The dairy world is always ripe for innovation, and it’s seen a lot of change in the last decade. The rise in popularity of plant-based dairy alternatives has led to a wave of innovation from traditional dairy brands to stay relevant among consumers who now have many options.
Ultrafiltered milk has hoped to revive fluid milk consumption, Greek yogurt has grown to account for 50% of the total yogurt category and low-calorie, premium ice cream has become a mainstream dessert staple.
According to Packaged Facts’ new ‘Dairy Innovation: Culinary Trend Tracking Series’ report, the innovation is expected to continue and will draw on similar trends across food and beverage. It outlines what to watch in butter, cheese, ice cream and yogurt in 2019.
Butter and cheese for all occasions
Butter has made a comeback in the last few years after consumers shied away from it for low-fat diets. But it’s falling back into favor and experts and artisans are finding more exciting ways to incorporate it. Flavored butters are popping up in restaurants across the US in sweet and savory variations like honey, jalapeno, pistachio, lemon zest, pumpkin seed and seaweed.
The classic brown butter has seen impressive growth, jumping from a 2.8% menu presence in 2008 to 6.3% in 2018. Nut butter-alternatives are a common choice for consumers looking at alternative protein options. Almond, cashew and even sunflower seed are all growing in the mainstream.
Cheese is showing up in new places and recipe mashups, serving all eating occasions. Chef innovations, specialty shops and fast-casual joints will spearhead the trend with products like cheese tea, goat cheese ice cream and cheese-stuffed pancakes. Packaged Facts expects it to easily translate into retail launches soon.
Cheddar in particular is trending in brand launches and restaurant dishes. Packaged Facts suggests “perhaps because cheddar is so widely loved by consumers, it lends itself perfectly to innovative new uses, including upgraded mac and cheese, uber-trendy pimento cheese and cheesy sandwiches galore.”
A global influence on dessert
Moving past simple sweet flavors, artisanal ice cream is cropping up in over-the-top concoctions. Indulgent sundaes and milkshakes packed with candy and pastries have been on the market for a few years, so creators are now going a step further to infuse new and out-there flavors rather than just piling other foods on top.
Darjeeling tea, yuzu, matcha, corn, black sesame, barbecue sauce, pickled plum, goat cheese and mochi ice cream have all emerged and set a foundation for where the category can grow to in 2019, particularly within the trendy soft serve format.
“Ice cream is the perfect vehicle for innovative flavors and ingredients, not only being neutral by its nature but also an object of craving and an indulgent treat that doesn’t break the bank,” Packaged Facts said.
Expect to see more dairy products inspired by global cuisine in the future as the wider food and beverage industry takes cues from other cultures and responds to consumer demand for more diverse options. Middle Eastern cuisine offers versatile products to dairy, like tangy feta cheese, tzatziki with yogurt and labneh, a soft cheese made from strained yogurt.
Packaged Facts notes that they all bring “body, value, richness and protein to today’s lighter, healthier foods” with the ability to be whipped, seasoned, smoked, sweetened and frozen.
Thinking whey outside the box
The protein-rich whey has been a popular ingredient in the health-conscious world, used in shakes, smoothies and other nutrition-oriented beverages for an extra kick of protein. But now it’s making its way into more dishes without a health focus, like cakes, ice cream, sauces and condiments.
“Thrifty homesteaders used it as a cooking liquid, fermentation starter, bread ingredient and to produce whey cheeses like ricotta, and [modern] chefs are riffing on those traditions by using whey in everything. From sauces to marinades to caramel and baked goods--and even as an acidic component in cocktails,” Packaged Facts said.
Plant-based dairy alternatives will continue dominating retail launches. ‘Milk’ options already include almond, soy, cashew, peanut, oat, hemp, rice and more, but 2019 will see an expansion beyond beverages. Plant-based cheese, butter and ice cream alternatives will all pick up steam and mimic the growth of their plant ‘milk’ counterparts.
David Sprinkle, research director for Packaged Facts, said, "Don't let the familiarity of dairy or the success of plant milks obscure the opportunities in this marketplace, given the culinary heritage, indulgence factor, usage rates, and consumer appeal that makes dairy the cream on top for many different applications, from elevated favorites to imported novelties."