There is no doubt that 2009 has been a year of transformation. Just as the housing market, unemployment figures and 401(k) balances have changed over the last 12 months, trends in the dairy category have shifted to fit with consumers’ new recession-minded lifestyles.
But industries – and consumers – don’t change overnight, and some of the most enduring trends have continued to dominate throughout these challenging economic times. In 2009, the state of dairy trends is a tale of both new and old.
One trend that has gained newfound relevance this year is comfort food. With their creamy textures and familiar ingredients, dairy products have always been consummate comfort foods. In 2009, dairy processors seized the opportunity to establish that position, and ice cream and frozen novelties were an especially important target. Dessert-inspired flavors are nothing new in the frozen dairy case, but this year companies seemed particularly determined to highlight nostalgic dessert classics. Seasonal pies were the inspiration for a number of limited-edition ice creams launched this summer, including Ben & Jerry’s Key Lime Pie, Edy’s Summer Peach Pie and Turkey Hill Premium Southern Lemon Pie Ice Cream. Wells’ Dairy brought the cake-in-ice cream trend to the novelty segment with its Blue Bunny Birthday Party Ice Cream Sandwiches. And a classic childhood drink, Nestlé Nesquik was recently re-imagined as a push-up frozen dairy dessert featuring the iconic Nesquik bunny and only 90 calories per tube.
But comfort isn’t just reserved for sweet dairy treats. In the cheese category Sargento, introduced a line of regionally produced products focused on heritage and artisan production. One limited-edition variant featured cheese from Midwest Amish country made with “fresh Amish farm milk and traditional craftsmanship.” Another version, New York Sharp White Cheddar, highlighted the cheese’s place of origin. These introductions underscore that comfort isn’t just about familiar flavors, but also traditional food culture.
While some consumers were focused on recognizable classics during the past year, others wanted to sample unfamiliar, exotic flavors inspired by ethnic cuisine. This sense of culinary adventure was the catalyst for products that were strikingly new such as Summer Fresh Peri Peri Red Pepper Creamy Feta Spread (made with the African bird’s eye chili) and somewhat familiar such as Archer Farms Tuscan Herb Seafood Butter (made with herbs used in traditional northern Italian cuisine). Greek cuisine was also a common denominator across the dairy industry this year. Not only did Président introduce its well-known block feta in a spreadable form, but Greek-style yogurt became a certifiable trend. Since January, Trader Joe’s, Sun Valley Dairy (Voskos brand), Stonyfield Farm (Oikos brand) and Agro Farma (Chobani brand) have all introduced new Greek yogurts.
Of course, ethnic cuisine for some consumers is local cuisine for others, and nowhere is this truer than for Hispanics. In 2009, Hispanics are expected to spend more than $6.2 billion on food and beverages alone, making them a critical target for dairy processors. One of the most authentic Hispanic launches this year comes from Nestlé and its Delicias brand. Inspired by traditional Mexican milk- or ice-based frozen treats called paletas, Delicias is targeted to Latinos craving the flavors from home. They are available in flavors including Strawberries and Cream, Tres Leches, Rice Pudding and Coco (coconut). For consumers who want to sample traditional Latin flavors outside of ice cream, Sargento recently introduced an authentic Mexican cheese blend. A partnership with El Regalo, a traditional Hispanic cheesemaker, enabled Sargento to blend queso quesadilla, asadero, queso gallego, manchego and anejo enchilada cheeses - a first for the U.S. market.
One of the dairy industry’s most important pre-recession trend platforms was health and wellness, and here very little has changed since 2008. Consumers continue to care about their health, and processors continue to respond with nutritious products that address both body and mind. Sensible indulgence remains a rallying cry for both Americans who want to lead healthier lives and for the companies that cater to them.
In 2009, frozen yogurt became an increasingly popular way to bridge nutrition with indulgence. According to Mintel and IRI, sales of frozen yogurt increased 13.6% between 2006 and 2008. Compare that to a 1.1% decline for ice cream during the same period.
While frozen yogurt remains a small segment of the overall dairy industry, companies have made it more relevant and accessible than ever before. For instance, Häagen-Dazs has taken a page from frozen yogurt shops such as Pinkberry and Red Mango by introducing Tart Natural Low Fat Frozen Yogurt. And brands including Yoplait and Blue Bunny have recently used frozen yogurt as the base for healthy frozen novelties. Yoplait’s Parfait Bites cover frozen yogurt and strawberry filling with granola, while Blue Bunny’s Aspen Raspberry Vanilla Frozen Yogurt Granola Bars combine frozen yogurt with a layer of raspberry fruit filling and top it with granola crumbles and a vanilla coating.
Other companies have transformed indulgent dairy favorites into more sensible alternatives. General Mills, for example, has morphed the milkshake into a health food by fortifying it with fiber. The Fiber One Lowfat Milkshake contains 8 grams of fiber, equivalent to 30% of the recommended daily value. Yo Crunch has taken a different approach to health by simply shrinking the size of its product. The brand’s Cheesecake Flavored Nonfat Yogurt with graham cookie pieces sounds indulgent, but it’s offered as a waist-friendly 100-calorie pack. Admittedly, the 100-calorie pack trend appears to have reached its peak, but the concept of portion control is one that will have relevance in 2009 and beyond.
In the health and wellness space, fortification continues to be an area of emphasis for dairy processors. Omega-3s have proven their dairy staying power, as they moved from yogurt to cheese, milk and other drinkable dairy beverages in 2009. Shoppers seeking a boost of brain and heart health, along with reduced fat, will be happy to find Cabot Vermont’s 50% Reduced Fat Cheddar Cheese with Omega-3. This product contains 32mg of DHA per serving.
Although omega-3s provide benefits along the age continuum, many recent launches have focused on delivering these fatty acids to kids. Shamrock Farms has been among the most prolific by introducing Essentials Low Fat Chocolate Milk for Kids, Essentials For a Healthy Life Low Fat Milk and Essentials For Kids Reduced Fat Milk, all made with DHA. Mayfield Dairy Farms’ Right Start white and chocolate milk were also launched this year with DHA. And even retailers are joining the omega-3s-for-kids race. Safeway now offers Eating Right Kids Mixed Berry Flavored Smoothies with both EPA and DHA omega fatty acids.
It’s hard to imagine a time filled with more transition and change than 2009, but the past year underscored the importance of flexibility, creativity, quality and value for the dairy industry. Recession or recession-free, innovation still rules the day.