The trend in 2010 was to remove ingredients and market smaller portions. Yet resilient processors were not shy about developing new products and introducing new flavors. 

In late 2009, Mintel predicted that resilience would be the most important consumer driver in the coming year. Twelve months later, it seems clear that resilience has, in fact, defined how both consumers and industry operated in 2010. The past year proved how Americans could thrive in spite of recessionary challenges and find ways to live, play and buy in resourceful ways. It also underscored how companies could successfully innovate in a complex marketplace to meet consumers’ changing needs. The U.S. dairy industry was no exception.

In 2010, one important element of consumer resilience was finding and regaining balance. That consumer mindset directly related to what was arguably the most important food trend of the past year-simplicity. From focusing on more natural formulations to cleaning up labels, manufacturers embraced a “less is more” strategy in 2010.

That movement was led by some of the industry’s most iconic brands. General Mills extended its range of Pillsbury Simply dough from cookies to bread, while Frito-Lay introduced a major ad campaign that highlighted its three-ingredient formulation of potatoes, oil and salt. But no brand captured the spirit of simplicity better than Häagen-Dazs. Its 2009 launch of Five ice cream combined a compelling proposition (“made with just five ingredients”) with clear messaging and delicious flavors, making it one of the year’s most memorable launches.

Focus on nutrition

In many cases, a focus on simplicity meant removing perceived negatives from products. Nowhere was that more true than for high-fructose corn syrup. Motivated by vocal consumer demand, food manufacturers reformulated their products to take out corn syrup and replace it with more natural alternatives.

In the dairy industry, backlash against high-fructose corn syrup inspired a new range-Yoplait Simply … Gogurt. Like the Pillsbury Simply dough, General Mills formulated the Simply … Gogurt line without high-fructose corn syrup or artificial colors and flavors. The clear, compelling brand name and clean ingredient label left little doubt in consumers’ minds that they were buying dairy in its most natural, but still kid-friendly, form. And other children’s-oriented lines followed the lead of Simply … Gogurt by highlighting corn syrup-free lines. Stonyfield Farms (Organic Yokids yogurt) and Dannon (Dan-o-nino, Danimals) were among the dairy companies that prominently printed the “no high-fructose corn syrup” message on-pack.

But in 2010, moderation and balance weren’t just about ingredient panels. Companies also focused on portion control as a way to indulge in a sensible way. Although the 100-calorie pack is by now a well-established part of American food culture, dairy processors found ways to inject new life into the concept.

For example, Kraft introduced 100 Calorie Packs Cheese Bites with five single-serve packs per bag for on-the-go portion control. In the yogurt category, Breyers launched YoCrunch 100 Calorie Packs. Made with non-fat yogurt and low-fat granola, Breyers used erythritol sweetener to keep calories in check. But Mars was arguably the most aggressive in marketing calorie counts in a compelling way. It reformulated Twix and Snickers Minis Ice Cream Bars to contain just 90 calories-10 less than the original 100.

Restaurant brands come home

Over the last 12 months, resilience extended far beyond healthy eating. Many Americans significantly adjusted their lifestyles to be more conservative spenders. But just because their budgets changed didn’t mean that their desires changed. It just meant those desires had to be satisfied in more creative, cost-effective ways. That kind of consumer resilience has given rise to a new recession-friendly trend-bringing the restaurant experience home. Long the domain of frozen meals and refrigerated sides, restaurant-inspired brands have finally made their way to the dairy industry.

This year, Americans enjoyed cheese-based dips from Panera (Roasted Red Pepper & Asiago Cheese) and T.G.I. Friday’s (Buffalo Cheddar Cheese) at home. They no longer had to travel to a Friendly’s restaurant or Cold Stone Creamery for ice cream and novelties. Both of these chains extended their frozen treat ranges in retail channels. Even Jamba Juice capitalized on the foodservice-to-retail trend with the 2010 launch of frozen dairy-based products-smoothie mixes, fruit sorbet and yogurt bars. The smoothie mixes contain frozen fruit, yogurt and an antioxidant boost and only require the addition of fruit juice. The fruit sorbet and yogurt bars contain four probiotic cultures and just 80-90 calories.

Sometimes resilience is practical, and sometimes it’s just about enjoying life and having fun. That’s why a struggling economy didn’t spell the end of a culinary adventure and flavor experimentation. In fact, home-centric lifestyles and more at-home eating often translated to a greater willingness to sample new flavors. In the cheese case, bold flavors dominated 2010. Kraft launched a roster of bold-flavored cheeses, including Singles Melt Downs Pizza Flavored Cheese and Deli Deluxe Bacon Cheddar Slices. And blue cheese continued its mainstream charge by making its way into products like the Laughing Cow’s Light Blue Cheese Spreadable Cheese Wedges.

Yogurt consumers discovered an entirely new segment of their favorite cultured treat. This was the year of Greek yogurt. Once synonymous with specialty brands like Fage, Greek yogurt is now available from nearly all major processors. Dannon and Yoplait were among the companies to launch mass market Greek yogurts in the past year. In 2011, this trend shows no sign of slowing and might even evolve into new forms. As brands like Siggi’s introduce new types of strained yogurt (in this case, Icelandic skyr), one has to wonder if Bulgarian-style yogurt or Turkish labneh are on the U.S. horizon for the coming year.

Doing the mango tango

Just as Greek culinary traditions dominated the yogurt category in the past year, Mexican flavors played an especially prominent role in the frozen dairy segment. 2010 was a coming-out party for mango in particular. La Indita Michoacana introduced both ice cream and paletas (ice cream bars) in authentic Mexican flavors, including mango. Nestlé also broadened its traditional Delicias line of paletas to include mango.

Even private label brands joined the mango trend, as evidenced by Aldi’s introduction of Benita Mango Premium Ice Cream Bars. And for those consumers who weren’t quite ready for truly authentic Mexican treats, Prairie Farm launched Mango Smoothie Ice Cream.

This year may have been one of challenges, but it was heartening to see both consumers and industry overcome those challenges with a spirit of resilience. The ability to adapt, evolve and innovate will no doubt serve us well in the coming year.