plus fortified milk products. The white and chocolate varieties were fortified with vitamins A and D, while containing 37% more protein and 34% more calcium than whole milk.

By and large, consumers do perceive cow’s milk, in and of itself, to be inherently healthy, without the need for extra nutrients and fortification. For this segment to see growth, perhaps all that is necessary is a campaign similar to what Tropicana has done with its orange juice: namely, just reinforcing an awareness of that healthy perception. pf

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.

Website Resources:
www.PreparedFoods.com -- Type “rbgh” in the search field to discover the latest news concerning this controversial aspect of the dairy category
www.dairyfoods.com -- Dairy Foods magazine, type in “organics” and “new products”
www.gnpd.com -- Mintel Global New Products DatabaseGoing Global: Dairy Products
Yoplait combined one of the hottest Superfoods with yogurt for Portuguese consumers. The drinkable yogurt, yOptimal, was “formulated for women to help them stay slim” and featured green tea, well-regarded for its high levels of antioxidants and metabolism-boosting effects. Green tea extract and fiber are the key weight-control ingredients, and each bottle claims to have the equivalent of a 125ml cup of green tea.

Targeting drinkable yogurts to European women is not a new concept, but Mars opted to target the demographic with milk. The company introduced U.K. consumers to a flavored milk enriched with protein and calcium. Targeting a female audience, Galaxy Milk claimed to build stronger bones, healthier skin and shiny hair. The 2% milk contains no artificial colors or sweeteners.

Female Asian consumers likewise had their share of milk products targeting them: Morinaga Milk Industry introduced Calcium Master (a low-fat white milk fortified with 100% milk-source calcium and vitamin D, aimed at “housewives in their 30-50s”); Frisian Flag targeted expectant Indonesian mothers with White Milk for Pregnant Women (enriched with DHA, omega-3 and -6, and folic acid); and Bright High Calcium & High Fibre Milk Powder in China was specially designed for women. The latter featured fresh milk with additional calcium, iron, vitamin D, CPP, dietary fiber, folic acid and collagen.

While personal health is a concern, for many consumers the world over, the environmental health of the planet is of equal importance. Italian manufacturer Medeghini responded to those consumers with La Crescenza (fresh soft cheese), a creamy cheese “ideal for use as a spread” but produced using only electrical energy produced from renewable resources, as established by the Kyoto Agreement.

Prebiotic Planning