Dairy Insight: The grass is (getting) greener

* 10 min read
Our supermarket shelves have changed hugely over the last few years - none more significantly than in the dairy sector. Which ironically, is now also home to non-dairy products. It’s a confusing space for consumers, with plant-based innovations grabbing the headlines and our attention in store. Indeed, one in three Britons now drink plant-based milk.

"Evidence of its firmly mainstream status and appeal far beyond the vegan or vegetarian populations."

Amy Price, Senior Food and Drink Analyst, Mintel

"So how are dairy brands fighting back? We’re fortunate to have worked in both the dairy sector, with Lactalis Nestle and in the plant-based sector, with our brand design for start-up, Mighty Pea (now simply 'Mighty'). This amazing little brand, which has grown from three Pea-based products, now packs a powerful plant-based punch with an innovative range of over 15 products across different categories."

Clare Leeland, Client Partner

mmImage Source: Mighty Drinks

Our experience across both sectors is invaluable. It helps us recognise the new initiatives that will create opportunities for the dairy sector; ultimately winning back those consumers lost to the seemingly greener plant side. It’s time for a change. With the rise in environmental and ethical concerns, Dairy is an industry that has a powerful point to prove.

While boomers, mums and kids have traditionally been well served by dairy brands, we’re seeing innovations in format and flavour aimed at flavour-fluent Gen Z, as well as appealing to fun-seeking teens and tweens. Product innovation such as milk chews from US brand Numa, seem to be a healthier take on the much-loved Barratt Milk-bottle gums that I couldn’t get enough of as a child, promising milk “as you’ve never seen it before”.


Image Source: Numa Foods 

Other brands are experimenting with crazy flavour mash-ups such as US brand RifRaf. Although some of these are questionable - a sun-dried tomato Ricotta cup doesn’t sound particularly appealing, but the punchy graphics and bright flavour-full packaging promises something new and exciting which is exactly what tween-appeal is all about.

RifRafImage Source: RifRaf 

There seems to be a universal language emerging for next-gen dairy brands, based around clear product messaging, where the communication of benefit takes centre stage on pack and across all digital platforms. These new brands are adopting a clever play on words, re-inventing the traditional perceptions associated with dairy, to appeal to a younger audience that is well-versed in soundbites and punchy, fast-access graphics. Pack design is more akin to poster design, with its attention-grabbing ‘Cow know-how’ headlines, playing vegan/dairy free at its own claim game.

This graphic approach lends itself particularly well to brands focused on healthy convenience. And it’s not just about taking on the plant-based dairy sector. Brands such as Siips and Arctic Coffee are focusing on the performance-enhancing qualities of dairy to provide a healthier alternative to energy drinks. Siips, created by Dairy Farms America, is even packed in small cans, not what you’d expect from a product that’s made with 100% milk. It’s a shame that Arctic Coffee haven’t invested in a similar step-change format. In fact, looking beyond the tetra pack will really help dairy brands to differentiate themselves from most Plant-based drinks.

122372 Arctic Coffee Crediton web

Image source: The Grocer

siips PackagingRenders heroImage Source: Siips Milk

Not all dairy brands are taking this new sound-bite approach. Many are focused on real grass root benefits, re-inventing tradition, with an emphasis on authenticity, heritage and clean ingredients. The twist is the way they are talking about their values, as New Zealand’s dairy collective Synlait states, “doing milk differently for a healthier world”. Brands such as the UK’s Epicurean Dairy Co Collective and US dairy brand Tillamook, use a graphic language that goes beyond innovative soundbites, disrupting traditional dairy cues with a philosophy and purpose that reflect positive change and environmental responsibility. Both brands have achieved B-Corp status.

The Goods Icons Yoghurt3

Image Source: The Collective Dairy

US brand Minerva Dairy is another good example of next-gen dairy. The brand claims to be the US’s oldest family-owned Creamery, but its packaging design and product innovation are fresh and forward thinking. The brand is hoping to cash in on the butter boom with its new smaller version of its popular 2lb hand-rolled butter block which easily slots into a fridge door, making it convenient to store.


Image Source: Daily Reporter

Another brand focusing on the clean label formulae is Californian dairy brand St. Benoit which was recently awarded ‘Yoghurt Product of the Year’ from Mindful Awards, an independent recognition platform highlighting conscious companies and products. The “creamery’s” offerings are made from full-fat, pasture-raised Jersey cow’s milk and gut-friendly live active cultures, with no artificial stabilisers, fillers or sweeteners. The brand promise of “Real food, Real Good” is enticing, but the communication feels confused and lacks the single-minded approach of Tillamook and the Dairy Collective.

BImage Source: St. Benoit Creamery

Immunity is another area that is ripe for exploration. The pandemic has driven a re-focus on the benefits of immunity boosting formulations. And it seems that Dairy brands are perfectly placed to create a new dialogue with consumers around gut supportive probiotics and other wellness-enhancing ingredients.

Investing in this area, US-based Greek yoghurt brand Chobani has debuted a portfolio of probiotic yoghurts and drinks, kids pouches and shakes, as well as non-dairy functional beverages with immunity-supporting probiotics. The Chobani Probiotic yoghurts and drinks contain scientifically confirmed probiotic strains with multiple benefits for immune, digestive and gut health. The brand design is simple and concise with thoughtful messaging and clear explanation of the individual product benefits and packed with flavour-full imagery. It’s a contemporary visual expression of traditional dairy, with packaging that feels as clean as the new ingredients.

ChoImage Source: Chobani Probiotic

However, not all innovation works. Unilever’s launch of its first probiotic ice-cream in 2018 was short-lived. Culture Republick promised better digestive health with three billion live active cultures in each tub, along with innovative flavour combinations. The brand, with its Pac-man-like logo promised to disrupt a sector ripe for healthier innovation. It’s hard to understand why a brand, that seemed to tick so many of the innovation ‘must-haves’ failed. Maybe it was bad timing. A launch during the pandemic may have been more effective, with a renewed focus on the importance of immunity.

cu2Image Source: Cision PR Newswire

Looking ahead, despite all the advances the dairy sector is making, there is always a counter opinion, and not all food industry professionals are as enthusiastic about dairy’s future. Elizabeth Jacobs, professor of epidemiology, biostatistics and nutritional sciences at the University of Arizona, recently reviewed the science behind daily dairy recommendations in the US. She recommended that the country should follow Canada’s lead, and no longer categorise dairy as a separate food group. Instead, her team suggests placing dairy foods in the protein category, making them one option among a wider range that would help individuals meet their protein requirements. “We’re not saying milk is dangerous or harmful,” Jacobs told medical news site WebMD:

"No matter how you slice it, Americans are moving away from milk. So, let’s adapt to this change and give people more opportunity to meet their nutritional needs."


I wonder how this will affect the multitude of dairy brands doing such good work to improve their products both from a health and healthier planet perspective.

Consumer First

Dairy brands leading the way are those that have moved on from traditional dairy cues and are creating a new sector narrative around innovative flavour mashups, convenience-driven formats, health-boosting formulations and ethical production standards. Ultimately the winners will need to widen the sector’s appeal to fun-seeking tweens and teens and to the more flavour-fluent Gen Z; re-inventing tradition, with an emphasis on authenticity, purpose and clean ingredients.

Now is the time for dairy brands to gain some herd immunity of their own; to innovate and thrive in an increasingly green space.

About the author

imageedit 1 6168940299Clare Leeland - Brand Strategy & Consumer Insight

Clare is a Client Partner and Project Manager. She specialises in brand strategy, consumer insight and packaging design. Clare has worked in packaging design across automotive manufacturing and FMCG brands, combining pragmatism with creativity, She's passionate about delivering effective design by getting the most out of client briefs and working closely with designers and insight agencies.

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