I am in a reflective state of mind as I wrap up my last regular contribution to “Culturally Speaking.” While I do not advocate living in the past, there is much to be learned from what has come before us so we move smartly into the future.


Some things never change

While everyone in the cultured products industry wants to know what will be the next greatest new product to drive new growth and capture the hearts of consumers, it’s important to keep in mind that some basics just do not change. A winning product offers great consumer value relative to the competition — meaning it tastes good and is convenient and nutritious. 

Fortunately for us, we are starting with a great material — milk. So, reminding consumers that your cultured dairy product retains the “goodness” of the milk it was made from is a winning message that does not change. Cultured dairy products are packed with high-quality dairy proteins, milk minerals, vitamins and other important nutrients.

Second, such products are fermented with lactic acid bacteria — bacteria that are good for you. As Nobel Laureate Eli Metchnikoff stated in his 1904 lecture on “Old Age,” one of the keys to living a long and healthy life is to have beneficial bacteria in your intestines, and this is best achieved by eating yogurt and other sour (fermented) milk products. 

Recent scientific advances in the study of probiotics have only reinforced what Metchnikoff said over a century ago. So proudly let people know that consumption of yogurt and fermented milk helps them achieve a long and healthy life.

Finally, fermentation is nature’s way of preventing food spoilage. Remind consumers that fermented milk products “naturally retain their freshness.”


Some things are always new

While some things never change, consumers certainly do. Their lifestyles, attitudes and food preferences are always evolving.

Boomers like me are aging and are looking for foods that can help them live healthy, active lifestyles. But millennials now outnumber the baby boomers as the largest generation. They grew up with technology, are avid social media users and will make up 75% of the workforce by 2030. 

Millennials are aspirational and want to make a difference in the world. They are motivated to select and eat foods differently than those before them, and marketing efforts must reflect that reality to appeal to this group.

Millennials want healthy lives, a healthy planet and healthy products. They will use their mobile phones to look for products with clean and simple labels and sustainability messages. Millennials also are adventuresome, ethnically diverse global travelers who expect and seek out food options with international flavors and textures.

To remain relevant to changing consumers and new generations of consumers, the cultured dairy industry will have to deliver new products, attributes and flavors, and communicate new messages via multiple channels. Bringing people into your organization who relate to different groups of consumers will accelerate your ability to adapt.

Staying abreast of food/dairy technology innovation is the other piece of the puzzle that is needed to drive truly sustainable competitive advantages. Be a regular attendee to relevant scientific meetings, technology symposia and research universities, and a regular reader of key journals and trade magazines.


Other things just need refreshing

Had man not adapted to changing preferences and lifestyles and invested in bacteria- and technology-related research, we might still be offering a questionable-quality curdled separated casein coagulum with free liquid whey, scooped from an earthen vessel. Fortunately for us, early cultured product producers chose a different path.

A few thousand years later, when the supermarket age began, consumers began to demand more convenience and variety. Manufacturers responded with products that stick to the core values of cultured milk products but offer improvements consistent with the times.

While I have been a strong proponent of truly breakthrough innovation, I am cognizant that it’s important to stay true to the core values of taste, nutrition and convenience — at the right price and in the right package. But that does not mean you stay stagnant. Look for new ways to communicate and market your products, perform minor tweaks to product attributes, and creatively counter competitive challenges.

It has been my privilege to be a columnist for Dairy Foods for the last 10 years. But it’s time for a change and something new for you and for me. I’m looking forward to reading what the next columnist has in store.