Dairy Processors Continue to Innovate

Yogurt still leads the category in innovation; all sub-categories are reducing sugar and cleaning up labels.

By Lauren R. Hartman, Product Development Editor

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Alternative cows?

Other dairy categories, such as fluid milk, are experiencing weaker performance as alternatives that are non-dairy and plant-based enjoy growing popularity. Almond milks were a primary reason for traditional milk’s sales declines, along with other nut milks including cashew milk, according to Dairy Management Inc. (www.dairy.org), the Rosemont, Ill., organization that manages the national dairy checkoff.

But they may not be able to call themselves “milk” for long. Last December, 25 bipartisan members of Congress asked the FDA to investigate and take action against “milks” that don’t come from cows. They want the FDA to require plant-based products to adopt a more appropriate name, other than milk, which they say is deceptive. So far, the agency hasn’t responded.

Most Americans still consume dairy milk (91 percent), but it’s commonly used as an addition to other foods (69 percent) or as an ingredient (61 percent). Elizabeth Sisel, beverage analyst at Mintel (www.mintel.com), Chicago, says the steady decline in consumption signals a need for brands to convey milk’s benefits as a beverage. She says milk is naturally nutritious, free of additives and can be flavored. “Brands can re-engage consumers by developing innovative offerings focused on improving already favorable aspects, such as taste profile and nutritional value.”

One tactic has small entrepreneurs creating boutique formats of “high-end” milk in small batches, citing their provenances. One alternative to regular milk known as A2 milk comes from a unique type of cow, yet is said to look and taste exactly like conventional milk and is homogenized. The main difference is the type of casein. Almost a third of milk’s protein is beta casein, which can be either the A1 or A2 strain. The A2 type of beta-casein protein is said to be easier to digest by those who experience lactose intolerance than the A1 protein found in most U.S. milk.

a2 milk cartonsA2 milk is licensed and marketed by Australia’s a2 Milk Co., Sydney, which is gaining an international following, and developed the milk on the premise that most milk of the industrialized world can cause digestive discomfort. Expanding distribution to the U.S. in 2015, the company reportedly sources the American milk from four U.S. dairies.

So far, the milk only has preliminary science to support its benefits above and beyond the nutrition and health of regular cow’s milk, according to the National Dairy Council.

Fairlife Milk is still trying to make a dent in grocery stores. The “improved” milk was created by a 2015 joint venture among Coca-Cola Co., dairy co-op Select Milk Producers and Fair Oaks Farms, a northwest Indiana dairy farm. Fairlife is “ultra-filtered” to concentrate nutrients and separate fats and sugars. The result is milk with 50 percent more protein, 30 percent more calcium and half as much fat as regular milk and no lactose. But at $3.50 {Walmart’s latest price] for a 52-oz. bottle, it’s having a hard time gaining traction with consumers. While it touts “from cows not treated with rBST” (an artificial bovine growth hormone), it’s not organic.

A later Superkids version added 125mg of DHA omega-3 — several times that of other DHA-fortified milks.

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