Remember when dairy products were sexy and on-trend? Food executives and consumers might recall the “Got Milk?” and the “Milk Mustache” campaigns in the early and mid-90s. Sponsored by the California Milk Processor Board and MilkPEP (Milk Processor Education Program), these campaigns blitzed all major media and even featured Hollywood and sports celebrities.

More than 25 years later, some market observers still believe dairy products offer a tremendous innovation platform—especially in foodservice venues. One of those researchers is Packaged Facts, whose December 2018 “Dairy Innovation” report covered rising profiles of flavored butters, cheese in new places, dairy alternatives, inspired ice creams and soft serve desserts, Middle East influences (feta, labné and yogurt) and new opportunities for whey.

“Don’t let the familiarity of dairy or the success of plant milks obscure the opportunities in this marketplace, given the culinary heritage, indulgence factor, usage rates, and consumer appeal that makes dairy the cream on top for many different applications, from elevated favorites to imported novelties,” said David Sprinkle, research director for Packaged Facts.

Sprinkle noted that it’s exactly that consumer familiarity with dairy gives chefs and other foodmakers new “license to thrill” with creative recipes and products that take dairy to new realms. New offerings range from haute French flavored butters and crème fraiche to Middle Eastern labné to Japanese ice cream treats—because indulgence never goes out of style, despite modulations in how often and how much.

Packaged Facts found kitchens nationwide cooking up new and novel dairy innovations, including: preserved eggplant poached in ricotta whey and roasted in brown butter, date and blue cheese ice cream, halloumi cheese with warm honey and dukkah, salted cheese with tea and fresh lemon, coconut soft serve mixed with activated charcoal and even vegan-friendly cashew cheese.

Dairy’s popularity also makes it easy to swap out butter with flavored butter, sour cream with Greek yogurt, or one cheese with another. Think of replacing milk and sugar with condensed milk for Thai or Vietnamese iced coffee. Likewise, the year-round appetite for frozen dairy treats has driven ice cream to new heights, and given rise to foodie, arty soft serve.

Global explorations also favor fermented dairy products such as yogurt and funky cheeses, said Packaged Facts. Through it all, classic cheddar also reigns supreme, recommending itself into everything from super-cheffy macaroni casseroles and breakfast biscuits to spicy-trendy pimento cheese. 

Not surprisingly, new dairy and even dairy-free creations were plentiful at the National Restaurant Association’s (NRA) annual Chicago exhibition in May.


Flavor Forward

There was no shortage of flavor-forward new products on the show floor. Showcasing global tastes, for example, were companies such as Germany’s Die Trueffelmanufaktur e.K., which highlighted spicy hard deli cheeses; and Spain’s Quescrem, whose 50 cream cheese varieties include those with garlic and herbs, olives, goat milk and Manchego cheese. Another exhibitor was Esti Foods LLC, an Englewood, N.J., business belonging to Greece’s Yefantis Group. Esti highlighted a wide range of Mediterranean foods including feta cheeses and Greek yogurts.

Also among those promoting cheese has been Emmi Roth, Fitchburg, Wis. A subsidiary of Switzerland’s Emmi Group, Emmi Roth has introduced three new lines including Flavor Ups Blue Cheese Crumbles, a Kaltbach Cheese Kit, and Roth Chèvre, an earthy, fresh goat cheese.

Flavor Ups Blue Cheese Crumbles are smaller packaged portions especially for meal kits, salad bars, convenience stores and grab-and-go sections. Also created for foodservice (and serving up to 300 people), the Kaltbach Cheese Kit includes four specialty cheeses aged in Emmi’s Kaltbach Cave in Switzerland. Kaltbach varieties include Emmentaler AOP, Kaltbach Le Gruyère AOP, Le Crémeux and a Cave-Aged Gouda. Roth Chèvre is available in several flavors including classic Chèvre as well as Honey, Peppercorn, Garlic & Herb, Rolled Cranberry and Wild Blueberry.

Still more exhibitors promoted cold treats. True to its name, Tea-rrific Ice Cream, LLC, Bridgeport, Conn., showcased its line, which includes such ice creams flavors as Matcha Green Tea, London Mist, Chunky London Mist, Ginger Matcha, Lavender’s Blueberry, Masala Chai and Chamomile.

Another exhibitor, Palazzolo’s Artisan Dairy, Fennville, Mich., highlighted its Artisan Ice Cream Sandwich (featuring French sponge cake and vanilla bean ice cream) and Gelato & Sorbetto Mini Cups (complete with spoon).


Dairy Free

Not surprisingly, there also were plenty of new dairy-free options on the NRA show floor. For the record, NRA judges presented 2019 Food and Beverage Awards (FABI) to Fora Foods, Brooklyn, N.Y., and G.S. Gelato, Fort Walton Beach, Fla.

Fora Foods’ new FabaButter is a plant-based butter that bakes, clarifies, and browns just like dairy butter. It boasts a 360°F smoke point (considerably higher than dairy butter) and is made with upcycled aquafaba– a foodwaste ingredient that adds a layer of depth and flavor. Chefs can use FabaButter in the most technically demanding foods, from croissants to French mother sauces, for its superior functionality and sustainability benefits.

G.S. Gelato won for its Plant-Based Cold Brew Coffee Frozen Dessert, which is gluten free, dairy free, and free from trans-fat. It contains no GMO ingredients, and it is certified vegan. Officials say it’s made with premium espresso from Colombia and serves operators as a stand-alone dessert or an addition to coffees, shakes, and other products.

The Good Food Institute, a non-profit promoting plant-based foods, identified as many as 21 NRA exhibitors highlighting dairy-free alternative products. Processors ranged from big names, such as Ben & Jerry’s, Kellogg’s and Conagra to Good Planet Foods (plant-based cheese), Chicago Vegan Foods (vegan ice cream and cheese) and Sun Opta Foods Inc. (barista- quality nut milks).

In other better-for-you news, General Mills Convenience & Foodservice, Minneapolis, said it introduced a gelatin-free Yoplait ParfaitPro bulk yogurt that makes “it easier for foodservice professionals to meet a broad array of dietary needs when making parfaits, smoothies, smoothie bowls and more.” Officials say the three varieties—Vanilla, Strawberry, Greek Vanilla—contain no artificial flavors or colors from artificial sources and no high-fructose corn syrup. They’re also made with rBST-free milk.

Originally appeared in the August, 2019 issue of Prepared Foods as On-Trend Tastes.