Consumers continue to demand more clean-label options when they shop, and the well-known category of dairy, with its many options, provides a great opportunity for brands and manufacturers to address these desires.

Botanical ingredients offer numerous opportunities for formulators looking to add excitement to dairy-based products while keeping a clean label. And with the growth in nondairy options such as cheese and yogurt alternatives, plant-based ingredients offer function, nutrition and consumer appeal as well.

When looking at a trend such as clean label, the dairy industry might seem at first glance to be at a disadvantage. But in all actuality, dairy products offer a great platform since they are viewed by consumers as inherently natural.

Adding unique plant-based ingredients for any number of functions to dairy products can help vault new product launches to the front of consumers’ minds the next time they are shopping. Botanicals can add marketing appeal by capitalizing on the so-called “healthy halo” effect where added ingredients — for example, green tea — that consumers associate with health and vitality can help sway a consumer to purchase and, more importantly, make them feel good about their purchase.

Oftentimes, consumers want to continue to enjoy the products they like but in a way that makes them feel good about their buying and eating habits. Even simple changes or the addition of a single ingredient can give consumers the feeling that their choices are healthy, but also deliver on the expectation of a beautiful appearance and great taste.

Turmeric is another example of a botanical that consumers associate with health. It can also be used as a clean-label alternative to artificial colors so formulators can still develop, for example, a vibrant mango yogurt, but with a color source that also fits with consumers’ clean-label ideals.

Sometimes finding that sweet spot between the familiar and unique that a consumer is also willing to try can be difficult. In this case, it may be that a familiar flavor with the addition of an exotic botanical ingredient can help bridge that gap. For example, floral ingredients such as chamomile, lavender, hibiscus and rose are trending right now, so pairing one of those with a recognized flavor such as raspberry hibiscus or vanilla rose would show consumers they can try something new without going too far outside their comfort zone.

Botanical ingredients also give formulators more nutritional options since they provide the plant-based nutrients consumers are looking for. Seeds, grains and nuts provide many different options for adding not only plant-based nutrients, but also a satisfying texture. Crunchy chia and flax seeds are powerhouses when it comes to nutritional benefits, contributing plant-based protein, fiber and omega-3 fatty acids; they can be added to yogurts, dairy-based smoothies and even savory cheeses or spreads.

Brands shouldn’t overlook fiber, either, when developing a new product. Even with all the consumer focus on protein consumption, fiber still ends up being one the nutrients of which consumers know they don’t get enough. Botanical ingredients offer countless options for formulators looking to add fiber to a dairy product, from whole food ingredients such as quinoa or oats, to high-fiber powders such as chicory root or psyllium. Even fruit and vegetable purees and powders can add fiber along with flavor.

Looking at beverage trends, the continued growth in ready-to-drink cold brew coffee beverages can be a source of inspiration to flavored milk and yogurt drink developers. Along with taste, the caffeine inherent in coffee is obviously a driving factor in consumers choosing coffee beverages in the morning, but also as a snack when looking to avoid that afternoon slump.

Botanical extracts that contain natural caffeine such as guarana, yerba mate, guayusa and green coffee can all be easily incorporated into beverages to deliver a specific amount of caffeine. This gives brands the opportunity to compete with energy drinks and other carbonated soft drinks with the added nutritional benefits that dairy products contribute. By disclosing on the label how much caffeine is contained in a beverage, brands can add more transparency to their product labels, which consumers continue to seek from foods and beverages in all categories.

As other brands continue to develop new cutting-edge products, the dairy category can’t simply watch trends pass it by. Dairy formulators must make the most of the natural benefits dairy offers and address the consumer desire for more functional ingredients, more transparency and better nutrition.

Botanical ingredients can help brands in the dairy sector address these consumer preferences, giving formulators and developers copious options for any and all finished product formats. Fads may come and go, but the clean-label and plant-based trends are here to stay.