I am sure I am not the first to say this, but Happy New Year!

I am excited to start my first full year as editor-in-chief of Dairy Foods. Before we move ahead, let’s first look back at 2022. The supply chain problems that were such a big headline in 2021 began to dissipate in the last quarter of the year, as was witnessed in the just-completed holiday season, which featured many retailers with fully stocked shelves. However, labor has remained a challenge for many companies.

For the dairy industry, although U.S. dairy export volumes backed off during the third quarter from their record pace during the prior quarter, “the U.S. dairy industry is on an almost certain path to set yet another calendar year record,” reports the National Milk Producers Federation.

Looking ahead to the remainder of 2023, these are the five topics I expect to be top of mind in the dairy industry, in no particular order:

  1. Health and wellness: Although it of course existed before, the COVID-19 pandemic certainly placed plenty of logs on the fire when it comes to health and wellness. This is not to say people don’t love to indulge in many products, including dairy, but I believe health is a bigger focus for many people who want better-for-you properties added to the products they consume. Beverages will also play a big part, including ready-to-drink sports nutrition products.
  2. Sustainability: Of the many interviews we conducted with dairy processors and plants in the past year, nearly all mentioned sustainability as a topic that is top of mind. Some acknowledged the financial commitment involved and the need to devise strategies to meet their — in some cases — lofty sustainability goals. But many in the dairy industry express concerns about things such as greenhouse gas emissions and committed to find ways to lessen or solve this challenge.
  3. Diversity, equity, and inclusion: As we mention in this month’s feature story, according to reports, companies that have a diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) strategy are likely to reach financial goals and have employees that feel more safe, respected, and connected. Diverse teams innovate faster and a diverse, inclusive environment better retains employees who feel a sense of belonging, our report continues. Several dairies are focusing on this topic, and I believe 2023 could be a year DEI advances in significant ways.
  4. Private label/co-packing: Another way the COVID-19 pandemic changed the dairy industry — and the food industry in general — was a consumer attitude shift toward purchasing less expensive private-label products. Shoppers have developed a trust regarding purchasing these products, something that dairy processors can provide and potentially grow their bottom lines. With inflation still high and consumers still having sticker shop at their local supermarkets, I do not expect the private-label trend to dissipate in 2023. For more, check out our story on this topic in February’s issue.
  5. Inflation: Speaking of inflation, there is no question that it will remain a trending topic this year, just like last year. The U.S. Federal Reserve is taking many measures to try to curb inflation. Late in 2022, these efforts seemed to work, as inflation began to tick down. Although it is difficult to envision 2% inflation — which is what the Fed is hoping for — at any time this year, prices of many foods and beverages, including dairy products, may have reached their peak. As inflation potentially begins its long downward descent, the next focus is likely to be whether there will be a recession or not. Unfortunately, I am not a prognosticator and do not have the answer to the recession question.

Of course, other topics could be just as big, if not bigger than the five I described. But one thing is for certain: 2023 should be interesting.