DMI gets more aggressive in launch of ‘blending’ vision
By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, August 27, 2021
CHICAGO, Ill. – The future of dairy is “blending”, according to recent messaging and product innovation launches supported with dairy checkoff dollars.
In 2019, the Live Real Farms, “purely perfect blends” – Dairy Plus Almond and Dairy Plus Oat beverages – were launched in test markets in Minnesota. Earlier this year, the roll-out arrived in Northeast markets, including Pennsylvania. For example, in Lancaster County, Pa., certain Giant stores are handling the drink.
According to USDA FMMO definitions for Class I fluid milk, the either/or protein or total solids percentage of this “blend” does not meet the Class I standard, and an official from the Pa. Milk Marketing Board also confirmed in a phone interview that the 50/50 blended products are not regulated as Class I under the PMMB.
This is another aspect of the move toward blending in fluid milk products. Some of these new checkoff-funded fluid milk “revitalization” products classify the milk used in them at manufacturing class prices.
But that’s another story. This article focuses on how DMI is positioning future dairy messaging and supply-chain innovation through blending.
First, many farmers will recall the words of Paul Ziemnisky, executive vice president of DMI’s Global Innovation Partnerships when he spoke in a Center for Dairy Excellence call last fall and again in a webinar during the February 2021 Pennsylvania Dairy Summit.
In those settings, Ziemnisky gave a look at the future of dairy beverages, going so far as to say new processing facilities will “need to be built as beverage plants able to handle all kinds of ingredients for the blended products of the future.”
In essence, he said, the future of fluid milk is “dual purpose” processing plants.
“We will see the beverage space set up differently and our manufacturing plants will need to be set up as dual plants to make milk-based beverages because that is where the consumer is going, and it is our job to keep them where dairy is front and center,” Ziemnisky explained, noting that these blends “are shelved with milk. We’re adding plants to dairy, making lactose-free dairy to address gut health. Our partners have led, and we have driven growth by over 1 billion pounds.”
But where is the sales data on the blends? The dairy industry identity shift has been in the making for the past 12 to 13 years, and ramping up in the past five, with the opening, expanding and planned construction of huge dairy ingredient facilities, processing cheese and “nutritionals”.
Ultrafiltration and low-fat or fat-free milk figure prominently in these blends.
‘Best of all milks?’
So, how is DFA / DMI marketing the checkoff-partnered fluid milk innovation that is Live Real Farms “purely perfect blends”? The evolving liverealfarms.com website, as well as social media platforms, tell the story.
These “blends” of milk plus plant-based beverages, these 50/50 blends, are touted as “the best of all milks,” and “the milk for modern tastes.”
Interestingly, the Live Real Farms “about us” page demonstrates that its marketers may be even more confused about whose farm products they are promoting because the photo is clearly that of a farmer standing in a field with BEEF cows – Hereford and Charolais. There’s not a dairy breed in the bunch on the full screen photo at DFA’s Live Real Farms “about us” page.
Across the beef cow and farmer photo are the words “Keeping it real.” (We have to wonder how the photo of beef cows and a blended product keep it real, but that’s a question for another day.)
Moving down through the verbiage, beneath the photo are the words: “Live Real Farms is owned by a co-op of real farmers (DFA) with one really tasty goal: to create deliciously modern dairy products bursting with goodness. Nothing fancy. Nothing artificial. Nothing we wouldn’t put on our own tables.”
Underneath this verbiage, we finally do see a Holstein, and below that picture are these words: “Love Milk Like Never Before: Something so delicious happens when you blend real milk with real almond or oat drink. We love the luscious texture. We love the subtle sweetness and nutty flavors. We love the health benefits too. And so will you.”
Various consumer spots are included touting this blended drink as healthier because you can “sneak more plants into your diet,” or because the blending with oat drink make it better in coffee, and on and on.
The instagram account even urged putting 50/50 Dairy + Almond blend out for Santa last Christmas Eve. (Sorry, but Santa prefers 100% real milk).
A milk identity crisis?
The chocolate dairy plus almond product was recently reviewed by Afoolzerrand.com – the saga of a man traveling the world tasting and reviewing brands of chocolate milk – over 1500 of them to-date.
Even he was confused about the ‘blend’, stating in his video review that he was “curious about who this (blended) product is for…
“Is there crossover between people who buy almond milk and people who buy regular milk? Maybe? Is it some sort of a compromise? I don’t know. I’m sure they did research to back up putting out the product, but I find it strange who the target market is,” he said.
“It is amusing that at the website for Live Real Farms, about us, it talks about ‘keeping it simple’ and ‘we believe in eating food the way nature intended. It’s funny for me to think about nature intending on a 50/50 almond milk / cow milk blend, let alone a chocolate flavored one. To consider that to be the way nature intended has some comedy value for me,” the chocolate milk connoisseur said in his video review of the product.
He noted that, “It sort of tastes like you would expect sun block to taste,” observing a “dusty” flavor that’s “more sweet than chocolatey”.
He talked about the other 50/50 blends in the line-up, saying “I’m baffled a bit. I’ve certainly tried worse things, it’s less creamy, which you would expect with half low-fat milk, half almond milk… texture-wise it doesn’t do any favors.”
Rating it a 3 out of 10 (Poor), Afoolzerrand went on to note that it offers a lactose-free claim, but he was quick to point out (and show pictures of) the many other lactose free chocolate milks on the market that are made with 100% real milk, that he said are really good.
Whose healthy halo?
So, what does DMI – the purveyor of the blending vision for dairy farmer checkoff dollars – say?
A recently posted “Undeniably Dairy” video at the USdairy.com website sought to explain the blending direction of dairy “to answer questions raised by recent headlines.”
In the video moderated by Scott Wallin, DMI’s communications director, Kristiana Alexander, director of DMI’s Knowledge and Insights, discusses how “consumer desires are influencing the beverage category and how dairy innovation can encourage more fluid milk use. One of the newest innovations are blended products, which combine the goodness of dairy with other ingredients,” she said.
Alexander is asked to give a definition for ‘blended dairy’ in the DMI video entitled ‘Why Fluid Milk Innovation is Important.’
“We are talking about products that are combining dairy with other ingredients or foods that is then made into a single product,” she said.
Wallin notes that Alexander’s team is “constantly monitoring consumer trends” and asks what they are finding when it comes to blended dairy. “What is it that they are looking for?” he asked.
“Today, people are focused on living a ‘holistic lifestyle,” said Alexander explaining what she called DMI’s “overarching framework.”
The holistic lifestyle is “a lifestyle that emphasizes the connection of the mind, body and planet. It encompasses the well-being of the individual, the family, and everything around them. People want to know, is this good for my body? Will I enjoy it? Will I feel good about buying it?,” Alexander says.
She talked about how blended products are showing up in the marketplace, saying: “It’s all about nutrition and flavor experience. It’s about bringing the foods and ingredients that people want more of … and bringing them into dairy. This can include fruits and vegetables for vitamins and antioxidants, functional foods that boost immunity, healthy grains – think like oats and quinoa, nuts, and ‘super powders’ like matcha and turmeric that have a perceived ‘health halo’ around them. And beyond nutrition, it’s flavor experience. Consumers are looking to step out of their comfort zones,” said Alexander.
(Author’s note: Who is promoting milk’s natural healthy halo? The vitamins, minerals, high quality protein, hydrating water, electrolytes, healthy matrix of fats, important fatty acids, essential nutrients of concern in today’s diets, and more? Does dairy suddenly need other ingredients to improve its health halo, according to DMI consumer research? Because consumers do not know much about the health and nutrition of real milk and dairy, blending is the answer?)
Everyone’s doing it?
Alexander went on to say this “blending” trend is not just happening in dairy.
“We see it in meat and poultry,” she said, flashing brands of blended products always using the word “plus” on the screen (like the Live Real Farms does with dairy) and touting chicken-plus-grains blends and beef blended with pea-protein as “great new products” that meet consumer desires.
“We are tapping into consumers’ desires for enhanced nutrition and flavor exploration,” Alexander explained.
“The big question for farmers is, ‘what does it mean for the dairy industry?’” asked Wallin.
Alexander responded to say: “Bringing it home, what it means for dairy and looking at blended dairy… first, we know people are always looking to consume more vegetables, and we are seeing this take place in meat and poultry, and now in dairy.
“It’s not about eliminating foods,” said DMI’s Alexander. “It’s having different options available, and these hybrid foods that provide dairy and vegetables, they do that. There’s ice cream, cheese crackers, dairy beverages that all let consumers get more vegetables in their diets. And then there’s dairy blends that incorporate grains and nuts, meeting different consumer needs.”
She noted that Live Real Farms milk plus almond and oat, in particular, “provide that blended enhanced nutrition.”
(Author’s note: Enhanced nutrition? Over real dairy milk? Really?)
She also noted the “indulgent” blends, such as Shamrock’s milk swirled with almond drink and chocolate as being a new “comfort food” for people looking to indulge and “be comforted” after a stressful year.
Alexander also noted the blended cheeses with lentils and chickpeas providing new textures and … you guessed it… “enhanced nutrition.”
This ‘blending’ discussion has not even publicly touched upon the bioengineered yeast-excrement makers already talking with the largest global makers of ice cream, yogurt and cheese to blend their dairy protein analogs at a starter rate of 5%.
As Alexander noted in the DMI video, it’s happening in meat and poultry also.
Bottom line, dairy farmer checkoff dollars are using the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) supply chain leverage model to move consumers and producers in a direction that certainly appears to be one that transforms food by diluting animal-sourced foods like real milk and dairy.
Business will do what business will do, but should dairy farmers be paying to promote, launch, create, and foster the blending and dilution of their milk and dairy products, including the reclassification of the milk in these beverages at manufacturing class prices? Are they funding their own demise? Should they be funding the education and promotion of dairy’s own superior healthy halo so that consumers know what 100% real dairy provides and can make informed decisions as the lines get blurred?
Who is really benefitting?