Vitamin D’s untapped marketing potential, the challenges and opportunities surrounding dairy sustainability and the growing concern over sodium in the diet are among the key issues facing the dairy industry today, according to Dairy Council of California’s Functional Foods Task Force.

The task force – made up of 14 industry leaders representing research and development, marketing, regulation, education and communications – marks its 10th anniversary of helping Dairy Council and the dairy industry stay abreast of and formulate strategies to deal with a host of critical issues that affect the dairy industry and nutrition education.
At its most recent meeting, the task force identified the following key issues facing the dairy industry:
• Vitamin D is attracting more research and media attention for its growing health benefits, which include prevention of cancer, heart disease, hypertension, diabetes and more. With fortified milk as one of the best sources of vitamin D in the marketplace, the task force said the industry can build on that base by fortifying across product lines so consumers will be assured that all dairy foods provide not just the calcium, but also the vitamin D they need.
• The task force suggested turning sustainability into a positive issue by focusing on the changes the industry is making to reduce the carbon footprint of a glass of milk, and on the nutrient density of dairy products, which are critical in sustaining the health and well-being of the individual. In addition, educating consumers to look at the industry’s overall carbon footprint will be important.
Beyond environmental and animal welfare issues, decisions around food choices will still include taste, nutrient content, convenience and cost among other factors.
• Sodium is frequently painted as a villain in today’s food supply due to its blood-pressure-increasing effect in some people. Cheese and other high-sodium foods could well be blacklisted, especially considering the revised dietary guidelines due to be released in 2010. The task force said industry-wide reformulations may be necessary to reduce sodium in cheese, although there are a number of technical and taste hurdles to overcome. Panel members said one positive outcome may be that as the industry moves toward more individualized nutrition recommendations, the focus on sodium may ease somewhat when research shows that only a fraction of the population benefits from low-sodium diets.
Committed to educating the food and dairy industries on these issues, Dairy Council sponsored special sessions at the Institute for Food Technologists Annual Meeting held this past June.  Session topics included vitamin D and sustainability.
“Hundreds of food industry professionals attended the sessions, which also included information on nutrient profiling and the unintended consequences of overly simple nutrition advice such as omitting dairy,” said Lori Hoolihan, Dairy Council’s research specialist. “Discussions at our Functional Foods Task Force meetings are just the beginning. From there, we must take the information and engage the dairy industry as well as the health professional and consumer.”
Created in 1999, the Functional Foods Task Force serves as an early radar system enabling Dairy Council and the dairy industry to take advantage of opportunities or re-direct threats, often well in advance of when the issues begin to enter the public consciousness.