How can the dairy industry stay competitive in an environment of ever-changing consumer demands and food industry trends?

Dairy processors, researchers and producers, food and beverage manufacturers and market researchers met to discuss that challenge at the 2009 Dairy Innovation Forum, hosted by Dairy Management Inc. The Forum, held February 19-20 in Scottsdale, Ariz., united top industry experts to share the latest dairy product innovations, strategic insights, research, technological advances and trends that can help the dairy industry take advantage of growth opportunities.

“During this Innovation Forum we heard repeatedly that today’s consumer wants more healthy and convenient foods,” said Greg Miller, executive vice president of research, regulatory and scientific affairs for DMI. “Nutrient-rich dairy foods are well positioned to be a competitive force in the health and wellness market. Plus, consumption of dairy foods like milk, cheese and yogurt is increasing as they make their way into grab-and-go packaging for active lifestyles.”

Miller also provided an update on development of the newly formed National Dairy Research program, a joint venture between the USDA-Agricultural Research Service, the Department of Defense Combat Feeding Program – Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center, the National Dairy Council and DMI to efficiently collaborate on dairy research initiatives for the benefit of the dairy industry.

Connie Tipton, president and CEO of International Dairy Foods Association, kicked off the event by stating that collaboration is essential to address challenges and opportunities for U.S. dairy farmers. Harry Balzer, vice president of The NPD Group, began a session on consumer trends by sharing how today’s economy and changing ideas about health are impacting consumer eating patterns. To address nutritional concerns, Jim Mulhern, president of Watson/Mulhern LLC, and Alison Kretser of FoodMinds LLC, provided insight into the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans and how this provides dairy consumption opportunities in retail, foodservice and school environments.

Dairy fits with health and wellness

Several speakers presented the hottest trend in today’s food industry: health and wellness. Anne Berlack, executive vice president of consumer and shopper insights at Information Resources Inc. and Gail Barnes, vice president of technology and packaging at DMI, provided a global perspective on dairy products, health claims from around the world and how successful these products are in the marketplace. Barbara Katz, president of HealthFocus International, presented the latest study findings on shopper trends for healthy foods and where dairy foods fit within those trends.

KJ Burrington, coordinator for the Dairy Ingredient Applications Program at the Wisconsin Center for Dairy Research, shared examples of recent dairy and dairy-based foods that were developed with assistance from DMI-funded National Dairy Foods Research Centers and applications/technology development labs.

These facilities provide technical resources to help dairy, food and beverage manufacturers innovate and succeed in product development.

Forum attendees sampled new and prototype dairy and dairy-based products containing health-enhancing ingredients such as Omega-3, probiotics and whey protein.

Making sustainable choices

A panel of three experts provided insights into the opportunities and challenges of dairy industry sustainability from an economic, environmental and social perspective. Panelists included John Larsen, vice president of the dairy/refrigerated group for Safeway Inc.; Clay Detlefsen, vice president and counsel for IDFA; and Mandy Levenberg, senior director, consumer strategist of cause and sustainable living for Iconoculture.

“Food companies should pursue a sustainable approach to product innovation, which also can improve their bottom line,” Detlefsen said. “For example, using more energy-efficient alternatives to thermal processing has the possibility of reducing costs without negatively impacting safety or quality.”

Milk overflows with opportunity

A session on fluid milk unveiled a variety of new product and market research findings. Stephen Poritz and Lisa Tortora, both vice presidents at Taylor Nelson Sofres, shared study results on consumers who drink milk and the milk characteristics people desire most. Phil Tong, director of the Dairy Products Technology Center, gave an overview on how value-added milk research and new technologies are addressing improvements in milk flavor and texture, health and wellness benefits and more convenience for the consumer. 

Jim Layne, vice president of business development for milk at DMI, provided market insights on the development of flavored milk products used for athletic recovery and replenishment. Bob Bachtel, vice president of business development for milk at DMI, and Madlyn Daley, senior vice president of strategic insights for DMI, explained an initiative to improve the taste and consistency of lower-fat milk to resemble that of higher fat milk, which consumers prefer. Amy Lammert, senior dairy ingredients application specialist at the Dairy Products Technology Center, provided an overview on current product research for athletic recovery/replenishment milk and lower-fat milk with improved taste and consistency. Trish Corby, president and CEO of The Good Cow Co. explained current membrane filtration technologies that provide the ability to optimize the nutritional components of milk to suit specific needs.

Cheese is hot

During a session dedicated to cheese, Cara Kelly, director of new product insights for cheese at DMI, and Sara Yoest, vice president of business development for cheese at DMI, gave market study details on consumer demands for cheese with added health and nutrition benefits. To address that market opportunity, a group of researchers within the National Dairy Foods Research Center program provided the status of ongoing research in the development of low-fat natural and process cheeses that function well and taste good. Presenters included Raj Narasimmon, vice president of product research at DMI; Don McMahon, director of the Western Dairy Center; and Lloyd Metzger, director of the Midwest Dairy Foods Research Center. Attendees had the opportunity to sample a newly developed slice-on-slice type of low-fat process cheese that has the same texture, melt and flavor characteristics of full-fat process cheese.

Leveraging health and wellness claims

The changing marketing and regulatory environment can pose challenges for manufacturers to use nutrition and regulatory claims. However, dairy’s inherent nutrient package gives it a competitive advantage to provide consumers with the health and wellness benefits they want. Experts provided information and guidance on key claim regulations, approved claim messaging and identifying key claims that are important to consumers. Speakers included Victor Fulgoni III, senior vice president at Nutrition Impact LLC; Cary Frye, vice president of regulatory affairs at IDFA; and Lori Stanwood, senior vice president of strategic insights at DMI.