"There is an overriding focus on health and wellness in the beverage category," says Gary Hemphill, senior v.p., Beverage Marketing Corp., New York. With milk having both these attributes-naturally-dairy ingredients will likely be included in many of the new beverages rolled out in 2005.

With that said, packaging and promotion are also more important than ever before in the marketing of such products, as the budgets of the competition (carbonated soft drink marketers) are some of the largest in the consumer products segment. And, these companies, too, have embraced the health and wellness trend. This is exemplified in new 7 UP™ Plus®, which is the first carbonated soft drink to be fortified with vitamins and minerals.

When it comes to packaging, one of the most innovative single-serve packages to enter the U.S. marketplace is the self-heating, rigid paper can that now contains a range of Wolfgang Puck® lattes. Made with premium coffee and whole milk, the beverage warms to 145

Naturally Iowa LLC, Clarinda, Iowa, is rolling out a line of organic fluid milk products in bottles made out of polylactic acid corn-based resin. This eco-friendly and annually renewable material is promoted by the company with the slogan: Milk the cows and grow the bottles.

With health and wellness comes a return to remembering, in the end, it is calories that count, and there is no sense wasting your daily allotment on empty ones.

In the 19th Annual Report on Eating Patterns in America from the NPD Group, Port Washington, N.Y., statistics show that Americans are becoming more calorie conscious. In fact, 27% say they are conscious of the calories in their meals-the highest number since 1999. The data also shows that Americans are becoming concerned about sugar in their diet. In fact, 22% of Americans are concerned about sugar, up from 20% in 2003.

In response, Dallas-based Dean Foods Co., recently rolled out Land O Lakes® 80 ‘N Sunny™ low-fat milk and fruit juice blend. The blend has only 80 calories per serving, and contains as much calcium as an 8-oz glass of milk, as well as just as much vitamin-C as an 8-oz glass of orange juice. Like many other low-sugar and no-sugar-added dairy products in the market today, 80 ‘N Sunny is sweetened with sucralose.

"Our research told us kids love the refreshing taste," says Dave Haley, dir. of marketing for Dean Foods. "And besides tasting great, our new product helps address two critical issues with today's kids-obesity and a shortage of calcium."

According to Washington, D.C.-based American Obesity Association, obesity has risen 8.3% in children (ages 6 to 11) from 1980 to 2000, and 10.5% in teens (ages 12 to 19). Approximately 30% of both groups are considered overweight and about 15% are considered obese. Other studies have shown that 30% of children ages one to five do not get enough calcium on a daily basis. For teens, that figure rises to an average of 80%.

Land O Lakes 80 ‘N Sunny comes in half-gallon cartons and in four flavors: Blue Raspberry, Fruit Punch, Orange Creme and Strawberry Banana. Dean Foods is strategically informing consumers that 80 ‘N Sunny is a lower-calorie alternative to other beverages by flagging "80" in the brand name and stating calorie content on carton front panels.

Bravo! Foods International Corp., North Palm Beach, Fla., also offers flavorful low-sugar milk beverages. No Sugar Added Fortified Slim Slammers® are made with 1% low-fat milk. They are promoted as having half the carbohydrates, half the calories and one-third more calcium than regular milk.

Available in two flavors-Chocolate Fudge and French Vanilla-Slim Slammers are offered in attractive 16-oz extended shelflife (ESL) bottles. Slim Slammers offers all the benefits of milk, plus the addition of 20% to 45% of the recommended daily allowance of 10 essential vitamins not normally found in milk.

"With the ever-growing national epidemic of obesity and the associated medical risks, the Slim Slammers line is the ideal alternative to sugar-laden carbonated beverages and fruit drinks," says Roy Warren, Bravo's CEO. "Perhaps one of the most alarming statistics comes from the Centers for Disease Control, which has reported that one of every three children born in the United States in the year 2000 will develop type-2 diabetes. What's particularly disturbing is that this can be prevented with diet and lifestyle changes. Drinking low-fat milk as part of a reduced-calorie diet provides calcium and protein that support healthy weight loss. Slim Slammers takes that a step further by adding great taste, increased calcium and 10 essential vitamins, which makes this milk a complete package."

Bravo is one of the most aggressive marketers when it comes to promotion and packaging initiatives. For example, about a year ago, Bravo entered into a license agreement with Marvel Enterprises, Inc., New York, to use its world-famous Super Heroes® to promote Bravo's branded milk products. Marvel's popular characters include Spider-Man™, Wolverine™, the Incredible Hulk™, Daredevil™ and Captain America™. As part of the agreement, Bravo enhanced its already vitamin-enriched milk by incorporating particular attributes associated with each Marvel Super Hero in its product. For example, Bravo adds omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin E and choline to its Spider-Man Slammers Chocolate Web shake to promote brain power, an attribute long associated with the popular web-slinger.

And, right before we welcomed 2005, Slammers Starburst®, a blend of low-fat milk and natural juice, debuted across the country. Through a licensing agreement with Mars Inc., McLean, Va., the first flavors of the Starburst drinks are strawberry, peach and orange. Other Mars candy-flavored milks are scheduled to follow.

Smoothies and drinkable yogurts, in packages ranging from single-serve bottles to half-gallon gable-top cartons, are available everywhere these days.

Dean Foods' Horizon Organic, Boulder, Colo., markets a line of single-serve organic smoothies in three kid-appealing flavors-Strawberry Banana Splash, Tropical Fruit Punch and Wild Berry Blast. Made by blending nonfat organic yogurt with real organic fruit juices, the fat-free smoothies provide a good source of calcium, 100% of daily vitamin C requirements and are enriched with a prebiotic shown to increase calcium absorption and improve overall digestive health.

Stonyfield Farm, Londonderry, N.H., also now offers Juice Smoothies, which are made with organic juice and nonfat organic yogurt. Each 6-oz serving contains 120 calories with 4g protein and zero calories from fat, providing a lower-calorie snack for families who are trying to buck the nation's childhood obesity epidemic.

For the littlest yogurt smoothie drinkers, there's YoBaby® Drinkable Yogurt.

And finally, flavored milk marketers have totally gone beyond chocolate, strawberry and vanilla offerings. The latest entry from Nestlé USA Inc., Glendale, Calif., is a S'mores flavor, which joins other flavorful innovations such as Buncha Banana and Mocha.

The possibilities are infinite when you position dairy as a beverage instead of simply milk.

Side bar: Opportunities Abound for School Milk

The dairy industry currently has a great opportunity to increase milk sales in schools - for several reasons.

First, educators, health and nutrition professionals, and government officials are all looking to our nation's schools to address the growing childhood obesity issue - in part by making healthier food and beverage choices such as milk more available at school. Further, dairy industry research shows that dairy processors can sell more milk in schools when it is offered to students in plastic packaging.

"Milk is a critical part of children's diets, and is a key part of the solution in creating a healthier school environment," says Grant Prentice, executive v.p. of marketing and business development for Dairy Management Inc.™ (DMI). "That said, we all know children will not be lifelong milk drinkers if we offer them a package and product that, according to research and consumption data, they quickly reject."

To help improve childhood nutrition at our nation's schools, DMI launched its "New Look of School Milk" (NLSM) program in 2003 after funding a school milk pilot test that demonstrated that students will drink more milk if it's offered when, where and how they want it.

"The school milk pilot test uncovered a winning combination to increase milk consumption at schools," says Rick Naczi, who heads up DMI's school marketing efforts. That combination included offering ice-cold milk: in multiple flavors; in appealing plastic packaging; eye-catching merchandisers and other milk cooler equipment; and most importantly, in more locations-including the school meal line, a la carte line and in vending machines. Pilot test results showed that, when this formula was applied, milk consumption increased by 37%, milk sales jumped 18%, and secondary school lunch participation increased 5%.

Collaboration is key

DMI's fluid milk marketing strategy aims to address the fundamental issues that hold back consumption growth by expanding existing markets and creating new sales opportunities. DMI offers processors marketing assistance in the form of product formulations, consumer and scientific research, and even joint marketing programs.

"We work with many interested milk processors to bring needed improvements to the marketplace," Prentice says.

Along with processors, schools are a key collaborative player in the move to sell more milk. One prime example is the Denver school district, which worked with Meadow Gold Dairies, Ogden, Utah, to change its school milk program in accordance with the results of the pilot test. Meadow Gold began producing 10-ounce bottles of flavored milk for Denver's middle and high schools. "We've had substantial increases in milk sales - 59% in middle schools and 48% in high schools - along with a 3% increase in our middle school lunch participation, in part due to the enhanced milk program," says Leo Lesh, executive director of food and nutrition services for Denver Public Schools.

Lesh adds that, when Denver made the change to NLSM, "it wasn't about the money, it was about the positive effect we knew drinking milk would have on student nutrition. As it turned out, however, it had a positive effect on our profit and loss as well."

Results show that the NLSM program leads to:

• Increased secondary school lunch participation.

• Increased school revenue through improved milk sales from a la carte and vending, along with school meal participation, which helps cover implementation costs.

• Healthier students through increased milk consumption and school lunch participation.

• Higher academic performance and increased school attendance as a result of healthier student nutrition.

An increasing number of schools are switching from the traditional paper, half-pint cartons to easy-to-open, round, resealable milk packaging. At the end of 2004, more than 1,400 schools (representing nearly 1 million students) offered milk in plastic, single-serve bottles. Market analysts estimate that, if the nation's 90,000-plus schools adopted the NLSM program, incremental milk volume could increase by more than 800 million pounds.

NLSM business models show that positive increases in milk sales and school meal participation are sustainable, Naczi says. "Though the NSLM program costs a little more initially, foodservice operators have created real-world business models that recapture those costs. The key is targeting those school districts with milk processors who have the existing plant capacity to offer these enhanced milk products, or who plan to increase their capacity to take advantage of this growing opportunity." n

The article was contributed by DMI. For more information about DMI's "New Look of School Milk" program, call 847/ 803-2000, or visit www.nutritionexplorations.org.