Dairy Dialog podcast 25: Expo West

By Jim Cornall contact

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Expo west, Dairy alternatives, Dairy, creamer, Kefir

The 2019 Natural Products Expo West show brought together more than 86,000 attendees from 136 countries this month in Anaheim, CA. As the world’s largest natural, organic and healthy products event, it’s tricky to cover the entire floor of more than 3,600 exhibiting companies.

DairyReporter sat down with several dairy brands over the course of the five-day show (March 5-9) talking about what’s new in the dairy world and how plant-based alternatives are stacking up. We have conversations with Lifeway about a new plant-based kefir drink, a2 Milk Company’s line of creamers, Coffee Mate’s new products from Natural Bliss and Medlee Food’s vegan flavored butter substitutes.

As well as the companies from the show, we also take our weekly look at the dairy markets with Charlie Hyland from INTL FCStone.

Natural Bliss – Ana Defendini, brand manager

Natural Bliss is a line of coffees, creamers and half-and-half born out of the Coffee Mate brand, using non-GMO and all natural ingredients. DairyReporter spoke to brand manager Ana Defendini [incorrectly referenced as Candyce Jefferson in recording] about the success of its plant-based half-and-half and oat beverage that just launched this year.

The Natural Bliss portfolio now includes a dairy line of creamers in Sweet Cream, Vanilla, Toasted Coconut and Cinnamon Cream; a 30% reduced sugar segment in dairy that is sweetened with honey, in Honey Cream and Honey Pecan. Two new flavors of the 46oz RTD cold brew coffee comes in Mocha and Sweet Cream.

It also has non-dairy products with a base of almond in Vanilla, Hazelnut and Caramel; a base of coconut in Sweet Cream; and a base of oat in Vanilla. A blend of almonds and coconuts is the base for the new half-and-half, which comes in Unsweetened and Vanilla.

“We have to keep in mind that the stuff we see here at conventions like Expo East and Expo West, they’re just getting started. It takes a little bit of time before the things we see here become more mainstream,”​ Defendini said.

Lifeway, Plantiful – Julie Smolyansky, CEO

Kefir is a fermented milk drink that originated in Eastern Europe, lauded as a powerful probiotic. Lifeway is credited with bringing kefir to the US and has been manufacturing kefir-based food and drink for 30 years. Over the last four years, Lifeway has developed Plantiful, a plant-based kefir beverage.

It’s launching as a vegan, probiotic beverage available in 24oz bottles and pouches for children. CEO Julie Smolyansky notes that even though US consumers are more aware of kefir now than ever, they still haven’t scratched the surface on education and distribution.

Lifeway went through a recent packaging redesign to emphasize the word ‘kefir’ and shrink down from their larger 32oz sizes. Smolyansky said to appeal to millennials it’s a necessary change, because young people don’t want options and don’t want to commit to the larger bottles.

“Our consumers have been asking us to create a vegan, plant-based option. So we did, and I think it’s the best one on the market … the global kefir market is going to double in the next year or two. It’s an exciting new category that’s just getting going,” ​she said.

a2MC – Blake Waltrip, US CEO

The a2 Milk Company produces milk that is free from the a1 protein. The brand is established in the US, the UK, Australia, New Zealand and China, with milk and infant formula its most popular products.

It just launched its first coffee creamers for the US market at Expo West as it was the number one product a2MC’s American customers requested. The new creamers will roll out in Vanilla and Sweet Cream. a2’s Whole, 2%, 2% Chocolate and 1% milks are already sold in more than 12,000 stores nationwide.

US CEO Blake Waltrip said the a2MC brand is helping bring people back to dairy who have mistakenly cut it out of their diets, and trading people up from conventional dairy with their expanding portfolio of products.

“[Dairy] hasn’t had much innovation for many, many years. As a result it’s been declining. The only way out of declining commodity categories is innovation. And that’s what we’re bringing to the fold, that’s what grass-fed has brought into the fold, and ultra-filtered milk. Innovations in the category that bring the consumer back into pure dairy,”​ he said.

Medlee Foods – Albert Valdes, president and CEO

Medlee Foods brought innovation to the butter category in 2017 with a line of four seasoned butters, packaged into small medallion portions ready for seasoning or sauteing. The core line comes in Lemon Herb, Red Pepper, Basil Pesto and Garlic Parm.

In February Medlee introduced vegan counterparts with Lemon Chive, Sundried Tomato, Pesto, and Roasted Garlic options.

Albert Valdes, president and CEO of Medlee Foods, said, “Plant-based is growing and getting a lot of attention. As far as we know, we don’t see a lot of flavored butters out right now in the vegan route. So I think we’re one of the few or the first to come out with flavoring in vegan.”

Medlee quickly followed up with a launch of five Sweet Whipped Butters a few weeks later. Ideal as a cream cheese alternative for breakfast options like toast, pancakes and muffins, Valdes said the company has plans to introduce a vegan counterpart to the sweet line soon.

The Sweet Whipped Butters are packaged in 2.5oz tubs and come in Original Sweet, Cinnamon Roll, Triple Chocolate, Strawberry & Cream and Salted Caramel.

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