Key Interview: “Dairy is Indispensable,” Says US Dairy Export Council

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10 Jul 2017 --- Global demand for US dairy products and ingredients continues to rise, as seen in 2016 year-end exports report. The US Dairy Export Council (USDEC) is on a mission to increase its global dairy sales and exports of US dairy products. For USDEC this means helping more and more companies incorporate US dairy ingredients into their food and beverage products. Despite some challenges, the US dairy export value is promising, with a reported value of $429 million in November 2016, up 14% from the previous year. 

Dairy may already be regarded as a staple in many diets, but that does not mean that it can't play a leading role in innovative new product development. At the 2017 IFT Annual Meeting & Food Expo, the US Dairy Export Council (USDEC) showcased the meaning of the slogan for the dairy community’s new consumer engagement campaign, Undeniably Dairy, with four new prototypes. According to the council, these concepts highlight dairy ingredients’ ability to provide unmatched taste, a breadth of nutritional benefits and versatility to be used across a diverse range of applications.

Dairy proteins and permeate enable these prototypes to tap into numerous consumer trends, focusing on high-quality protein, on-the-go nutrition, benefits beyond the label, healthy aging, reduced sodium and globally-inspired tastes. You can read more on FoodIngredientsFirst's sister website NutritionInsight

FoodIngredientsFirst caught up with Vikki Nicholson, senior vice president of global marketing at US Dairy Export Council who noted that the trend towards clean and simple labels can be achieved with US dairy ingredients. “We are making products more attractive to consumers by helping our customers eliminate artificially and mysteriously sourced items from their products.”

“The ingredients naturally found in milk are functional, versatile and nutritious, giving our industry the chance to remind customers and consumers why dairy is indispensable,” she explains. “By being recognizable to consumers, dairy ingredients can help enhance public perception of a variety of products, meeting the transparency trend demanded by consumers today.”

“Food safety is an obvious concern for many of our customers,” says Nicholson. “US dairy ingredients come from a source that was handled with the utmost care, thanks to industry professionals who ensure food safety and traceability standards are carried out through every facet of the farm to fork journey.”

“The US dairy community is constantly keeping a pulse on consumers’ stance and industry happenings to find opportunities for improvements. For example, the Innovation Center’s Food Safety committee works with the industry to enhance processes and standards in plants and transit systems to ensure products are highly protected. The Innovation Center also works on traceability across the entire industry.” 

As of April 2016, 80 percent of US dairy companies have committed to adopting the US dairy enhanced traceability standards. These voluntary standards include three primary pillars: 
Modeling physical plants to know where new lots enter and where products transform; 
Creating a lot identifying mark that is recognized and used by customers; 
Record-keeping that assists in expedient and effective recall capability. 

According to Nicholson, this high-level of standards is inspired by the food safety standards to make dairy products and ingredients consumers trust. “US dairy ingredients are a positive addition to formulas for companies who want to let consumers know what is in their food and beverage products, where the ingredients came from and how they were made,” she claims. 

What can we expect to see in terms of new trade policies? One change that has been discussed in the industry regards a policy around geographical indication (GI). “The European Union (EU) is trying to reduce the ability to choose where certain cheese varieties are sourced,” explains Nicholson. “The EU is going beyond international standards to try and extend GI protections to generic cheeses, such as parmesan, feta and asiago. This is a concern to the US and other cheese providers because of the limitations this would bring to buyers and end-users.” 

Among the cheeses at risk are very popular American-made varieties. The US has a long history of producing popular cheeses that have won numerous international awards. Nicholson notes: “If the EU is granted permission to be the sole provider of many popular cheeses, it would eventually have commercial ramifications, such as buyers' market shares, business sales and profitability. More specifically, this policy could decrease competition in the marketplace, force producers and exporters to re-label and rebrand products, reduce sales and limit varieties, restrict supply for international cheese buyers and create higher costs.” 

How have consumer habits changed over the years? “The US dairy industry as a whole is coming together to remind US consumers why dairy has been a traditional staple in their diets. The simple joys consumers experience from food are most often made with wholesome, delicious dairy. Producers of milk, dairy ingredients, yogurt and cheese have come together to remind the consumers of their love for dairy. The Undeniably Dairy Campaign has been making a splash in the US; emphasizing the unparalleled nutrition and taste that dairy offers.” 

The health effects of milk fat and research showing dairy proteins are among the highest quality compared to other sources in the market, according to Nicholson. “As more of these health and wellness benefits are explored, the more dairy will find a valuable place in consumers’ diets, and food and beverage formulations,” she adds. 

This increased demand for dairy does however, differ across the globe. “Regarding US cheese, exports have expanded by 7 percent worldwide in the last two months of the reporting period. US cheese exports to Mexico exceeded 16,200 tons, up 21 percent (+2,860 tons) versus the prior year. During a three-month period, US cheese exports to South Korea approached 11,000 tons, up 24 percent (+2,100 tons) versus the prior year,” says Nicholson. 

Since November 2016, US dairy products and ingredients continue to be supplied around the globe at an increasing rate. Most recently, US dairy export volumes topped year-ago levels for the 11th straight month. 

During a five-month period, ending in November, 168,706 tons of milk powders, cheese, butterfat, whey and lactose were exported, topping year-ago levels for the sixth straight month. Specifically, worldwide US exports of nonfat dry milk/skim milk powder (NDM/SMP) climbed 25 percent, whey was up 36 percent, whey protein concentrate (WPC) rose 28 percent and whey protein isolate (WPI) increase. 

Nicholson notes that the US dairy community is reconnecting with consumers to share their passion for farming. The ingredients derived from milk provide a responsibly produced, nutritious and tasteful addition to the many foods and beverages consumers of all ages enjoy throughout the day. 

For Nicholson, the dairy market will continue to flourish. She finalizes: “The dairy industry can provide a consistent supply of functional and versatile ingredients to be incorporated into formulations for unmatched quality. A key quality in these ingredients is the mild, neutral taste of dairy that enhances intended tastes of products, without the need for masking agents, to achieve the needed flavor innovations without sacrificing nutrition.” 

by Elizabeth Green

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