Dairy foods and beverages are facing challenges that include competition from plant-based dairy wannabes, global trade obstacles and more. But the odds are in dairy’s favor as processors home in on consumers’ evolving wants and needs.

Here’s a look at product innovation new across the category’s many sub-segments including cheese, cultured products, ice cream and milk. 

Fluid Situation
Although purchasing numbers have declined, milk is still present in 91% of American households, according to the September 2019 “Eating Trends: Meat, Dairy, Vegetarian, and Vegan” report from the Packaged Facts division of Rockville, Md.-based MarketResearch.com.

For the record, overall, dollar and unit sales were down 1.3% and 2.3%, respectively, during the 52-week period ending Aug. 11, 2019, according to data from Chicago-based market research firm IRI. Refrigerated skim/low-fat milk—in particular—is hoping for a better hand in 2020. Dollar sales fell 5.2%, and unit sales declined 5.6%. Whole milk, however, is holding more chips. Its dollar and unit sales are up 1.8% and 0.9%, respectively.

Interestingly, while other parts of the milk category struggled, coffee creamers have been a bright spot, notes the Packaged Facts report. The category is now at a 52% household usage rate, up from 44% in 2009. According to IRI data, during the 52-week period ending Aug. 11, 2019, coffee creamers jumped 7.4% in dollar sales and 2.0% in unit sales. (The market research firm groups nondairy creamers in this subcategory).

Overall, however, the elephant in the dairy case is the plant-based beverage, which continues to shave away at milk’s market share. According to data from the San Francisco-based Plant Based Foods Association, dairy alternatives grew 6% in the past year.

Despite milk’s streak of bad luck, innovative products can appeal with functional, nutritional and flavorful benefits.

Protein is a powerful attribute and last year saw Organic Valley introduce a couple of high-protein milk products. Its new Ultra line of ultrafiltered organic milk has 50% more protein and 50% less sugar than regular milk, the company said. Organic Valley also relaunched its Fuel protein shakes. The offerings now have 50% less sugar than before; they are packed with 20g of organic protein and come in Chocolate, Vanilla and Coffee flavors.

Horizon Organic, part of Danone North America, based in White Plains, N.Y., and Broomfield, Colo., joined the trend by introducing Horizon Organic High Protein in Reduced Fat Chocolate, Reduced Fat Plain and Vitamin D varieties. It includes 12g of organic protein per serving, officials say.

Seattle-based Darigold said it created its new Darigold Fit line to respond to consumer demand for less sugar and more protein in dairy products. The milk, which is ultafiltered and lactose-free, contains 75% more protein and 40% less sugar than regular 2% milk.

Borden, Dallas, also created Kid Builder, a high-protein milk geared toward children. According to the company, Kid Builder has 50% more protein (13g per 240-milliliter serving) and calcium (490mg per 240-milliliter serving) than regular milk. It is a made from cows not treated with the artificial growth hormone rbST and comes in Chocolate and Strawberry flavors.

Innovation in the milk space may also bring consumers back to the category. For its part, Live Real Farms (Dairy Farmers of America) introduced Dairy Plus Milk Blends, which are made of 50% dairy milk and 50% almond or oat beverage, to appeal to consumers who like the taste of plant-based alternatives.

As for non-dairy milk alternatives, 2019 saw Silk, Broomfield, Colo., introduce Oat Yeah “oatmilk” to grocery stores nationwide in January. It is available in three varieties: The Plain One, The Vanilla One and The Chocolate One. Better Than Milk, Rochelle Park, N.J., launched organic ready-to-drink milk alternative beverages in five varieties: Almond Original, Unsweetened Almond, Oat, Rice + Calcium and Hazelnut Rice.

Cheese Please
Elsewhere in the dairy case, it’s clear that US consumers’ love affair with cheese continues to flourish.

Per-capita consumption of cheddar cheese increased from 9lbs in 1995 to 11.2lbs in 2018, according to data from USDA’s Economic Research Service. And per-capita consumption of mozzarella cheese climbed from 7.9lbs in 1995 to 12.2lbs in 2018. Although processed cheese lost ground (but regained some of it) since 1995, a similar growth story can be found among most other natural cheese types.

Cheese sales continue to expand at retail with data from Chicago-based market research firm IRI showing that dollar sales of natural cheese rose 1.3% during the 52 weeks ending Aug. 11, 2019, to $13,117.4 million. Unit sales climbed 2.0%.

Within the retail natural cheese space, “snackability” is one of the most significant trends.

To cater to snack-loving consumers, Schuman Cheese introduced Cello Copper Kettle Chisels. The product consists of bite-sized pieces of Parmesan, which is crafted in copper vats to create distinctive notes of cooked caramel. According to the company, the product is designed for the health-conscious snacker, boasting 9g of protein and only 110 calories per serving.

Sargento Foods Inc., Plymouth, Wis., has been particularly active during the past few years within the cheese-snacking space. Last year saw Sargento bolster its popular Balanced Breaks line with Sargento Sunrise Balanced Breaks. Targeting the breakfast occasion, the refrigerated snack kits combine different varieties of natural cheeses with other snackable ingredients such as vanilla blueberry quinoa clusters and blueberry juice-infused dried cranberries. They come in four varieties.

Another notable new entry into the refrigerated snack cheese kit space is the Chiquita Bites line from Fresh Express, Orlando. Offered in five varieties, the savory snack packs pair natural cheese with fresh or dried fruit; some also contain nuts, crackers or pretzels.

Outside of the snack kit space, the Borden cheese brand, licensed by Kansas City, Kan.-based Dairy Farmers of America, added Habanero Cheddar and Extra Sharp White Cheddar varieties to its Borden Snack Bars line earlier this year. The individually wrapped 3/4oz snack bars come eight to a 6oz bag.

Meanwhile, the Crystal Farms brand of St. Louis-based Post Holdings targeted some of the youngest snackers with its recent launch of Nibblers and Little Nibblers on-the-go cheese snacks. The half-inch (Nibblers) and quarter-inch (Little Nibblers) cheese cubes come in single-serve packs in kid-friendly varieties: mozzarella and marble jack.

Tillamook County Creamery Association, Tillamook, Ore., took an upscale approach to snacking with the 2019 debut of its Tillamook Cheeseboards. The products combine Tillamook cheese with crackers and artisanal fruit spreads. The company said they come in four combinations: Sharp Berry Crunch, Spicy Berry Bite, Smokey Apple Crisp and Sharp Strawberry Heat.

Snacking isn’t the only trend playing out in the cheese segment, of course. A growing assortment of varieties also is drawing consumers in.

Caves of Faribault, part of Edwardsville, Ill.-based Prairie Farms Dairy Inc., put a twist on familiar varieties with the recent introduction of two cave-aged cheeses: St. Helga’s European Style Swiss cheese and the Cherubic Heavenly Young Gouda. 

Another flavorful new entry was Stella Fontinella 6oz rubbed wedge line from Saputo Cheese USA Inc., Lincolnshire, Ill. Featuring Saputo’s own Fontinella cheese, the line comes in four flavors, which are rubbed onto the cheese: Bell Pesto, Harissa, Bourbonista and Black Pepper.

Crescent City, Calif.-headquartered Rumiano Cheese Co. introduced a new line called Redwood Coast. The first offering in the line, an 8oz block of Sriracha Jack cheese, definitely is in line with the trend toward bolder, spicier flavors.

New flavors also can be found in the goat cheese space. Mariposa Dairy, Lindsay, Ontario, said it added a line of eight seasonal flavors under its Celebrity brand. Although the spring and summer flavors have come and gone, autumn flavors include Spiced Sweet Potato, Maple Toffee and Horseradish Dill. And scheduled to debut this winter are Cappuccino and Truffle cheese flavors.

As for non-dairy options, Miyoko’s Creamery, Petaluma, Calif., used last year’s Natural Products Expo West to introduce organic, vegetable-based, nut-free block “cheeses” fermented with live cultures. The products are made with potatoes and legumes and are said to have tangy and delicious flavors resembling traditional dairy-based cheddar and pepper jack cheeses.

Fuji Plant Protein Labs, Savannah, Ga., announced the launch of Nozzarella plant-based cheese for the commercial foodservice and pizza markets. The non-GMO soy-based product is produced with the company’s patented Ultra Soy Separation process.

Get Some Culture
The era of Greek yogurt cashing in big payouts has ended: The yogurt category has leveled off since the international style’s introduction to the U.S. market over a decade ago. In the 52-week period ending Aug. 11, 2019, yogurt’s dollar sales decreased 1.8% to $7,135.1 million, while unit sales fell 4.8%, according to data from Chicago-based market research firm IRI.

“With the Greek yogurt revival having run its course, yogurt and [smoothie] usage rates have dropped to 52%. Usage rates for cottage cheese, despite efforts to renew interest in this stalwart category through novel sweet and savory flavorings, [also] slipped to 49%,” states the Packaged Facts division of Rockville, Md.-based MarketResearch.com it its September 2019 “Eating Trends: Meat, Dairy, Vegetarian and Vegan” report.

While parts of the cultured dairy category — consisting of yogurt/skyr, sour cream, cottage cheese, cream cheese and kefir — aim for a consolation prize, some subsets look to split the pot. According to Packaged Facts’ “U.S. Food Market Report, 2019,” sales of yogurt drinks, for example, increased 13% from 2016 to 2018.

Danone addressed customers’ desire for less sugar in cultured dairy by introducing its Two Good Greek low-fat yogurt. The product contains 2g of sugar per container — 85% less than conventional yogurt, officials said. 

Still more new entries came from Chobani LLC, Norwich, N.Y, and Good Culture LLC., Irvine, Calif. Chobani introduced Chobani Greek yogurt with nut butters, which has more protein and less sugar than many other yogurts. The line includes Vanilla Greek yogurt with almond butter, Plain Greek yogurt with almond butter, Honey Greek yogurt with almond butter, Chocolate Greek yogurt with hazelnut butter and Vanilla Greek yogurt with cashew butter. 

Good Culture LLC. added two offerings to its “Simply” category, which includes products that have a high protein content, less sugar and simple ingredients. The additions include high-protein Good Culture Simply Classic double-cream cottage cheese with 6% milkfat and Good Culture Simply sour cream.

For consumers looking for higher fat content, Prairie Farms Dairy, Edwardsville, Ill., added 6oz containers of whole-milk yogurt that come in Café Latte, Salted Caramel, Lemon and other varieties. More U.S. households are recognizing the many health benefits of whole-milk yogurt when making their purchasing decisions, Prairie Farms said.

Lifeway Foods Inc., Morton Grove, Ill., also introduced a whole-milk product: whole-milk kefir with real fruit. Each 32oz bottle is blended with full-fat milk and real fruit purée. The line is available in three flavors: Strawberry, Raspberry and Blueberry.

For some consumers, eating healthy means incorporating more probiotics into their diets. General Mills, Minneapolis, partnered with GoodBelly Probiotics — a brand of NextFoods, Boulder, Colo. — to launch a line of probiotics-containing lactose-free yogurts. The line comes in Wild Blueberry, Vanilla Bean, Peach, Coconut, Strawberry and Black Cherry flavors and contains more than 1 billion live and active probiotics.   

While Greek yogurt is no longer the product du jour, other international styles of cultured yogurt have gained popularity in the U.S. market. Some of the new varieties tout health claims, while others offer an indulgence factor.

Danone North America jumped on the international-style trend with its addition of Aussie Crème, an expansion of its Wallaby brand of organic Australian-style yogurts. The new line comes in three flavors: Spiced Peach, Strawberry Red Wine and Caramelized Pineapple. The yogurts are made with organic milk and premium organic ingredients, but are also crafted to be an indulgent experience by using 8.5% milkfat yogurt infused with a dulce de leche flavor.

New York-based Icelandic Provisions added Krímí to its lineup of Icelandic-style skyr. The whole-milk offering comes in four flavors: Vanilla Bean, Strawberry-Rhubarb, Mixed Berry and Chocolate Coconut.

Many Americans are living busy lifestyles, and they’re turning to convenient meal or snack options that can be enjoyed on the go. 

Danone North America launched Oikos Pro Fuel, which is a protein-packed caffeinated cultured dairy beverage. It is available in Peach, Strawberry Banana, Vanilla and Mixed Berry flavors. Each 10oz bottle contains 25g of protein and 100mg of caffeine from coffeeberry extract.

Kraft Heinz Co., based in Pittsburgh and Chicago, added Fruitlove, a spoonable smoothie. Each cup of Fruitlove contains three or more real fruits and vegetables, provides a good source of protein and calcium, and is an excellent source of vitamins A, B1 and B3, the company said. Fruitlove comes in five flavors, including Strawberry Banana Twirl, Harvest Berry Blend, Mango Medley, Pineapple Coconut Bliss and Blueberry Dream. It is packaged with a spoon for on-the-go snacking.

Hiland Dairy Foods Co., Springfield, Mo., re-introduced and added more flavors to its Hiland Probiotic Yogurt Smoothies line. The smoothies come in Peach, Mango, Strawberry, Pecan Cereal, Piña Colada, Guanabana and Strawberry Banana flavors.

 In the dairy alternatives space, Lifeway Foods Inc., Morton Grove, Ill., introduced a vegan probiotic beverage line called Plantiful. It is available in 8oz single-serve and 24oz multi-serve bottles. Each serving contains 10g of protein and 10 vegan strains of probiotics, providing both functional nutrition and microbiome support.

Sacramento, Calif.-based Blue Diamond Growers added Almond Breeze yogurt alternative. Each 5.3oz single-serve container includes a serving of vanilla-flavored yogurt alternative and a sidecar of toppings such as honey roasted almonds and granola.

The new year saw Harmless Harvest, the San Francisco maker of organic coconut-based beverages, launch a full suite of nationally-available plant-based coconut yogurt alternative products. The plant-based coconut yogurt alternative product portfolio includes four flavors of spoonable single-serving cups, three flavors of single-serving dairy-free drinkable yogurts and a multi-serve dairy-free drinkable yogurt.

We All Scream
Results have been mixed in the ice cream and frozen novelty segment. The good news? Frozen novelties saw a pretty payout, with dollar sales rising 4.2% to $4,906.3 million during the 52 weeks ending Aug. 11, 2019, according to data from Chicago-based market research firm IRI. Unit sales increased 1.2%.

The bad news? Ice cream failed to hit it big. Dollar sales for the subcategory (excluding frozen yogurt/tofu, ice milk/frozen dairy desserts and sherbet/sorbet/ices) fell 1.4% to $6,063.8 million. Unit sales dropped 1.9%.

Indulgence is one “trend” that appears to have traction in the ice cream and frozen novelty space.

Tillamook Chocolate Mudslide ice cream sandwich—sandwiching the company’s Mudslide ice cream with waffle-cone-inspired cookies—took first place in the “Most Innovative Ice Cream Novelty” category during the International Dairy Foods Association’s (IDFA) 2019 Innovative Ice Cream Flavor Competition.

My/Mo Mochi Ice Cream, Los Angeles, also brought product indulgence to the frozen novelty segment with the recent introduction of its triple-layer frozen treats. They feature the company’s traditional mochi dough exterior wrapped around premium ice cream, but also boast a new taste-tantalizing center layer. The line comes in Chocolate Sundae, Vanilla Blueberry, S’mores and Dulce de Leche varieties.

Meanwhile, Nestlé USA Inc., Arlington, Va., aimed to tempt the taste buds of more health-conscious consumers with the introduction of Outshine Half Dipped Bars. Noelle Perillo, manager, brand public relations for Nestlé USA Inc., calls the bars—available in Creamy Coconut, Raspberry and Banana—“really innovative, bringing a little indulgence from 70% cacao dark chocolate in this more traditional refreshing, healthier segment.”

On the ice cream side, the indulgence factor “doubled” with Häagen-Dazs’ (Nestlé USA) introduction of its Spirits Collection earlier this year. The collection offers five spirit-infused ice creams, including Irish Cream Brownie and Bourbon Vanilla Bean Truffle.

Lotus Bakeries, Lembeke, Belgium, expanded beyond baked goods with its first line of superpremium ice cream. The family-owned company said it developed Lotus Biscoff ice cream by marrying dairy cream with its crunchy Biscoff cookies and its original cookie butter. The ice cream launched in U.S. stores in pints in July 2019 (and in bars in October).

And ice cream’s silky and decadent cousin, gelato, became even more indulgent with the spring release of Talenti Gelato Layers. Talenti, part of Englewood Cliffs, N.J.-based Unilever USA, said the new line of jars features “indulgent, hand-crafted recipes.” Each jar contains five layers consisting of gelato, cookie and/or candy pieces and various sauces. The line comes in seven varieties, including Vanilla Fudge Cookie, Salted Caramel Truffle and Chocolate Cherry Cheesecake.

But in the ice cream and frozen novelties space, the trend toward variety means more than an abundance of creative flavors. Today’s consumers want formulations that fit their lifestyles and eating habits, too.

Probiotics also boast appeal. In late 2018, Unilever debuted the Culture Republick line of probiotics-containing light ice cream. The brand said it is “on a mission to support culture both inside and out.” It collaborated with emerging artists to design each pint; 10% of the brand’s profits will support the art in local communities. Flavors include Milk & Honey, Turmeric Chai & Cinnamon, Cold Brew & Chocolate Chip, and more.

Perry’s Ice Cream Company Inc., Akron, N.Y., also added probiotics to its lineup with last year’s introduction of Yo Buddies bars. The offerings combine probiotic-packed frozen yogurt with natural fruit and vegetable juices for a healthier take on frozen treats, the company said. The six-packs of single-serve Yo Buddie Bars come in Raspberry Watermelon and Berry Grape flavors.

Pierre’s ventured into probiotics territory, too, with the recent addition of probiotic frozen yogurt pints to its Signature Collection. Products in the line have 130 to 190 calories per serving and are made with probiotic culture. Flavors include Chocolate Chocolate Chunk, Moose Tracks, Sea Salt Caramel Pecan and Vanilla Bean.

In the dairy alternatives space, Perry’s Ice Cream introduced the Perry’s Oats Cream line of pint flavors. The oat-based frozen dessert comes in seven flavors: Apple Strudel, Blueberry Pancake, Coconut Caramel, Oat Latte, Peanut Butter Coffee Cake, Peanut Butter & Cookies and Snickerdoodle.

Burlington, Vt.-based Ben & Jerry’s added two vegan “ice cream” flavors: Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough and Chocolate Caramel Cluster. The new non-dairy pint offerings are made from almond milk.

Category overviews excerpted from Dairy Foods’ November 2019 “State of the Industry Report.” Articles written by Editor-in-Chief Kathie Canning, and Managing Editor Anna Boisseau. Visit www.dairyfoods.com for more information.