Better-for-you and better-for-the-environment are two themes driving innovation. Dairy processors enhance foods with antioxidants and vitamins.

The Dairy Council of California recently published its Top 10 Nutrition Trends for 2011. No. 5 reads: Sustainability is increasingly a factor in consumer food decisions.

What is sustainability?

Defining sustainability is a challenge because it is an ongoing process with many facets. In some instances a number can be tied to an effort. For example, “On-going dairy research efforts to reduce greenhouse emissions have resulted in a 63% reduction in the industry’s carbon footprint since 1944,” says Lori Hoolihan, nutrition research specialist at the council’s Irvine offices.

But other sustainable efforts are transparent, but equally, if not more important. Many of these are addressed by the Food and Agriculture Association of the United Nations (FAO), which issued this statement in November 2010: “Sustainable diets are those diets with low environmental impacts, which contribute to food and nutrition security and to healthy life for present and future generations. Sustainable diets are protective and respectful of biodiversity and ecosystems, culturally acceptable, accessible, economically fair and affordable; nutritionally adequate, safe and healthy; while optimizing natural and human resources.”

But most consumers are unaware of all these aspects of sustainability, in particular, nutritional adequacy. “Most sustainability discussions do not include nutrition as an important part of food decisions,” says Hoolihan. “But the nutrient density of foods must be considered, as good nutrition supports health and wellness, and can assist with disease prevention. This ultimately contributes to the sustainability of mankind.”

Processors must communicate that milk and many other dairy foods are some of the most nutrient-dense foods in today’s marketplace. “The list of positive nutritional health benefits in milk is long and is growing,” she says. “Research supports disease prevention and health promotion from vitamin D, calcium, protein, probiotics, whey, and the overall package of nutrients that milk provides.”

Dairy is also the ideal delivery vehicle for fortification. The refrigerated, short shelf life that many dairy products have is a compatible environment for functional ingredients that further contribute to the nutrient density of milk and milk products.

Start with raw materials

For many dairy foods processors, the most important ingredient to consider when addressing sustainability is milk.

Red Barn Family Farms, Appleton, Wis., subscribes to a simple belief, according to founders Terry and Paula Homan, and that is, “the healthiest cows produce the best milk.” Terry, a practicing veterinarian who regularly observes the 350-plus cows on the eight local sustainable Wisconsin family farms that supply milk for the manufacture of Red Barn Family Farms cheese and packaged milk, says, “We believe that when farms truly excel at animal husbandry - when the animals have a comfortable life and are treated well - the results will be obvious.

“Our farms are certified by the American Humane Association, ensuring that our farms meet the conditions required to use the American Humane Certified seal on all finished products,” he says.

And what does that seal mean to consumers? According to an independent public opinion survey conducted in 2007 for the American Humane Association, Englewood, Colo., the “humanely raised” label was No. 1 in importance over “organic” and “cage-free,” other terms that have been associated with the sustainable food manufacturing movement.

Nearly 60% of those surveyed indicated a willingness to pay more for foods with a humanely raised label. And just this past year, Chicago-based foodservice market research firm Technomic reported that more than half of consumers point to animal welfare as one of the most important social issues in the food business.

“The American Humane Certified seal assures our customers that the milk comes from cows free from rBST supplementation, free from animal byproducts in their feed and free from performance-enhancing antibiotic use, and they always have access to fresh water and a diet that maintains full health and vigor. Our cows are free to live and grow in a humane environment under conditions and care that limit stress,” says Homan. “We make sure they are free to enjoy a healthy life, benefiting from disease and injury prevention and rapid diagnoses and treatment. They are free to express normal behaviors and live in an appropriate and comfortable environment that includes sufficient space, proper facilities, shelter, a resting area and company of the animal’s own kind.

“We also have our own Red Barn Rules, which are unique and go above and beyond the American Humane Association certification. They are the cornerstone of what we believe makes the best milk,” he explains. “Our rules assure that farms are run by families who earn their livelihood on the farm and do the majority of the animal care work. Twice each year, each cow is individually assessed by a veterinarian - usually me -and given a health score. Further, criteria are measured in the milk verifying the outstanding cleanliness of the milk as well as the health of the cows. Premiums are awarded to each farm based on the milk quality measures and the health scores.”

Homan uses that milk to produce a number of cheeses and fluid milk products. The company’s most recent innovation is Weinlese Cheddar Blue cheese, which is an original recipe handcrafted in micro-batches by Seymour Dairy Products Inc., Seymour, Wis. Weinlese, which means “vintage” in German, was developed by award-winning Wisconsin cheesemaker Mike Brennenstuhl.

“We aimed to create a Wisconsin original cheese with soul,” Brennenstuhl says. “This is the kind of cheese that speaks to you. It starts like a cheddar and finishes like a blue.” Featuring a sweet and nutty, creamy and mellow flavor, Weinlese boasts a unique appearance with golden hue and green veins.

“Weinlese is crafted with a passionate consciousness for the earth and the animals who produced the milk,” Homan says. “It’s a true partnership of premium ingredients: exceptional milk paired with exceptional cheesemaking.”

The Certified Humane Raised and Handled label is another third-party certification for humane treatment of animals. Issued by Humane Farm Animal Care, Herndon, Va., Redwood Hill Farm & Creamery Inc., Sebastopol, Calif., was the first goat dairy farm in the United States to carry the label. The company recently entered the cows milk kefir, sour cream and yogurt category with the Green Valley Organics Lactose Free brand, and purchases milk from a local dairy that also meets certified humane standards.

“Our new line was designed to help the millions of Americans who are lactose intolerant to be able to once again enjoy nutrient-dense dairy foods,” says Jennifer Bice, owner. “We use only the highest-quality organic ingredients, and our products provide all the protein, calcium and other nutritional benefits of milk from organic, Certified Humane Raised and Handled dairy cow farms.

“As the only dairy brand to offer Flourish - a custom blend of 10 live, active probiotic cultures that promotes optimal digestive and immune system health - our new lactose-free products help bring harmony and happiness to troubled tummies,” says Bice. “Consumers should strive to get three servings of calcium-rich dairy in their diet every day for optimal (a.k.a. sustainable) bone health. And because yogurt and kefir are functional foods, they provide a synergy and health benefit beyond the traditional nutrients found in the food. Lactose-intolerant consumers can finally enjoy real dairy and the functionality of yogurt and kefir without worrying about the after effects.”

The role of organic

It is important that marketers remember that sustainable does not mean organic; however, according to the Organic Trade Association, Brattleboro, Vt., organic agriculture is a sustainable production process. This is because organic refers to the way agricultural products are grown and processed, and this system of farming maintains and replenishes soil fertility without the use of toxic and persistent pesticides and fertilizers.

The following excerpt is from the definition of organic that the National Organic Standards Board adopted in April 1995: “Organic agriculture is an ecological production management system that promotes and enhances biodiversity, biological cycles and soil biological activity. It is based on minimal use of off-farm inputs and on management practices that restore, maintain and enhance ecological harmony.”

“Organically produced food cannot be described as being more nutritious than conventionally produced food,” says Roger Clemens, president-elect for the Institute of Food Technologists, Chicago. “Nor can organically produced foods be described as being safer, as scientific evidence indicates that organic foods run a greater risk of being contaminated with pathogens. In fact, organic foods do have pesticides, just not those found in conventional agricultural practices. Thus, when it comes to contributing to a sustainable diet, organic is not necessarily any better than a conventional food. For example, an organic lollipop is not more sustainable than conventionally produced yogurt just because the ingredients in the lollipop are certified organic.” 

However, many consumers and processors feel very strongly about organic and its impact on the world and the body.

“I think that one of the most important parts of ingredient sourcing is knowing what ingredients to leave out in order to make the best possible product, which in our case is organic ice cream,” says Neal Gottlieb, founder, Three Twins Ice Cream, Petaluma, Calif. “We are a certified organic producer and only use ingredients that are individually certified organic. There are certain benefits to exclusively purchasing organic ingredients, such as the fact that workers in organic fields are not exposed to chemical pesticides and herbicides that those working in conventional agriculture are often exposed to.”

Stonyfield Farm, Londonderry, N.H., the world’s leading organic yogurt company, recently launched “Just Eat Organic!” This year-long organic education campaign includes two efforts designed to get people talking about organic. The first is a music video by Gary Hirshberg, Stonyfield’s president and CE-Yo. The second is online space for people to share personal stories about what organic means to them. (See photo and caption on page 56.) 

Hirshberg’s rap video tells the story of America’s switch from family farms to modern agriculture, which let “big agriculture” profit while consumers became addicted to convenient foods that are bad for their health. As Hirshberg raps, “Cancer rates are steadily rising, in kids and moms and dads. A baby born in Birmingham, Boise, Bend or Boston, now has in her cord blood almost 300 toxins. The U.S. Cancer Panel Study makes me ill at ease ‘cause 41% of us will get this disease. Cut out unnecessary chemicals is what they prescribe. So to avoid getting sick, just change the stuff you imbibe!”

The Stonyfield Moms, three employee volunteers, rap the upbeat chorus, “So if you love your body, love your children and you love your planet, there is hope for the future, so there’s no need to panic. The solution is a simple one. It’s easy to understand it. To protect your family, body and earth…just eat organic!”

According to the company, which is now in its 28th year, its use of organic ingredients helps keep more than 180,000 farm acres free of toxic, persistent pesticides and chemical fertilizers known to contaminate soil, drinking water and food.

Drivers of product development

By now it should be clear that better-for-you and better-for-the-environment ingredients are the key drivers of innovation in dairy foods product development. Functional ingredients that add value to dairy foods and contribute to a more sustainable diet are plentiful. Many are available organic certified, while others are on the National Organic Program’s approved list of ingredients. Some make claims of sustainable production, including Fair Trade, family owned, farmstead and local. Here are the top 12:

1. Antioxidants. Not only are foods that have always contained known antioxidants, including carotenoids, polyphenols (e.g.,  anthocyanin, flavonoids and resveratrol) and vitamins now being flagged for their antioxidant content, other foods, such as dairy products, are being enhanced with these ingredients. Such ingredients may be added directly (e.g., vitamin-E fortified) or indirectly (e.g., made with anthocyanin-rich blueberries).

Antioxidants are believed to help neutralize free radicals, which are unstable molecules associated with the development of a number of illnesses, including cancer, cardiovascular disease and age-related conditions such as Alzheimer’s. However, there are many types of antioxidants and they do not all function the same.

2. Calcium. The role of calcium in bone health resonates with consumers. As a result, an increasing number of dairies are now adding extra calcium to their products to create a point of differentiation in the crowded dairy case.

3. Cocoa. The health and wellness benefits associated with cocoa consumption continue to drive the use of high-quality chocolate in all food categories, including dairy products such as frozen desserts and milk. The majority of science into the potential benefits of cocoa revolves around cardiovascular health; however, within the past year, studies have shown that cocoa flavanols may also exert a prebiotic effect, much like soluble fiber.

It is important to point out that these benefits are associated with cocoa, not chocolate. Cocoa is a component of chocolate, which means that chocolate ingredients are a diluted source of cocoa and marketers who want to make cocoa claims must ensure that the chocolate ingredients being flagged in product formulations contain a high percentage of cocoa flavanols.

4. Coffee. A growing body of research shows that coffee drinkers, compared to non-drinkers, are less likely to have type 2 diabetes, Parkinson’s disease and dementia, as well as have fewer cases of certain cancers, heart rhythm problems and strokes. Coffee and milk are about as perfect a marriage as it gets. Coffee ingredients have application in milk beverages, ice cream and even yogurt.

5. Conjugated linoleic acid. CLA is a fatty acid naturally present in cows milk and certain animal meats; however, not at levels high enough for humans to reap the health benefits associated with their consumption. This is due to changes in the Western diet, where average intake of CLA has fallen as a result of consuming mostly fat-free and low-fat dairy products, as well as leaner cuts of meat. The benefits associated with consuming efficacious levels of CLA include a reduction in body fat and increased lean muscle mass. CLA is available in a concentrated form that is GRAS for dairy foods applications.

6. Fiber. Fiber is a well-recognized food component. In the past five to 10 years, fiber has become an identifiable food ingredient that consumers understand. However, the only similarity that all fiber ingredients have is that they are not digested by the body. Functional benefits differ from fiber to fiber, and include increased mineral absorption to prebiotic functionality.

7. Green tea. Known for its powerful antioxidant and disease-fighting properties, in particular against cancer and heart disease, green tea has also been shown to help lower cholesterol, burn fat, stave off dementia and assist with eye health. Green tea comes in many ingredient forms, including as a concentrated extract that is virtually tasteless.

8. Nuts. The health image of nuts was given a boost in 2003 when FDA approved a qualified health claim for nuts that linked most nuts as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol to a reduced risk of heart disease.

Many tree nuts and peanuts complement creamy dairy products. Not only do they add flavor, texture and eye appeal, they are loaded with nutrients that interest today’s health- and wellness-seeking consumer. In most dairy applications, diced, sliced and slivered nuts are best when formulating multi-serving items. The smaller particles disperse throughout the product allowing each serving a healthy dose of the inclusion. Processors should choose various cuts and sizes based on the final appearance, texture and mouthfeel that they are trying to achieve.

9. Omega-3 fatty acids. Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) are the talk of the food formulating world. Natural sources of DHA and EPA are oily fish. Fish are sources of DHA because of the DHA-rich microalgae in their food chain. Thus, there’s also a DHA ingredient derived directly from microalgae. ALA is found in plants such as flax and chia, as well as certain tree nuts. It is important to note that only DHA and EPA contribute to the many health benefits associated with consuming omega-3 fatty acids. ALA can be converted into DHA and EPA. However, the body converts it rather inefficiently and with much variance among consumers based on external and internal factors.

DHA and EPA are essential at all stages of life. For infants up to the age of three, DHA is essential for the development of the brain and eyes. After the age of three, both DHA and EPA are important for cognitive function, and research suggests that these fatty acids may improve behavior and learning disorders, including Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Developmental Coordination Disorder (DCD). Additionally research indicates that EPA and DHA may reduce inflammatory conditions such as asthma, childhood depression and reduce the risk of type 1 diabetes.

10. Probiotics. Though dairy processors around the world have been scrutinized and at times penalized for making probiotic health claims, processors continue to add these beneficial bacteria to all types of dairy foods with hopes that educated consumers recognize the value. Formulators are encouraged to ask suppliers for clinical documentation supporting a bacteria strain’s probiotic status. Further, processors should be conservative when making any content or health claims. Unsubstantiated claims and misuse of the term will dilute the value of clinically proven probiotics and their contribution to the sustainability of man.

11. Vitamin D. The sunshine vitamin has been linked to bone health, immune health, lower risk of several cancers, reduced heart attacks and fewer falls by the elderly, as well as other health and wellness benefits. Vitamin D is also gaining a great deal of attention in the nutricosmetics business, as some believe that vitamin D helps maintain mineral levels in the skin, which in turn maintains the skin’s moisture levels. Dryer skin is more easily damaged and less firm.

12. Whey proteins. Consumers are looking for new, natural ways to curb their hunger and using whey protein as an ingredient in food and beverage products is a way to reach these consumers. Research supports the role of higher-protein diets in promoting satiety. This may help people manage hunger and cravings between meals or reduce the desire to reach for unnecessary snacks between meals. Further, in combination with strength-training exercises, whey proteins can help boost the rate at which the body makes lean muscle.

To conclude, dairies would be wise to follow the ambitions of Caffè Classico Foods LLC, Concord, Calif. “We are always striving to source the highest-quality ingredients and focus on all-natural sources from responsible companies,” says Larry Leser, president.

Made with Sustainable Ingredients

Weinlese Cheddar Blue cheese is an original recipe handcrafted in micro-batches by Seymour Dairy Products Inc., Seymour, Wis., for Red Barn Family Farms, Appleton, Wis. The cheese is made with American Humane Certified milk from local family farms.

Pacific Foods of Oregon Inc., Tualatin, Ore., uses Fair Trade Certified tea in its aseptically packaged organic tea beverages.

Ben & Jerry’s, a brand of Unilever, Englewood Cliffs, N.J., introduces Late Night Snack ice cream. This treat starts with Fair Trade Certified vanilla ice cream, to which fudge-covered potato chip clusters and a salty caramel swirl are added.

The Power of Fair Trade

Consumers are increasing their commitment to Fair Trade faster than ever, and sales of Fair Trade Certified products increased 24% to $170 million during 2010, according to a new report from Fair Trade USA, Oakland, Calif. The report also states that more than 700 companies offer Fair Trade-certified products.

Schaumburg, Ill.-based market research firm SPINS reports that in 2010, sales of Fair Trade-certified products at mainstream channels grew faster (26%) than those of specialty grocers (22%) and natural grocers (16%). “The volume of growth in mainstream grocers was more than three times larger than the volume of growth in the natural and specialty channels, traditionally the leading retailers of Fair Trade-certified products, where we continue to also see significant growth,” says Cate Baril, director of business development, grocery and ingredients.

Coffee, the flagship Fair Trade category, grew 33%, due to the increased variety of Fair Trade coffees available through a broader assortment of retail supermarkets. Ready-to-drink tea and coffee grew 39% thanks to commitments from brands such as Adina and Honest Tea. In sweeteners, Fair Trade supporters indulged in wholesome sweeteners among others, driving an increase of 17%. Frozen desserts increased 4% and chocolate rose 19%.

An Interesting Perspective on Sustainability

The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee’s report provided recommendations for food and nutrient intakes that USDA used to develop the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. This 445-page document contains a wealth of information that never made it into the official guidelines, including sustainability implications for the dairy industry.

La Mirada, Calif.-based Roger Clemens, a member of the committee, and president-elect for the Institute of Food Technologists, Chicago, explains that the report notes several food groups and dietary components that are under-consumed and may be low enough to be of concern. “For example, among adults over the age of 50, 75-90% do not meet the recommended intake of 2.5 to 3 cup equivalents of dairy products daily,” he says.

But, if this population, along with all other Americans, tried to consume enough dairy to meet the recommendations, they would be surprised to learn that it is not possible. U.S. farmers do not produce enough fluid milk.

“Current milk production is not sustainable,” says Clemens. “A 2006 report from USDA’s Economic Research Service, based on 2002 data, indicates that an additional 107.7 billion pounds of milk was needed to support the 2005 Dietary Guidelines recommendations for fluid milk and milk products. This is equivalent to a 66% increase in the number of dairy cows, feed grains and grazing acreage. To meet 2015 expectations, a more appropriate increase is nearly 80%.”

The dairy industry is not alone. Vegetable and fruit growers face the same dilemma. “Recommended fish intakes are the most unrealistic of them all,” Clemens adds. “If all Americans consumed two servings of fish a week, the world would run out of fish within a very short period.”

With dairy, it would be safe to say that the industry should be careful what it wishes for. On the one hand it is great news that the Dietary Guidelines continue to emphasize the importance of consuming dairy products, and in fact, for the 4- to 8-year-old age group, recommended daily servings increased from two in the 2005 report to two and a half in 2010. On the other, it is not viable for farmers to produce enough milk to enable every American to meet their recommended daily intake.

Because these are just recommendations, and historically Americans have not been good about following them, it is doubtful that supply will not be able to meet demand. “But it is definitely another bullet point for the dairy industry to consider when addressing sustainability,” Clemens concludes.