Ben & Jerry’s has long prided itself on its philanthropic efforts, and a pair of 2009 ice creams furthered those goals. One, a Chocolate Macadamia flavor, was fair trade-certified, while the other, Goodbye Yellow Brickle Road, in part benefited the Elton John AIDS Foundation.

Looking at the number of dairy introductions in 2009, the total is a rather startlingly low amount. The 853 product launches last year are a significant drop from the 1,329 introductions recorded in 2008 and, in fact, are the lowest number of dairy debuts Mintel has found since the year 2000, when numbers dipped to 782. For that matter, 2009’s total is the first time the category has fallen below 1,000 introductions since 2003.

Despite the relative dearth of new products, sales of dairy products in the U.S. increased 2% in 2008, despite an overall price increase of 9%, according to the Packaging Machinery Manufacturers Institute’s “Dairy Industry Market Research Study 2009.” Some 51% of dairy processors said their business had been “definitely affected by increased demand, resulting in cost increases for building materials, raw materials and dairy prices.” A number of processors noted sales to Third World countries declined, due to the economic slowdown in the U.S. and around the world.

In the report, several companies predicted that dairy consumption will continue to rise, as new marketing links natural weight loss to an increased intake of protein and promotes the protein content of dairy products. Furthermore, there remains the potential for energy drinks to incorporate dairy, particularly milk.

For the Sweet
New sweeteners have made distinct impressions in a variety of categories. While rebiana sweetened a host of beverage introductions (notably Coca-Cola’s vitaminwater10, Sprite Green and Odwalla juices, the Natural Lo-Cal Juices from Hansen Beverages and Nature’s Splash from Kraft), the sweetener from the leaves of the stevia plant made its way to the dairy segment courtesy of Breyer’s Yogurt.

The company’s YoCrunch 100 Calorie Packs were positioned as “the first calorie-controlled yogurt to be sweetened with a natural zero-calorie sweetener.” In the process, the product blended yogurt with crunchy mix-ins, in such flavors as Cheesecake Yogurt with Graham Cookie Pieces; Strawberry Yogurt with 100% Natural Low-fat Granola; and three vanilla yogurt combinations: with chocolate chip cookie pieces, with chocolate crème cookie pieces and with Nestle Crunch pieces. All promised vitamins A and D, as well as to be good sources of calcium. The product’s parent brand, YoCrunch, has proven to be a powerful player in the yogurt segment; the “Catalina Source of Volume Study 2009” noted it has 53% more afternoon/evening eating occasions than traditional yogurts.

A Natural
Natural proved the selling point for a range of products from Tillamook County Creamery Association (TCCA). A natural sour cream and four new flavors of all-natural yogurt were launched, with the yogurt flavors including Baked Apple Pie, Passion Fruit Orange Guava, Strawberry Lemonade and Watermelon. All of the additions complied with TCCA’s no-rBST policy. (Indeed, bovine growth hormone proved a notable story in 2009, as General Mills announced it would stop using milk from cows treated with rBGH for its Yoplait Yogurt.)

Natural also extended to the spreadable cheeses arena, with what Alouette described as the nation’s first complete line of 100% all-natural, soft, spreadable cheeses. The nine varieties included garlic and herbs, light garlic and herbs, spinach artichoke, sundried tomato and basil, savory vegetable, creamy onion and shallot, peppercorn Parmesan, light cucumber dill, and a seasonal berries and cream.

Organic, the more-regulated cousin of the natural trend, also received a degree of attention this year, with several introductions in the yogurt arena. Wallaby Yogurt Company introduced the organic Wallaby Down Under, an innovative approach to fruit-on-the-bottom yogurt. Promising twice as much fruit as similar yogurts and topped with plain yogurt, the line included six flavors: peach passion, mango tangerine, berries and cream, strawberries and cream, pink grapefruit and the nation’s first dark chocolate yogurt, according to the company. All varieties were cultured after pasteurization and contained acidophilus, bifidus, bulgaricus and thermophilus probiotic cultures.

Fortification was not solely the domain of yogurts, however. General Mills’ Fiber One brand added a chocolate low-fat milkshake fortified with vitamins A and D, also in a French vanilla variety, while Shamrock Farms’ Essentials for Kids line featured omega-3 DHA and extra calcium to support children’s brain and eye development.

At-home milkshakes were made a little more customizable, courtesy of MolliCoolz. The single-serve Shakers container was filled with pelletized ice cream beads, and consumers needed to add milk, replace the lid and shake the container. The ice cream beads (in flavors of vanilla, chocolate, strawberry and cookies & cream) were specially formulated to soften and mix with the milk. It was entirely up to the consumer to determine the consistency of the product, determined by the amount of milk added.

Yogurt Emerging...Still
While yogurt accounts for $3.8 billion in sales in the U.S., according toBrandweek, it remains an emerging category, with Americans collectively consuming less than a quarter of the yogurt eaten per capita in European countries. The category is growing in the U.S.; an NPD Group report released over the summer ranked yogurt in “the top food trends expected to grow more important during the next decade.”

The growth has managed to spur a wave of new private label yogurts, with a notable introduction from SuperValu. Four new Stone Ridge Creamery tart frozen yogurts were launched at the same time the company added six new Culinary Circle ice cream desserts. The yogurts made the retailer among the first in the nation to introduce a line of fat-free, tart frozen yogurts with live, active cultures. Originating from Korean-style tart frozen yogurt, Stone Ridge Creamery tart frozen yogurt promised a more savory, tangier dessert or snack option in four flavors: vanilla, peach, strawberry and pomegranate blueberry.

The Culinary Circle brand of ice cream dessert contained four unique layers: premium ice cream on the bottom, topped by a layer of mousse, then a decadent sauce and finished with a layer of confectionery pieces. The six flavors included caramel pecan praline, cherry chocolate amore, chocolate truffle gooey fudge brownie, midnight mint, peanut butter passion and tiramisu. The packaging was part of the selling point: it promised easy serving, and each contained two desserts. As Chad Terrell, Culinary Circle brand manager, noted, “Consumers today are seeking new at-home dining solutions to fit shrinking budgets and busy lifestyles, yet they are not willing to give up the innovative new flavors and ingredient combinations that they have learned to enjoy while dining out.”

Indeed, USDA statistics indicate Americans do have a fondness for the frozen treat. More than 1.5 billion gallons of ice cream were produced in 2007, and 80% of the milk produced that year went to making ice cream and other frozen dairy products, according to the International Dairy Foods Association.

Mintel research found seven in 10 men prefer plain ice cream flavors, while 74% of women look for ice cream with inclusions, such as chocolate or candy pieces. That is not to say these preferences are exclusive, however. Two thirds of women also seek plain ice cream, while 63% of men will happily settle for ice cream with mix-ins. What flavor of ice cream are consumers not loving? Less than one in three respondents to Mintel’s research said they look for fruit-flavored ice cream.

One of the year’s most notable natural introductions was in ice cream. Combining the natural trend with the consumer demand for simple, recognizable ingredients and clean labels, Haagen-Dazs introduced Five, promising a grand total of five all-natural ingredients in every package. All of the line’s flavors were made with milk, cream, eggs, sugar and one additional ingredient, either brown sugar, coffee, ginger, milk chocolate, mint, passion fruit or vanilla bean. Another selling point for the line was its fat content, one third less than regular Haagen-Dazs varieties.

While its line of ice creams may not be entirely naturally sourced, Ben & Jerry’s has a proud history of philanthropic activity. The company extended its fair trade flavors this year with Chocolate Macadamia, described as “a flavor on a mission” by the company’s chief euphoria officer, Walt Freese. The fair trade product certified the growers and suppliers of the ingredients were fairly compensated for their labor. The flavor itself boasted a double-dip of fair trade chocolate and fair trade vanilla ice cream, with sustainably harvested, chocolate-covered macadamia nuts.

The company’s philanthropic efforts also extended to fighting AIDS, as a portion of the proceeds from sales of the limited-edition flavor Goodbye Yellow Brickle Road went to the Elton John AIDS Foundation. The custom flavor consisted of chocolate ice cream, peanut butter cookie dough, butter brickle and white chocolate chunks.

While store shelves offered a variety of novel ice cream concoctions, the wave of the future may well be found in some of the innovative ice cream shops around the country. Chicago’s Vosges Haut-Chocolate, for instance, produces one such flavor for delivery around the country. Naga is the manufacturer’s curry and coconut variety, layering cumin, ginger and chile with coconut cream. Meanwhile, Ten Tables in Jamaica Plain, Mass., offers house-made Thai basil ice cream and sea salt. Unusual flavors were not the norm, however; frequently, bold ice cream flavors have resulted from relatively familiar origins.

Coca-Cola, for instance, is one of the gelato options available at Golosi in New York. The pizzeria also offers a seriously caffeinated take on sorbet, with its Red Bull version on the frozen treat. Chocolate-covered Cheerios, meanwhile, can be found among the mix-ins in the ice creams available at Jacques Torres Ice Cream in Brooklyn, but it is the Wicked Hot Chocolate infused with Mayan spices that may provide the most unexpected ice cream combination.

Much more traditional options came from a MaggieMoo’s introduction to retail shelves. For its three new ice cream varieties, the company blended blueberry muffin ice cream, blueberries, Teddy Grahams and mallow crème topping for Blueberry Muffin in the Morning; brownie batter ice cream, brownies, chocolate sprinkles and fudge topping for Brownie Bliss; and rum raisin ice cream, raisins, coconut flakes and caramel topping for Cravin’ Rum Raisin.

With Benefits
Indulgence has always been a primary selling point for ice creams, but across the category, healthy has proven particularly inspirational for product developers. Yogurt, being naturally rich in calcium and certain vitamins, has been a hotspot for healthy labels, but some functional attempts have managed little more than to confuse the consumer and induce skepticism. However, this has not slowed the number of beneficial launches.

Calorie-minded Canadians were the target for Ultima Foods’ Lemon Meringue Parfait Yogurt, which featured 4g of milk protein and 35 calories per 100g serving. Fat-free and sweetened with sucralose, it served as a source of calcium, vitamin D, phosphorus, vitamin A, magnesium and B2, while also containing active cultures.

U.S. consumers were the target for a similar, private label effort from Aldi. Its Cherries Jubilee Nonfat Yogurt was launched under the discount grocer’s Fit & Active brand. With vitamins A and D, the aspartame-sweetened product promised a third of the calories of regular low-fat yogurt.

Healthy benefits extended beyond the weight arena, however. In fact, a study published in the journalHeartfound children with a high intake of dairy foods might live longer. The study traced the lives and diets of 4,374 UK children from a 1930s’ study and found  those who had high dairy and calcium consumption in their youth had less chance of stroke and other causes of death, though no increased risk of heart disease (this despite the fat and cholesterol inherent in many dairy products).pf

Website Resources: “Dairy Industry Market Research Study 2009” on dairy consumption and health Foods’ sister publication focusing on the dairy industry “Cereal & Milk as Sports Supplements” fromPrepared Foods’ E-dition newsletter Int’l Dairy Foods Assn.

Going Global: Dairy Products
The functional aspects of yogurt products have proven quite popular around the world, and the benefits varied greatly in 2009. Densia, a natural yogurt from Danone introduced in Spain, was formulated for the bone health of women over 40, providing 400mg of calcium and 25% of their daily vitamin D needs.

Elsewhere and in numerous locales, beneficial bacteria proved inspirational. Rewe Bio lemon-flavored probiotic yogurt in Germany was certified organic, while Fronterra Brands launched Brownes Yoghurt & Grains Tropical Fruits with Oats & White Chia Low-Fat Yogurt in Australia. The product featured live AB+ cultures and promised to be a good source of calcium and whole grains. Japan’s consumers saw Nippon Milk introduce Free Yogurt with Gasseri SP Lactic Acid Bacteria, a probiotic yogurt with Lactobacillus gasseri SBT2055, while Delamere Dairy introduced UK consumers to Probiotic Natural Goats Yogurt, featuring probiotic cultures and no gluten, artificial preservatives, flavors or colors.

Similarly free of gluten, Laticinios Cortez Ind. e Com. released Açai & Guarana Liquid Cultured Milk with Yogurt under the Yofruta brand in Brazil. The acai and guarana cultured milk with yogurt was enriched with a variety of vitamins: A, B1, B2, B6, E and PP.

Likewise beneficial, though in a completely different way than probiotics, a drinkable yogurt from Pasteur Dairy in South Korea boasted a high antioxidant content, branding the product around its Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC) rating, a frequent sight on products containing Superfruits, but fairly new to the dairy drinks segment.

Also adding a degree of innovation to the segment was the process Kikkoman utilized to create its Yu Prune & Peach Yogurt in Japan. The product resulted from the company’s soy sauce manufacturing technology, fermenting soybeans with lactic acid bacteria.