One size fits all never works. Dairies understand that consumers want options. That’s why milk processors offer the four fats (whole, 2%, 1% and nonfat), ice cream makers churn no-sugar-added varieties and cheesemakers cut their products into slices, chunks and shreds.

Dairy processors also have to look beyond the filler and take in what’s going on in the world of food. My inbox filled up with studies and surveys from a multitude of organizations touching on these themes. I’ll try to make sense of this research and add my point of view.

Fact: The Hartman Group observed that the majority of American households are child-free. Consider this: 62% of U.S. households have no children (up 13% from 1970). Single-person households make up 27% of the population.

Observation: What does this mean to the dairy industry? These households can’t finish a gallon of milk before it spoils. So processors have to bottle milk into smaller formats, such as half-gallons, quarts and pints.

Fact: “The New South is part of the urban revitalization trend,” the Hartman Group writes. “Young southerners are choosing to live in nearby cities rather than away from the South,” favoring Atlanta; Austin, Texas; Dallas; Charlotte, N.C.; Nashville, Tenn. and New Orleans, La.

Observation: None of these cities are in or near California, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Pennsylvania or New York, five major dairy producing states. This tells me that milk processors must invest in equipment and processes that extend the shelf life of fluid milk so it can withstand more days in transit from the plant to the consumer.

Dairy-protein alternatives

Fact: The market research firm Innova found a 60% rise in global food and beverage launches using a vegetarian claim between 2011 and 2015. Launches featuring the term “vegan” rose to 4.3% of total introductions in 2015 (from 1.5% in 2012). Vegans won’t go near dairy, but vegetarians will, as will the so-called flexitarians (those who eat mainly plant-based diets but gnaw on a pork chop from time to time). In the United States, 38% of the population (120 million Americans) claims to eat meatless meals once a week or more.

Observation: Millennials are hungry for information. Nearly 84% look up recipes online and 62% watch a cooking video on YouTube, according to the Private Label Manufacturers Association. (Read more about millennials here) Thus, every dairy processor’s website must include a section with high-protein recipes showing how to cook with cheese, yogurt and whey.

Fact: A survey by a company that makes vegan foods found that (surprise, surprise) more grocery shoppers are seeking out and trying “better-for-you” foods, especially dairy- and meat-free alternatives. Boulder, Colo.-based Earth Balance found that 42% of consumers said they know more about plant-based diets now compared to five years ago, and 43% are more likely to try plant-based alternatives today. Thirteen percent are trying a vegetarian lifestyle. Over half said they’ve tried dairy-free versions of milk, cheese and yogurt.

“Trying” nondairy foods does not mean that shoppers have given up dairy-based foods. But you have to deal with the trend and keep dairy relevant to shoppers. Innova points out that the majority of meat substitutes are soy- or wheat-protein based, and adds that egg, pea, ancient grains and nuts are drawing interest.

Observation: Innova doesn’t cite cheese, yogurt or whey proteins, which are also high-quality protein sources.  That fact has to be noted on packages of dairy foods. Promote the presence of other essential vitamins and minerals, too.

Baby boomers seek health benefits

The baby boom generation has its “own set of unique ideas about what they want on their plate,” according to the International Food Information Council Foundation.

Fact: Boomers are more likely than millennials to rate as healthy whole grains (80% vs. 70%), protein from plant sources (75% vs. 63%) and omega-3 fatty acids (71% vs. 59%), according to the IFIC. Boomers are also looking for different health benefits from their food compared to other generations, particularly millennials. Boomers are interested in foods that can help with weight management, cardiovascular health and digestive health. Millennials — their children or grandchildren — are more likely to be interested in foods that benefit mental health, muscle health and immunity.

Observation: A one-size-fits-all marketing strategy won’t work. Develop separate messages to address baby boomers and millennials. Promote dairy’s satiety benefits to those seeking weight management aids. Add probiotics, vitamins and minerals when it makes sense.

Perhaps you have foods in your portfolio that are right for the times but just need to be repositioned. That was the case of Premier Nutrition, the maker of PowerBar. It repositioned itself from a “food company” to “a power company” to appeal to a broader base than just elite athletes. Doug Cornille told the story at the Prepared Foods New Product Conference last month. Prepared Foods, like Dairy Foods, is a member of the Food Beverage Packaging group of  BNP Media. Listen to Cornille’s presentation here:

Dairy processors have to stay current and be relevant. Otherwise, they give consumers a reason to opt out of dairy.