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Modern Food Culture and the Future of Dairy

Tuesday, June 18, 2019   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Joanna Guza
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By Helen Lundell, senior consultant, The Hartman Group

Dairy’s growth potential in the coming years hinges on the ability of the industry to produce products that align well with how consumers want to eat today, particularly with respect to health and wellness as well as sustainability.

The nostalgic image of the natural dairy farm and its nurturing, wholesome products still very much speaks to what consumers want from their food; traditional forms of dairy (liquids, cheeses, spreads) each still hold a fundamental place within the American diet. However, the evolution of U.S. food culture means that dairy must continue to adapt to speak to emerging quality distinctions and ways of eating. Dairy Management Inc. and The Hartman Group, a consumer research company specializing in food, provided insight into consumer culture around dairy now and how to stay in tune with what consumers want in the future.

1. The language of fresh, less processed food forms the basis of healthy eating today.

Perhaps one of the most important things consumers are looking for from their food today is that it is “fresher” and “less processed.” This is not just about “expiry date” but about a sense that a food is in as “natural” a form as possible, without the addition of “chemicals,” like pesticides, antibiotics, hormones and preservatives.

2. Consumers are personalizing their approaches to health and wellness and listening to more diverse authorities. Know who those authorities are and what they’re saying about dairy.

Consumers are thinking about their health and wellness more holistically than in the past, seeking to maintain a balance between physical health, mental health and quality of life. This often involves a personalized approach to wellness, not just following traditional guidelines on how to eat, and trying out a range of diets to see what “works for them.”

These diets take a variety of approaches to dairy. Ketogenic/Bulletproof diets, for example, celebrate the role of quality dairy in a healthy diet while others, like Whole30, limit certain dairy categories. While this is challenging, even consumers who decide to limit dairy often only do so for a limited time.

3. Consumers are looking for diverse, nutrient dense foods that can support their digestion and energy (and reduce inflammation) as part of a fulfilling lifestyle.

Consumers typically think of dairy products as being naturally full of a wide range of nutrients. However, some authorities in health and wellness suggest that dairy products can disrupt digestion and cause inflammation in the body, making people feel less energized. This has led some to experiment with incorporating plant-based alternatives to see if they help them “feel better.”

At the same time, consumer interest in high-quality, full-fat dairy options is rising as people become more aware that full fat is not only tastier and luxuriant but can also be healthy and more satiating.

4. Interest in sustainability and transparency is growing but the word “sustainability” has limited scope. Consumers respond to actions that are both “better for me” and “better for the world.”

While consumer awareness of sustainability as a concept is at an all-time high, sustainability has the most resonance with consumers when they can see that a product clearly benefits them while also signaling that it can provide environmental, economic or social benefits. Notably, consumers associate the word “sustainable” itself primarily with environmental issues.

5. Consumers see animals being treated well as benefiting them as well as the animals. In the future, they’ll want to hear not just about how animals were treated, but whether those animals formed part of a healthy community and ecosystem.

What consumers see as signs of animal welfare (e.g. no hormones, no antibiotics, grass fed, pasture raised) also suggest that the product is safer and higher quality. As a result, signs of animal welfare are becoming a basic requirement for more consumers. Consumers who are highly engaged with sustainability are also idealizing farming that has occurred in greater harmony with the local ecosystem and climate. Even if they feel this may be hard to achieve at scale, communications that speak to these values are impactful.

6. Understanding your consumer and their orientation to health and wellness and sustainability is crucial to how you position your product.

Consumer levels of engagement in health and wellness and sustainability vary considerably between individuals. These differences mean that consumers need to have access to an array of products that can meet consumers where they are on their own journey. While trend-forward consumers are demanding products with more quality distinctions (e.g. non-GMO, pasture raised), others may aspire to purchase those products but still ultimately choose a product at a lower price point.

In the end, continuing to understand how consumers are thinking about dairy and the places where dairy could fit into their eating will be crucial to keeping it relevant and exciting in an increasingly competitive world.


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