Frank Lopez – STAFF WRITER
Today’s consumer is much more on-the-go and health-savvy than past generations, keeping businesses busy following trends and developing products.
Dating back to the Great Depression and through the popular “Got Milk” television ads of the ‘90s, California’s dairy producers have always found unique ways to reach consumers.
This year, California Dairies, Inc., a farmer-owned dairy processing cooperative based in Visalia, launched a new direct-to-consumer product and brand to meet consumer demands for protein from an underutilized source — milk.
Launched in January at the Fancy Food Show in Las Vegas, In Good Hands is a line of high-protein snacks derived from milk protein to create the cooperative’s first consumer-facing product — cheese puffs.
The cheese puffs have 12 grams of milk protein per serving and come in two flavors: nacho cheese and white cheddar.
Hannah Robbins, head of branding for In Good Hands, said even though the business is under California Dairies, Inc. (CDI), it is its own incubator division.
Robbins said that in 2019, the CDI’s research and development team were looking at consumer trends to find a way to innovate and break through with their current product offerings, with a focus on using milk protein isolate (MPI) in snacks.
“Unfortunately, there has not been a ton of innovation in the dairy category,” Robbins said, “especially in milk and things of that nature. We were looking for other ways to use this MPI in high-protein form to deliver what consumers are looking for, like health and wellness solutions and nutritious snacking to fuel their on-the-go lifestyles.”
Robbins said the inspiration for formulating their snack as a crispy puff came from the nutritional bars segment, which is continuing to grow.
She said the snack market is expected to reach $93 billion by 2026, 13% above 2022.
Along with the health and wellness, consumers are also looking for products that are locally sourced and authentic. They want to know where their products are coming from, Robbins said.
Another appeal of the puff form was the crunch factor, something that is not as common in the protein snack aisle, Robbins said.
CDI is comprised of more than 300 dairy producers in the Golden State, many of which are generational farming families. It has several processing facilities in the Central Valley, including in Fresno, Tipton and Visalia, where its corporate headquarters are located.
Robbins said In Good Hands has been showcased to both consumers and retail buyers, and people are surprised and impressed by it.
“The two pillars they react to are that it has 12 grams of protein, one gram of sugar, its gluten free and its locally sourced from California farms,” Robbins said.
Currently, In Good Hands’ cheese puffs can only be found online, but the conversations to get the product into brick-and-mortar stores are taking place.
The product can be purchased at ingoodhandsfoods.com.
CDI’s timing in releasing the cheese puff product was strategic to impact the protein snack market.
Peter Ernster, general manager and vice president of ingredients at CDI, said that getting into the nutritional snack bar industry is no easy feat. This venture was undertaken to create more outlets for its farmers.
“How do we take nature’s perfect food and get it into more people’s hands? By providing healthier options,” Ernster said.
Though consumers still use dairy products such as cheese, yogurt, and whey protein shakes, Americans have been drinking less milk than previous generations.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture, fluid milk consumption has decreased over each of the past seven decades. In 2010, Americans drank 0.96 cups of milk per day, with the figure dropping to 0.49 cups of milk per day in 2019.
There has also been a rise in alternative products, including almond milk and oat milk. Ernster said as a cooperative, they have to be aware of all the competitors in the beverage industry, not just alternative milks.
Ernster said CDI’s producers are excited to be a part of In Good Hands products.