New trends will impact dairy

Suzanne Fanning

Remaining relevant in the food and beverage marketplace requires understanding consumer motivations and meeting them with products positioned to satisfy current cravings. It’s clear that shifting post-pandemic priorities are influencing buying behaviour. The good news is there are plenty of opportunities for dairy products to shine.

Recent research by Innova Market Insights points to four focus areas that could have implications for the dairy industry.

  • simple pleasures that bring enjoyment on a budget,
  • elevated at-home experiences,
  • healthier living options and
  • conscious consumption that minimizes environmental impact.

Dairy products can and should be a part of each of those focus areas by highlighting fresh ingredients, artisan and handmade attributes, and nutritional benefits of the products as well as their continued efforts toward sustainability. Those attributes match consumer mindsets concerning how they want to spend their time and money.

Simple pleasures – Many consumers want to weave moments of joy into their daily lives instead of waiting to splurge on a big-ticket luxury item. Offering a product subscription mailed to the doorstep with thoughtful packaging that delivers a sense of celebration can make the chore of grocery shopping easier and more exciting.

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Market research suggests that in many cases “me time” and miniature rewards come through food and beverage breaks. Emphasizing the richness of flavor could appeal to one in every two respondents who said they like to choose smaller treats they can consume to create joy. Enliven snack breaks by wrapping indulgent individual servings with beautiful packaging. We’re seeing this with layered yogurt products presented in stylish glass jars that fit in the palm of a hand. And don’t skip dessert. Ice cream novelties offering increasingly creative flavor combinations are something to look forward to at the end of a long day.

Elevated experiences – People want to prioritize quality time with family and friends, and sharing meals is one of the most common reasons to gather. In the past 12 months, one in three consumers globally has increased family activities and mealtimes at home. Food and beverage products can be excellent catalysts for connection. Many are looking beyond take out to make their “time in” an elevated experience. Specialty food purchases are gaining prominence as an alternative to dining out. Upscale meal kits, “table theater” such as at-home hibachi grilling or smoking craft cocktails, and digital connections to extra content like a QR code on a wine bottle that unlocks compelling stories are a few examples of how to make at-home occasions more engaging and infuse a sense of novelty.

There’s also an interest in creative preparation. Communal “butter boards” started trending this summer on TikTok. The site was flooded with artistic videos of softened butter being spread like frosting on serving surfaces and then adorned with toppings. We see growth potential for more spreadable dairy products like mascarpone and cream cheese as the centerpiece of an at-home party with that sweet-or-savoury approach.

healthy living – Especially after the peak of the global pandemic, health and wellness have been top of mind. The biggest drivers of healthier lifestyle choices are feeling well and aging well. People recognize that eating a nourishing diet is an essential factor in personal wellness. Notably more have prioritized eating habits as more important than physical exercise. And they’d rather ensure they’re reaching for wholesome options instead of limiting snacking or controlling portions. Choosing fresh ingredients is the most important way all age groups seek to eat healthily, followed by preparing food from scratch.

Probiotic dairy products with gut-healthy bacteria that can support the human digestive system appeal to health-conscious consumers. Yogurt and many cheeses are fermented; Probiotics found in yogurt and kefir help support gut health. Other dairy products can be positioned for that market by highlighting additional health benefits – such as one way to get the necessary nutrients for normal immune function as well as enhanced absorption of macro and microelements. Other health benefits include calming effects and better sleep. Dairy foods provide an excellent-quality source of protein that can help with muscle repair while sleeping – especially for those who perform rigorous exercise. Producers may consider such opportunities to deliver on consumer desires for fresh, wholesome, homemade and nutritious food and beverage while managing cost, convenience and environmental concerns.

Conscious consumption A recent report by First Insight showed that consumers across all generations – from Baby Boomers to Gen Z – are willing to spend more on sustainable products. Consumers want the chance to contribute to a positive impact and are increasingly aware of how their consumption affects the planet. Three-quarters of all consumers say that sustainability is somewhat or very important to them when considering purchasing decisions. According to market research, products that boast the “local” and “environmentally friendly” halos are seen among the top-five features worth paying more for.

Limiting packaging waste, promoting recyclability, and buy-back and refill options are several solutions that target priorities according to demographics and personal finances. Because the current generation supports brands that support their own values, it’s important for brands to be transparent. We predict we’ll see more packaging showcasing specific sustainability stats – such as “This cheese was made with 100% renewable energy.” We predict we’ll see more producer websites outlining specific environmental initiatives and supply-chain innovations to showcase sustainable manufacturing.

Staying ahead – As inflation remains a concern, industry leaders who want to present consumers with the future of food and drink can be ahead of the curve by capitalizing on those preferences. Shoppers are always eager to share what they love with family and friends – both at the table and on social-media platforms. Presenting products that taste great, inspire delight and make an impact will help spread the word. What might become the next #butterboard? Exploring ideas that integrate elements of simplicity, sustainability, sociability and in-season freshness is key to finding out.

Suzanne Fanning is senior vice-president and chief marketing officer of Wisconsin Cheese at Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin, a mission sponsor of PDPW. Email to contact her.

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