Donna Berry

You are likely quite busy bringing 2004 to a close, so I promise not to take too much of your time. In fact, this column is more of an assignment for you to complete at what ever time you choose.

As you reflect and rejuvenate for 2005, I ask that you take some time and imagine . . . like that child who goes to sleep dreaming of the possibilities Christmas morning will bring.

Imagine the many types of dairy-based products that could go into the packages and containers filled at your processing facility. Most of us are familiar with the non-dairy products that can be packaged-for example, water, juice, fruit drinks, iced tea, soy, vegetable oil-based dips and even guacamole. But think dairy . . . and imagine the possibilities.

1. Ready-to-eat soup. Shelf-stable, ready-to-eat soup does not need to be canned. Creamy, smooth soups can be aseptically packaged. In fact, they already are available. They just are not being marketed by dairies. Some are milk based, whereas others use soy. For example, Pacific Foods of Oregon Inc., Tualatin, Ore., lists organic milk as the first ingredient in its aseptically packaged Roasted Red Pepper and Tomato Soup. The soup must be poured into another vessel prior to heating, as the packages are not microwavable. Similar ready-to-eat soups are often sold "fresh" in deli displays. Imagine selling cream-style soups in single-serve bottles, gable-top cartons or even sour cream cups.

Shamrock Farms Dairy, a div. of Shamrock Foods Co., Phoenix, markets Gourmet Heavy Cream in attractive pint bottles. Labels include the usage suggestion of "Great for everything from fluffy whipped cream to the creamiest soups and sauces." Is there someway to take the work out of making those soups and sauces and offer a convenience dairy item to consumers?

On a consumers' way out the door in the morning, they can grab a single-serve smoothie for a dashboard-dining breakfast and a similar bottle for an easy-to-prepare warm lunch.

2. Sauce bases. Speaking of soups and sauces, flavored sour creams can readily compete with fresh pasta sauces for pasta side dishes and entrees. I make beef stroganoff with mushrooms, dry onion soup mix and sour cream. It would be great to eliminate the mixing step and have all these ingredients already combined.

A few years ago, Westby Cooperative Creamery, Westby, Wis., sent me a case of its new Roasted Tomato & Red Pepper Dip, which was a naturally cultured sour cream-based dip loaded with chunks of fresh tomatoes and peppers. Indeed, it made a great veggie and chip dip. But with a case, I sought out alternative applications. Family and friends raved when I served them fettuccine tossed with this dip. This is just one of many flavorful sour cream creations.

3. Dressings. Most consumers believe that salad dressings sold in the produce refrigerated case have a more fresh taste and natural flavor profile than those sold in the dry goods aisle. Why not make dairy case dressings? After all, what is more natural then a buttermilk ranch made by a buttermilk processor? The same would hold true for blue cheese dressing, or on the sweeter side, a cream cheese dressing for fruit.

Imagine the possibilities. Commit to 2005 as being a year of unprecedented innovation for you and your company.

Happy Holidays, folks!