Clean label dairy
Product developers have several ingredient options to consider when formulating clean label dairy products.

CHICAGO — Standards of identify and grading systems have long been in place to prevent adulteration and misrepresentation of everything from butter to cheese to ice cream to yogurt. In fact, dairy product compositions are the most highly regulated of all foods in the U.S. supply chain and have been responsible, for the most part, for keeping dairy products clean and simple. Still, federal regulations allow for the addition of certain ingredients many consumers increasingly find unacceptable, especially in the dairy segment. Dairy foods formulators are wise to choose carefully.

Cindy Sorensen, Mid-west Dairy Association
Cindy Sorensen, vice-president of business development for the Mid-west Dairy Association

“Dairy consumers generally have an opinion that milk and products made from milk, are clean, simple, pure, fresh from the farm,” said Cindy Sorensen, vice-president-business development, Mid-west Dairy Association, St. Paul, Minn. “It’s important to not let regulations hinder innovation, but it is wise when innovating, that dairy processors make ingredient choices to complement today’s label-reading consumers’ preferences, and that is for inclusion of familiar ingredients, as well as ingredients not considered artificial.”

Fortunately for the dairy industry, clean label formulations are one of its strengths. For example, Daisy Brand, Dallas, markets both full-fat and light sour cream that is made with only cultured cream and milk or cream. Its cottage cheese has one additional ingredient: salt. Products carry the tagline: “Better ingredients. That’s the Daisy difference.” Of course, not all dairy products feature such simple formulations, in particular once flavors, colors and sweeteners become part of the product mix. Ingredient selection is paramount in keeping labels simple. (See related story, Page 61.)

Daisy brand sour cream, clean label dairy
Daisy Brand markets both full-fat and light sour cream that is made with only cultured cream and milk or cream.

Organic is a clean promise

The desire for simplicity, and nothing artificial, is a factor in why dairy holds the No. 2 spot in organic retail sales, behind organic fruits and vegetables. Dairy accounts for 15% of total organic food sales, according to the Organic Trade Association, Washington. In 2015, that was $6 billion, an increase of 10% from the previous year.

Laura Batcha, Organic Trade Association
Laura Batcha, c.e.o. and executive director of the O.T.A.

“Farm fresh foods — produce and dairy — are driving the market,” said Laura Batcha, chief executive officer and executive director of the O.T.A. “Together, they account for more than half of total organic food sales.”

A complete organic dairy supply chain is currently impossible. This is why clean label is quickly becoming the norm in the dairy sector, and rightfully so, because with minimal processing along with the addition of a handful of ingredients, fluid milk readily converts into many different products. It is the modern-day shelf life demands of distribution, as well as consumers’ curiosity for flavor adventure, that have complicated formulations, making inherently clean label foods more complex.

For example, it’s not easy to make a short-ingredient list, heavy-inclusion ice cream. Many colorful, flavorful ice cream particulates exist only because of artificial colors and flavors. But must they be that brightly colored? Is there a natural flavor, albeit more costly, option available?

Brightly colored birthday cake ice cream, clean label dairy
Many colorful, flavorful ice cream particulates exist only because of artificial colors and flavors.

Some frozen desserts also may become laden with ice crystals if not properly emulsified and stabilized. Chemical stabilizers or emulsifiers are economical and efficient ingredients, but not label friendly. Some consumer-preferred options include eggs, native starches and select gums. The ingredients may increase cost, but research shows today’s consumers are willing to dig deeper into their pockets for easier-to-read ingredients on packaged foods.