Processors ramp up efforts on products that consumers can really use.

The dairy industry is not a “Field of Dreams.” Just because you make it, does not mean consumers will buy it.

Consumers’ financial woes during this past year confirmed that if a product does not provide purpose, it can be cut from the shopping list. As a result, purpose-driven product development has been the talk of the food and beverage industry, and has managed to keep new product roll out numbers strong.

Worldwide food product launches recorded in the Innova Database between June 2008 and June 2009 were up 7.3% from the previous 12 months, despite the economic downturn, reports Innova Market Insights, The Netherlands.

“In general, companies and markets are bouncing back in 2009 after reaching product launch number lows in the last quarter of 2008,” says Natalie Tremellen, a market analyst with Innova. Companies are introducing new products that were in the research and development pipeline before the financial crisis really began to make waves in September 2008, or have entered the next phase with low-cost and value-added items.

Indeed, many food categories remained fairly stable in terms of product launches. This includes dairy foods. During the second quarter of 2007, there were 1,709 new dairy product launches reported, versus 1,787 during the same period in 2008. There was only a slight decline in the same quarter in 2009 to 1,696.

A look at the past year’s dairy product launches confirms that product developers have been focusing on creating foods that talk to consumers. This includes adding value in terms of fortifying with ingredients that consumers understand the benefit.

According to the 2009 IFIC Functional Foods/Foods for Health Consumer Trending Survey sponsored by the International Food Information Council (IFIC), Washington, D.C., a quantitative study designed to measure Americans’ attitudes toward, awareness of and interest in functional foods, or more specifically the ingredient or ingredients in foods that deems them functional, the most recognizable food/health associations are those that relate to bone health, cardiovascular disease, cancer and benefits associated with fiber (see chart on page 78). Fortunately for the dairy industry, dairy foods are the ideal delivery vehicle for many of these ingredients.

This is reflected in data from the Innova Database. When looking at U.S. data for dairy product launches during the 52-week period from July 2008 through June 2009, 116 new products rolled out with claims of vitamin and/or mineral fortification. Specifically, there were 55 new products that made calcium content claims.

The second most common claim was omega-3 content, with 44 new products flagging omega-3 fatty acids on front panels. Specifically, 14 dairy product launches identified docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) addition.

Fiber was in third place, with 12 introductions flagging fiber addition on front panels, followed by protein with seven.

Interestingly, sister publication Prepared Foods recently conducted its annual R&D trends survey. Conducted by Clear Seas Research, Troy, Mich., one question on the “2009 Prepared Foods’ R&D Trends Survey: Functional Foods,” investigates a rarely addressed issue on ingredients in functional foods, which is the appropriateness of use. Specifically, the 182 survey respondents were asked: Which ingredients would you consider appropriate to have in your products for which you are responsible?

With 13 types of health ingredients listed and multiple responses allowed, responses were as follows:

• Antioxidants: 67%
• Omega-3s: 60%
• Proteins: 53%
• Vitamin D: 53%
• Fruit-based ingredients: 50%
• Vitamin B6: 41%
• Beta-carotene: 40%
• Vitamin K: 37%
• Prebiotics: 28%
• Probiotics: 28%
• Phytosterols: 26%
• Collagen: 9%
• Beta-alanine: 8%

Keep in mind that demographics of those surveyed represent a cross-section of the foods and nutritional products industry, from beverages to baked goods, dairy to meat products and most other common applications in between. On a positive note, most of these ingredients have application in dairy foods, and are actively being used by product developers. In fact, from the study, data indicate that more than half of dairy foods product developers consider it appropriate to add the following ingredients to the products for which they are responsible: antioxidants, omega-3s, and vitamins A and D.

Relating through reduction

In addition to the value formulators are adding to dairy foods in terms of enrichment ingredients, consumers also perceive value when certain ingredients are reduced, in particular sodium and sugar.

Sodium and salt are not the same. The chemical name for salt is sodium chloride, indicating that sodium is a component of salt. Compared to other minerals, the human body needs sodium in relatively large amounts, but many believe not as much as currently consumed. Studies suggest that excessive consumption is a contributing factor to hypertension, heart disease and even certain cancers.

There have been relatively few studies to assess the amount of sodium that dairy foods contribute to the diet. During the past 20 years, researchers have used data from USDA’s Continuing Survey of Food Intakes by Individuals to show that fluid milk and cheese account for about 8.5% of total daily sodium intake. Milk accounts for about one third of that, and cheese the other two thirds.

Sodium is inherently present in milk. It is also a component of many food ingredients. For the most part, the high sodium contents of packaged foods are the result of salt added during manufacturing. 

Certain cheese products, including hard and processed varieties, require significant salt addition for manufacturing. In fact, without salt, many such cheeses would not exist. Salt acts as a dehydrator, drying the curds. It restricts the growth of undesirable microorganisms such as listeria. It also impacts several biochemical factors including water activity, mineral balance and buffering power, as well as melt, spread and browning - as in the case of mozzarella on pizza. Finally, let’s not forget salt increases the organoleptic qualities of cheese.

Because sodium chloride provides so many functions in cheese, there is no direct substitute for this ingredient. Partial sodium chloride replacement with potassium chloride is the most common approach to lowering sodium contents of cheese. In flavored cheese products, sometimes the addition of particulates, herbs or other flavorants can allow for a reduction of added salt. However, it is important to consider any sodium being added to the cheese via these ingredients. For example, diced peppers usually come in brine, which is a concentrated source of sodium.

As sodium contents become an increasingly greater hot button in the food industry, ingredients that enable a reduction of sodium in cheese will be sought.

On the sweet side of things, stevia-based sweeteners are the biggest buzz in the food formulating world. It was about a year ago when FDA first recognized the self-affirmed GRAS status of Stevia rebaudina plant extracts. Leaves from this plant, which is grown in Central and South America, have long been recognized as sweet.

Numerous ingredient companies are extracting the sweetest compound from the leaves, the steviol glycoside known as rebaudioside A (reb-A), which is non-cariogenic, contains no calories and has a zero glycemic index, making it safe and suitable for diabetics. FDA has not actually permitted the stevia plant itself to be used as a food ingredient, only the reb-A extract, and only ingredients that contain 95% or more pure reb-A. With reb-A being one of about a dozen sweet-tasting compounds in the stevia plant, suppliers are differentiating themselves by reb-A content, as up to 5% of a stevia-based sweetener can be something other than reb-A.

Often times some of that 5% is the most abundant compound in the stevia leaf - stevioside - which is 250 to 300 times as sweet as sucrose. Stevioside contributes sweetness, but it also has a bitter, licorice off-flavor. Reb-A sweeteners are 200 to 400 times sweeter than sucrose, based on reb-A content.

One of the reasons stevia has gained the interest of food formulators is that it is positioned as a “natural” no-calorie sweetener. This is a term that resonates well with moms who are trying to decrease their children’s sugar intake at the same time they want to serve their children as wholesome of foods as possible.

According to the 2009 International Food Information Council Foundation Food & Health Survey, 80% of Americans report that they are trying to decrease their consumption of added sugars. Specifically, 76% say they are trying to consume less sugar, 68% less high-fructose corn syrup, 54% less sucrose and 52% less fructose. These are significant increases from previous years.

This and similar data from other studies is keeping stevia-based sweetener suppliers busy. According to a recent webinar entitled “Stevia Consumer Insights: Moms’ Take on Sweeteners,” moderator Tim Coffey, chief executive officer and chairman of WonderGroup and its Insights & Innovation division, LaunchForce, Cincinnati, shared insight from an Internet survey of 1,475 moms.

“As a relatively new mainstream ingredient, stevia already has quite good awareness levels among moms,” says Coffey. “And it is starting from a very good foundation, with strong positive impressions from moms.

“Our research shows that 85% of moms are at least somewhat concerned about sugar in their kids’ diets,” says Coffey. “As moms concern with sugar rises in the marketplace, expect the appeal of stevia to become even stronger.”

In the survey, moms were presented with a stevia concept. “It was especially well received by moms who are concerned about sugar intake,” says Coffey. “They found the concept appealing for all members of the family, including kids. The most compelling elements were that of natural and chemical free.”

In the survey, stevia use was questioned for 66 different product categories. Products perceived as having little inherent nutritional value, such as soft drinks and baked sweets, were identified as being the greatest opportunity for stevia. However, a number of products with perceived health benefits, such as yogurt, refrigerated juice and ice cream, were also identified as a good opportunity, because many moms are concerned with the sugar contents of these products.

Thus, in all likelihood, stevia-based sweeteners will be the greatest driver of dairy product reformulation and innovation in the next few years.

Fast Facts

  • Consumers are exhibiting a higher demand for foods and beverages that provide inherent health in naturally occurring forms, as well as those that contain additional health benefits from added ingredients.

  • Enrichment ingredients present many opportunities for formulators to expand current product lines and to create new products - all of which are products with purpose.

  • Opportunities for future growth are strong across certain nutrients and health benefits, in particular calcium, vitamin D and fiber.

  • Consumers are checking labels and the list of what they look for on the label is getting longer. This is driven by their desire to increase some nutrients while decreasing others. For example, there is growing concern over sodium and sugar contents, as consumers are trying to decrease usage of both.

  • If You Feed Them, They Will Come

    We all eat to live; many of us live to eat. Our individual and communal lives are centered on “breaking bread.” It is not just that we are what we eat; we are the people we are because of what we eat. 

    There is a saying in Judaism that if you feed them, they will come. The truth of this is simple, and shared by people the world over - a successful meeting or gathering is guaranteed by providing food - the better the food, the better the event. Food is central to how we live, how we define ourselves and how we associate with friends and neighbors.

    There is nothing wrong with this. The only flaw in this from Judaism’s perspective is that we don’t go far enough in our “love” of food. One would think that our need for and our fascination and obsession with food would prompt us to elevate our relationship with it. Just as the most intimate of human interactions can be reduced to a mere physical act, love of food for food’s sake reduces eating to nothing more than an activity that is shared with every other creature on earth. One would think that the centrality of food in our lives would awaken our consciousness to something more than its taste or our physical satisfaction after we eat. 

    Unfortunately, food has become as much our enemy as our friend. That there is an obesity epidemic is so sadly obvious that it needs no comment. Further, danger seems to lurk in food itself. Produce carries salmonella. Meat has E. coli.

    There’s also been a rise in incidences of food sensitivities and allergies. The reason for the spike is not clear but it has created a real challenge to the food preparation industry. However, unlike food-borne infections that strike without warning, people who suffer from food allergies are generally successful in avoiding the foods that trigger them. 

    How can the industry ensure that people with allergies will know that the foods they eat do not contain the allergens they need to avoid? This is where “kashrut,” which is Jewish dietary law, can assist. Contrary to popular misconception, rabbis or other religious officials do not bless food to make it kosher. Rather, they examine the foods and how they are processed to assure kosher consumers that the food complies with kashrut.

    The opportunity here is that kashrut could be a model to avoid cross-contamination when dealing with allergens. However, kashrut is more than a method to keep the food supply “clean.” Judaism values the physical and the spiritual as well.

    Eating, like everything else we do, demands our attention, our care and our self-respect.  As it turns out, we really are what we eat. The laws of kashrut elevate the physical act of eating to a spiritual act. n

    Contributed by Rabbi Eliyahu Safran, vice president of communications and marketing, OU Kosher, New York