There's been quite a buzz lately about trans fats.

There's been quite a buzz lately about trans fats. Recent research has confirmed that trans fats, are even worse for you than regular-old saturated fats. This led to FDA action that will require trans fat declarations on nutritional information panels by 2006.

The final rule, issued last month, may still need some clarification, but some conclusions can be drawn for dairy processors.

To begin with, you would rather be Dean Foods than Frito Lay or Nabisco when it comes to trans fats. Full fat dairy products have some naturally occurring trans fat, but hydrogenated vegetable oils have a super-sized helping.

Perhaps most importantly, many low-fat dairy products will be able to carry a nutritional panel boasting zero grams of trans fat per serving. This is due to an exemption for products with less than .05 grams per serving. And, if a product has such small amounts of trans fat, and the manufacturer makes no nutritional benefit claim, it can forgo a separate line in the nutritional information panel and simply state "not a significant source."

What is unclear, is what will be required to make claims. But if FDA eventually allows further claims such as "low in trans fats" to appear elsewhere on the label, this could be a real opportunity for dairy companies.

Most Americans are generalists about nutrition. While there certainly are a great number of consumers on regimented high-protein low-carbohydrate diets, for instance, there must be an even greater number familiar enough with the carbs vs. fats debate to alter their eating habits to some degree. The average Joe or Jane may now be occasionally eating eggs instead of bagels, and avoiding the fries instead of the steak.

With a fairly vocal discussion of trans fats underway, these same generalists may now be thinking "I want something high in protein, but I'd better watch out for trans fats."

A yogurt product, low-fat cheese, or dairy-based beverage that can claim zero trans fat would have a lot of appeal. Fortify it with extra calcium and maybe some soy and whey protein, and that consumer is really going to feel good about the product.

Another thing to consider-butter comes off a lot better than margarine in the trans fat discussion.

Markets Recovering

Speaking of butter, the dairy commodity prices have made significant gains and experts say they should hold for a while. This is good news for cheese and whey manufacturers. Our 10th Annual Dairy 100T indicates that a lot of processors had a flat year in 2002. A weak market, brought on by record production levels of raw milk and cheese, may be partially to blame.

But now, milk production is down for a number of reasons. And the National Milk Producer Federation's Cooperatives Working Together (CWT) program hasn't even kicked in yet.

Ice Cream Party

There was significant butterfat on hand at IDFA's Capitol Hill Ice Cream Party during the association's Washington Conference in June. I was able to roll up my sleeves and help IDFA staffers and members scoop ice cream. If you've never attended the conference and the party, make a point of it sometime. The setting is beautiful, the grass-roots organization impressive, and the ice cream delicious.