Anew year is here, so it’s time for fresh starts and lofty goals. For dairy processors, it’s also a prime time to go after some untapped (or under-tapped) product development opportunities that are likely to resonate with consumers.

To help here, I’ve poured through a number of 2020 food and flavor forecasts, identifying which predicted trends I believe could spell success within the dairy food and beverage space.


A focus on gut health

From probiotic supplements to fermented foods, gut health-promoting products are expected to really take off in 2020, according to a blog post from Cody Sullivan on the College Chefs website ( And dairy products make a great probiotics partner.

Moreover, newer research indicates that probiotics, delivered via fermented dairy foods, also might be a useful tool for weight management, blood sugar control, bone and cardiovascular health promotion, and even common-cold avoidance (more to come on that topic in February’s Health & Wellness column). As consumers become more informed about these potential benefits, the outlook for probiotics-containing dairy products is likely to become
even brighter.


A push toward healthful snacking

In its “Flavor & Trend Forecast 2020,” Toronto-based THP (with U.S. headquarters in New York) calls out “portable power” as one of the top trends for 2020. Although the trend toward portable snacks is not new, it’s evolving and picking up steam, THP suggests.

“Consumers are moving away from three square meals a day, toward satisfying their hunger on the run,” the provider of content and social media services for brand managers and marketers reports. “Because of this, they’re turning to functional snacks that fill in the gaps and give their bodies what they’re lacking.”

Whole Foods Market agrees with the trend toward healthful snacking. “Out-of-the-box, into-the-fridge snacking” makes the retailer’s list of top 10 food trends for 2020. The keyword, Whole Foods Market says, is “fresh” — and a number of dairy categories certainly lend themselves well to fresh, refrigerated snacking.


Emphasis on total wellness

In its December #Trendspotting e-newsletter, beverage specialist Imbibe Inc., Niles, Ill., lists “holistic wellness” as one of its top beverage trends for 2020. Such beverages support physical and emotional health.

Among the ingredients of interest here are omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins and minerals, and mood-boosting and stress-relieving ingredients such as adaptogenic herbs and cannabidiol, Imbibe says. (The latter of those three ingredient sets meshes with one of THP’s top trends: “mood food.”)

With the milk category desperately in need of innovation, product development that meshes with this trend might make sense — whether the initial product is plain old milk, flavored milk or a milk-and-something-else hybrid.


Products that aren’t so sweet

According to THP, sour foods are gaining in popularity — thanks, in part, to the war public health officials and others are waging on sugar and corn syrup.

“And thanks to globalization, more palates are beginning to appreciate flavors from around the world,” THP says, “like vinegars, tamarind and other ingredients that provide a distinctly tasteful tartness.”

Whether they feature tartness-
promoting ingredients — or simply boast less sugar — several types of dairy products could tap into this trend. I certainly see opportunity within yogurt, drinkable yogurt and perhaps even fluid milk.


Global influences

When it comes to flavors, Whole Foods Market predicts increased interest in foods from West Africa. The combination of tomatoes, onions and chili peppers forms a base for many of this area’s dishes, and common additions include peanuts, ginger and lemongrass, the retailer notes.

Also growing in appeal to North American consumers is Vietnamese fare, notes THP, which is why the company included “Vietnamese” among its top 2020 flavor trends. But consumer interest will go beyond pho and banh mi sandwiches to bún bò hué, egg coffee and more.

Dairy processors, particularly on the cheese side, have a real opportunity to experiment — and differentiate — with trending West African and Vietnamese flavors.