Donna Berry is the owner of Dairy & Food Communications, a company that specializes in business-to-business writing, speaking and consulting projects in the dairy, beverage and food industries, and she writes for numerous trade publications, including Dairy Business News, Food Business News, Food Product Design, Meat & Poultry and Baking & Snack. She has a bachelors degree in food science from the University of Illinois and product development industry experience with Kraft Foods. She has been writing for the dairy trade since 1993.
SmartBrief interviewed Berry about her perspective on the dairy industry and the trends and challenges she thinks are important for the industry today and heading into the future.
What are the top trends in the dairy industry right now as far as products go?
People are funny…what they say they eat and what they actually eat are two different things. This is particularly true in dairy. They say they want fat free, low fat, low sodium, etc., but what do they buy? It’s the cream of the crop. And that is the trend that I am seeing and where the future for dairy is. Consumers want simple, pure and natural foods, and dairy can deliver just that without too much effort.
Greek yogurt is becoming more upscale and other ethnic cultured dairy foods are looking for a piece of the action. But what is it about Greek yogurt that is so appealing? It’s the protein content. Dairy proteins are hot, hot, hot.
In addition to cottage cheese’s comeback, lactose-free is going to become big. If a marketer can claim a product is lactose free, they should and will be doing it. There is high demand for lactose-free dairy foods in Europe and this is quickly trending to the United States.
Lowering added sugars in also trending in the dairy category. This is accomplished by optimizing sweetness through the use of alternative sweeteners, sometimes in conjunction with natural flavors.
Also, expect to see more dessert-style, whole-milk, premium yogurts. In ice cream, expect the unexpected with flavors and inclusions.
Expect to see more demographic-focused products, in particular products enhanced with nutrients that meet the needs of certain consumers. For example, omega-3s for toddlers for brain development and lycopene for boomers for improved eyesight.
Finally, clean-label is essential. Fortunately for the dairy industry, clean-label formulations have long been one of its strengths.
As 2014 really gets rolling, what do you think will be the biggest difference in the industry between this year and last year?
I think 2014 will be the year that everyone focuses on premium, quality, natural and moderation. A little bit of some really indulgent premium ice cream will make sense to more people, versus consuming a super-sized chocolate sundae.
The other big trend will be more limited-edition, seasonal products. The beauty of dairy is that, in general, most products have a relatively short shelf life, which means they are constantly being replenished by consumers, retailers and manufacturers.
Millennials will also play an important role, as they are accustomed to making snap decisions grounded in more unique and creative food choices. They are more adventurous than older consumers when it comes to trying new products, including dairy.
Interestingly, this demographic tends to eat smaller meals a day at non-traditional times. Dairy fits the bill perfectly. Single-serve forms and containers that provide portion control and portability are key and will drive innovation in dairy this year and for years to come.
What do you think are the most important things for dairy manufacturers and producers to pay attention to right now? And in the near future?
Detail…every little detail…because if one person finds one thing wrong and it goes viral, you are in trouble. With that said, of course, food safety is the number-one priority, but after that, it is social media. I said this once at a meeting with a bunch of senior food industry members and they were shocked. After they thought about it, they agreed, saying that their list, which included items such as economics, reliable labor and supply chain management, all are irrelevant if one “loud mouth” creates a social media disaster. Not only does the dairy industry have to be prepared, in general, but each and every processor should have a social media team that monitors communication about their products. And they must have a position on how and when to respond.
What do you think are the most important things for retailers to pay attention to in dairy right now? And in the near future?
Retailers need to be able to embrace the variety that will come with an increase in limited-edition products. They also need to make room for single-serve packaging. Most are doing a pretty good job of this. They need to know what their consumer wants.
What do you think is the most exciting thing happening in the dairy industry right now?
I love this question because the answer is so simple: It’s dairy being dairy. Today’s consumers have an incredibly positive opinion of dairy products mostly thanks to the powers of protein in Greek yogurt, in whey, etc. Also, Whole Foods Market has given consumers permission to indulge on dairy products that had been typically forbidden foods because of higher calorie, fat and sodium contents. The ice cream and cheese cases at Whole Foods Market are two of the largest displays. Consumers are enjoying these dairy foods because they are good and good for you.
What do you think are the industry’s biggest challenges, and what can industry members do to meet them?
Well, there’s a saying that all good things come to an end. I hope that will not be the case for dairy, or at least during my lifetime. The industry needs to be prepared to defend itself if it ever needs to in the future. It has been largely under the radar by consumer activist groups, but that can change at any time.
Also, there’s been a lot of research showing the benefits of milkfat, and that fat-free and low-fat are not always the most nutritious choice. This is a challenge, but also an opportunity, in regards to educating the consumer about the healthfulness of milkfat.