As I write this column, 2020 is not quite over — although I suspect most folks are anxiously counting the days until it is.

I could say, “It’s been quite a year,” but that simple phrase fails to fully describe the havoc the events of 2020 have wreaked on the U.S. population. On its own, a global pandemic has been quite damaging to business as usual, but Americans have also had to endure racial unrest and riots, a highly divisive presidential election and even record-breaking hurricane and wildfire seasons.

As we collectively get ready to bid good riddance to 2020 and welcome 2021, a new vaccine from Pfizer is looking promising in the war against COVID-19. I am hopeful that 2021 will also bring a renewed sense of unity to our nation, as well as a return to optimism and enthusiasm about the future.


Innovation beckons

I am hopeful, too, that the dairy industry will look to the year ahead with a sense of optimism and enthusiasm. Yes, plant-based dairy alternatives continue to grow in popularity. However, with smart innovation, dairy foods and beverages could not only coexist with these offerings, but also continue to grow.

Smart innovation meshes with major consumer trends that show signs of traction. One of those trends — particularly relevant to dairy — is what Innova Market Insights calls “In Tune with Immune” in its recently published “Top 10 Trends for 2021.”

“Ongoing anxiety stemming from COVID-19 will encourage consumers to prioritize their immune health in 2021,” Innova Market Insights points out. “According to the Innova Consumer Survey 2020, six out of 10 global consumers are increasingly looking for food and beverage products that support their immune health, with one in three saying that concerns about immune health increased in 2020 over 2019.”

That said, dairy processors will find innovation opportunity in the addition of immunity-boosting ingredients such as elderberry, ginger, vitamins C, B6 and E, and more.

Another global trend expected to spur innovation across the food and beverage industry in 2021 is “the gut microbiome” emerging “as the gateway to wellness,” according to Chicago-based ADM.

“The pandemic has accelerated consumer interest in a more holistic approach to health, which includes a greater understanding of the foundational role of the gut microbiome on each individual’s health,” ADM says. “Products targeting the microbiome have been shown to help address specific metabolic conditions and issues such as weight management, immune system support and better emotional wellbeing.”

Dairy processors could innovate around this trend by incorporating functional solutions supporting microbiome function such as prebiotics, probiotics and postbiotics.

Those are just two of many trends that spell innovation opportunity for dairy processors in 2021 — and beyond (more to come in my January column). I’m looking forward to seeing the industry’s enthusiastic response!