US consumers are increasingly equating health and wellness in dairy with high-quality, local or more ‘natural’ products rather than low-fat products per se, according to market researchers at The Hartman Group.
In ‘Deep Dive into Dairy’ - the first of a new series of webinars exploring consumer trends in selected food categories – Hartman’s director of culinary insights Melissa Abbott said this is particularly evident in yogurt and spreads.
“Consumers want something less sweet or sweetened with 'real’ sweeteners, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be fat free or low fat anymore.
“Many consumers are looking at consuming higher-quality fats in their diets in moderate proportions. Full-fat yogurt is perceived as higher-quality, more of a real, less-processed food.”
Butter no longer a dietary villain
Meanwhile, butter is “no longer a dietary villain and has become a poster ingredient for the ’eat real food’ campaigns popping up around the US”, claimed Abbott. “Consumers are returning to butter, shunning margarine and spreads and using it alongside olive oil.
“This has been gaining ground from the culinary community but also interestingly from the health and wellness community, particularly pasture or grass-fed butter that provides higher levels of antioxidants, CLA [conjugated linoleic acid] or omega-3 fatty acids.”
Meanwhile “progressive consumers” are also suspicious of yogurt containing non-fat milk powder that is just “there to increase protein levels”, she claimed.
Water buffalo milk. Coming to a shelf near you?
An ‘around the bend trend’ from farmers markets to watch out for is “super-rich milk from water buffalo that is very rich and very decadent”, she predicted, while anything ‘grass-fed” represents “a marker of high quality”.
More artisan-type products are also starting to hit shelves with less sugar, or sweetened with an alternative perceived to be more natural such as agave.
Such products also tend “not to contain stabilizers such as gelatin or pectin”, she added.
Growing demand for thicker, high-quality Greek yogurt has also continued unabated, with consumers offsetting higher costs by eating mainstream products during the week but buying richer products for the weekend, she said.
Hormone-free milk and clarified butter
While raw milk will probably remain on the fringes of the dairy products category, other niche market trends from hormone-free to clarified butter are also starting to influence the mainstream, claimed Abbott.
“Consumers, including mainstream, are very aware of rBST [recombinant bovine somatotropin], though they cannot articulate exactly what it means and we have found some consumers abandoning organic milk in favor of hormone-free milk, since they say that is what they were buying organic for, to avoid mystery hormones.”
While ‘A2 milk’ is probably something only a handful of consumers might recognize right now, it too has legs, she predicted.
“Consumers, unless they are followers of the Weston Price dietary movement, have no idea about this type of milk. But this is a trend we can expect on the horizon to have some impact on the dairy industry. It relates directly to consumers seeking milk from Guernsey and Jersey cows, but more about the fact that they produce higher quality butterfat, which is at the foundation of A2 milk.
“The medical community, particularly cardiologists, may eventually play a part in shedding light on this type of milk.”
Meanwhile, demand for breed-specific milk, notably that from Jersey or Guernsey cows, will continue, she said.
As for butter, ghee – clarified butter that has been cooked such that all the milk solids have been strained out – is starting to interest more consumers, she said.
“It is traditionally used in Indian cuisine but it is also sought out by health and wellness consumers that dislike synthetic margarines or have a dairy intolerance.”
Cheese gets sophisticated
When it comes to cheese, US consumers are becoming more sophisticated in their tastes, although manufacturers looking to cash in need to “stay approachable and fun” as cheese, much like wine, could be an intimidating category for many shoppers, she stressed.
As for functional dairy, given consumers’ desire for all things ‘natural’, it is important to avoid anything that appears too medicinal if manufacturers want to avoid alienating consumers, she said.
But there are opportunities for enterprising manufacturers to engage with new consumer groups for ingredients such as whey protein by moving away from muscle-building and focusing instead on more female-friendly messages around weight management, fat loss and body-shaping, she said.