IDFA Vice President Cary Frye presented the dairy industry's continuing efforts to make healthy foods products as a panelist at the National Food Policy Conference held last week in Washington, D.C. The annual conference, hosted by the Consumer Federation of America and the Grocery Manufacturers Association, focused this year on child nutrition and health.
Joining panelists from ConAgra Foods and Nemours, a health system for children, Frye discussed the wide variety of product reformulations that have been accomplished or are underway to reduce calories, fat, added sugar and sodium in dairy products. She explored the impact on consumers and their response to the new product offerings, citing several successful case studies and addressed formulation challenges.
Focusing first on flavored milk in schools, Frye noted that the industry has been working on reformulating to lower calories, while stepping down fat and sugar levels.
"These reductions average almost 13 calories less per eight-ounce serving of flavored milk compared to the previous four schools years," Frye said. "This is huge considering federal school programs serve over five billion half pints of flavored milk a year."
Taking Time to Get it Right
She also discussed ongoing efforts to reduce fat and lower sodium in cheese, warning that "it takes time to get it right." Taste, texture and safety are just a few of the challenges that cheesemakers face when reformulating, she said. Pointing to recent new market introductions, like Sargento's line of lower sodium cheese, Frye invited the audience to sample several new offerings following the presentation.
The ice cream industry is also doing its part to develop "light and luscious ice creams" with lower fat and fewer calories, Frye said. Dreyer's trademarked slow-churned process, for example, produces a premium-tasting ice cream with half the fat and one-third the calories, and it now outsells the company's regular fat line of products.
Challenges do remain, however, including standards of identity that limit the use of new technology or alternative ingredients. Food labeling laws can also be overly restrictive, she said, but manufacturers remain undeterred.
"The dairy industry is committed to meeting market needs, both in government feeding programs and at the retail level, by developing new, good-tasting, better-for-you products," Frye said. "Dairy products are recognized for their importance in providing essential nutrients, and we are working to make them even healthier and tasty."
The two-day conference included keynote speeches by Samuel Kass, the senior policy advisor for healthy food initiatives for the White House, and Elizabeth Hagen, under secretary for food safety, U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Kathleen Nelson Memorial Scholarship Draws Students to Conference
Approximately 40 college, graduate and law school students attended the Food Policy Conference courtesy of the Kathleen Nelson Memorial Scholarship Fund. Established four years ago by Art Jaeger of Watson/Mulhern LLC to increase the number of young attendees, the fund was named to honor Kathleen Nelson, a former IDFA employee and conference advisory committee member, who died of breast cancer in 2005. She was 34.
Nelson was the senior director of legislative affairs at IDFA for seven years. She was instrumental in influencing and improving dairy policy and regulations, and her leadership resulted in several key legislative changes, including the overturning of the Northeast Interstate Dairy Compact. The compact set farm milk prices for beverage milk above the minimum federal prices, essentially ensuring a higher cost for fluid milk products in New England and shutting out competitive milk from neighboring regions.
In addition to IDFA, the major contributors to the scholarship fund in 2010 were Watson/Mulhern LLC and the Dairy Institute of California.