ESL products – better than ever

Turner, Jeanne

Adventuresome people settled America, and it seems even today we just can’t sit still. On the go, in the car, convenience foods and beverages feature more prominently in our diet every year. What settler wouldn’t have appreciated milk that remained fresh for six months without refrigeration? It would have been better than dragging a cow behind a wagon from Chicago to Oregon.

Today’s travelers have it much easier. Going to a tailgate party? No problem! Toss a four-pack of creamy latte into the back of the car with some cheese dip and chips and party hearty after the game without a worry. Sending the little ones on a field trip? Pack a nutritious lunch for that meal away from home. Portable snack packs of pudding and organic milk can make any bag lunch chock-full of the calcium and vitamins that Junior needs to grow up right.

It seems every week brings news of another dairy-based product being introduced, and the key words to describe this explosion of creativity are fun, flavor and, equally important, long-lasting. Various technologies and processing practices enable dairy companies and, ever increasingly, their staunch competitors to introduce dairy-based products that sometimes can be shipped and stored at ambient temperatures and achieve a shelf life to rival many other grocery store items. While impossible to list them all, here is a sampling off the grocery and convenience-store shelves.

Some Like it Hot, Some Like it Cold…

. . . and some like it caffeinated. Like it or not, coffee companies have played a major role as milk marketers over the past few years. Starbucks Coffee Co., Seattle, started it all when it introduced Starbucks(R) Frappuccino in 1995, growing it to a $400 million business. One 9.5-ounce bottle supplies up to 22 percent of the recommended daily allowance (RDA) for calcium with 6 grams of protein and 3.5 grams of fat. Filled by a Dairy Farmers of America (DFA) facility, bottled Frappuccino contains 44.5 percent milk. Mocha is currently the most popular flavor.

New competition just entered the market in the form of Folgers(R) Jakada(TM), a 10.5-ounce chilled coffee beverage also sold in single-serve containers in the refrigerated case. Morningstar Foods Inc., a subsidiary of Dallas-based Dean Foods Co., processes Jakada products on a recently installed aseptic line to provide the new Jakada four-pack with an. approximately 150-day shelf life.

According to Bill Graffunder, president and chief operating officer of Morningstar Foods, the company made the decision to offer Folgers Jakada in plastic because of the convenience it offers its customers. “It isn’t heavy, it won’t break and is easier to handle,” he says. Morningstar’s initial product introduction had a shorter shelf life because it was packed on an extended shelf-life (ESL), not aseptic, filling line. Aseptic filling allows the four-pack to be shipped and stored at ambient temperaMi tures, then displayed in the beverage aisle.

Like a little cream with that coffee? Morningstar also produces International Delight(R) creamers. In March, the company announced the change to a new, sleek, ergonomically shaped plastic bottle featuring a one-handed open-and-pour design. Available in 11 flavors, and both regular and fat-free versions, the product has shelf life of 120 days.

While coffee giants battle nationally, Phoenix-based Shamrock Farms introduced its locally marketed Cafe Mocha product in June 2002, before Jakada hit the shelves. Cafe Mocha is a single-serve “coffee beverage with training wheels,” says Wendy Offenberger, director of research and development. “Our target is teens and “tweens.” People are born liking sweet tastes and have to acquire a taste for bitter. Our coffee beverage is light on coffee flavor, but heavy into mocha.”

One of the benefits of UHT processing, says Offenberger, is it helps eradicate bacteria that might lurk inside cocoa particles. “UHT provides the heat penetration it needs to kill off the bacteria that might not otherwise penetrate cocoa particles,” she says.

One bottle of Cafe Mocha contains 12 ounces of low-fat milk, coffee and chocolate for 220 calories, 3 grams of fat and supplies 35 percent of the RDA for calcium with extra B vitamins, thiamine, niacin and phosphorus tossed in for good measure.

Offenberger credits the improved taste of the company’s extended shelflife products to new rapid heating methods that bring milk temperatures up to 290 degrees for four seconds and then rapidly down again, rather than heating first at 161 degrees for 15 seconds. And, as they continue testing their product’s shelf life, it continues to improve, from 45 days up to 75 and, now, 82.

This shelf life helps dairies move into areas they weren’t before, “like the ballpark,” says Offenberger, referencing Shamrock Farms cooperative marketing program with the Arizona Diamondbacks. “People are seeing milk as a category, not a commodity. We’re bringing it where it needs to be.”

Mooving it up the Scale

However, as shelf life continues to move further out, Offenberger says it is important for processors and other dairy-product marketers to educate consumers about ESL processing so they understand the new, extended expiration dates. “Our customers need to know that dairy is the most regulated food in our diet and that they’re getting the same farm-fresh Shamrock Farms mmmmilk(TM) they’ve always loved.”

Stanley Kostman, president of Beverage Marketing Corp., couldn’t agree more. “I think the dairy industry is well prepared for a 90-day shelf life, but they rarely code them for that long. Consumers have to get used to that idea,” he says. “Milk by definition is fresh. Stored on the dry grocery shelf, it’s a bit off-putting. The proof is the boxes of milk that Parmalat introduced in America 10 years ago. It wasn’t until recently those started to become a decent-sized grocery item.”

Queso es Bueno

Americans’ love affair with cheese continues. And what could be better than cheese that either lasts longer or is portable? Frito-Lay Inc., Plano, Texas, kicked off a new product in January as the Fiesta Bowl kicked off in Sun-Devil Stadium in Tempe, Ariz. The company chose this venue to introduce its new Tostitos(R) Party Bowl(TM), a 13-ounce shelf-stable dip in a wide-mouth, microwavable plastic bowl, a new packaging concept for this product category.

The new Frito-Lay product uses Monterey jack cheese, non-fat dry milk and other cheese ingredients. The wide mouth of the packaging allows consumers to easily dip down to the bottom of the container. Retort processing gives this shelf-stable product a shelf life of up to nine months, although the product should be refrigerated after opening. The product is packaged by DFA, currently in its 14th year of a successful business relationship with Frito-Lay.

Another segment that perfectly demonstrates the here-and-now aspects of extended shelf life is cottage cheese. A few years ago, this product niche saw its shelf life jump dramatically thanks to research successfully conducted and implemented by Cornell University food scientists, headed up by Joe Hotchkiss, Ph.D. He and his colleagues demonstrated that dissolved carbon dioxide (CO2) could extend the shelf life of cottage cheese by about 200 percent. This is one technological advance that required minimal changes in product processing, as the equipment necessary to utilize CO2 is not very large and the CO2 is easy to store. The most expensive part of the process is the high-barrier packaging materials. The CO2 helps inhibit microbial growth, reduces physical separation and may inhibit oxidative rancidity.

Although many other types of dairy foods might benefit from technologies such as CO2 injection, currently, USDA does not allow other dairy products to utilize CO2 or other technologies to extend shelf life and still maintain a dairy identity.

According to Cary Frye, vice president of regulatory affairs for the International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA), many more dairy products could benefit from a change in these regulations. But any change takes “a very long time, perhaps five years or more,” she says. “The technology is moving a lot faster than the regulations allow us to use them. This poses a challenge to the dairy industry when we see for example, ultraviolet light treatment or new types of filtration that we cannot use.”

Frye does hold out hope for the future. “I think that technologies to extend shelf life or make food safe are very exciting,” she says. “We need to continue to work within the regulations, but also work to change them, in order to have a level playing field, especially with other beverages.”

Fizzing Along

One company utilizing ESL technology while maintaining a legal description of a milk-based beverage is Burlington, Mass.-based Mac Farms Inc. The company utilized Hotchkiss’ expertise to help introduce a carbonated milk-based beverage called e-Moo(R), a 110-calorie, 8-ounce drink with a shelf life of 65 days. Five fun flavors are designed to appeal to kids: Orange Sparkle, MooBerry, Chocolate Zing, Kook Kookie and Bubbleblast, a flavor which George Clark, company founder and vice president of operations, says “makes a great milkshake.”

While the USDA might not allow Mac Farms to call its product milk, it “begins and ends with milk,” says Mary Ann Clark, company co-founder, and is intended to serve an audience of children that generally prefers soda beverages. Once the company demonstrated to the USDA that e-Moo contains all of the nutrition of grade A skim milk, Mac Farms received a special exemption to serve it at school cafeterias in vending machines and on the a-la-carte table. It’s expected to appear soon in southern California, Virginia, New York and Ohio.

Mac Farms is opening its own production facility on May 1 near Cooperstown, N.Y., equipped with HTST lines to manufacture e-Moo and RPM, the company’s newest product introduction. RPM is a sports beverage in the Gatorade category, with all the nutrition of grade A skim milk, targeting teens and young adults.

Clark says CO2 technology, developed through funding provided by Dairy Management Inc. (DMI), provided his company’s products with more than just extended shelf life. “We were able to develop a product with lower calories, because of the enhancement of sweetness due to the carbon dioxide and our use of crystalline fructose,” she says.

Although the company’s product is shipped and stored under refrigerated conditions, Mac Farms could have packaged it in a shelf-stable form, but opted not to do so, says Clark. “We want to take the customer who doesn’t normally go to the dairy case and direct them there.”

Soda Giants Lock Horns

Since e-Moo’s test market in 2001, two soda giants have also directed themselves to the dairy case, each entering the competitive, alternative-beverage market with new, dairy-inspired products.

Dr. Pepper/7Up Inc., Plano, Texas, introduced Raging Cow(TM) in January, charging into the single-serve, flavored-milk market, with five flavors packaged in 14-ounce plastic bottles – Pina Colada Chaos, Jamocha Frenzy, Chocolate Insanity, Chocolate Caramel Craze and Berry Mixed Up. The product is packaged on a TetraPlast T LFA-20 at Jasper Products in Joplin, Mo. The LFA-20 is the first PDA-accepted linear aseptic filler for HDPE bottles in commercial use for low-acid food and beverages. This gives the product an ambient shelf-storage life of 180 days, for easier shipping and storage options. Raging Cow is the first beverage delivered with this Tetra Pak technology in the United States.

“The extended shelf life is actually a secondary benefit for us with this product, because our primary concerns were flavor, texture, positioning and image,” says Michael Martin, director of corporate communications for Dr. Pepper/7Up. “We wanted to produce a high-quality dairy drink and we think we’ve succeeded. The proprietary process we’re using to package Raging Cow is similar to a technology used in Australia to produce a drink called Wave. In Australia, processors must transport products over large areas of the country. The process we’re using benefits our distribution network because we can ship and store at ambient temperatures.”

Dr. Pepper/7Up’s target market is teens and young adults, with fast-lane merchandise, coolers by the checkout line, convenience stores and vending machines. “Our target demographics indicate that 18- to 24-year-olds are not drinking white milk, but they will drink more milk if it tastes good.” The Coca Cola Co. is targeting the younger population as well with the introduction of Choglit(TM) last August for school vending channels. According to spokesman Raminder Bindra, manager of new product introductions at the Coca-Cola North American facility in Atlanta, the company’s intent is to offer school populations a broader array of choices in their beverage selection. Choglit(TM), a chocolate-flavored dairy drink made with 16 percent skim milk, is available in a can with a pop-top lid or a 15-ounce bottle. The beverage offers 10 percent of the RDA for calcium per 8-ounce serving and contains 150 calories and 1 gram of fat. Retort enables the company to make the product available in a can. “This process enables us to use current distribution channels. Shelf stability is critical to allow us normal handling of the product without refrigerated trucks,” says Bindra.

New Retail Channels

WestFarm Foods, Seattle, one of Washington’s largest privately held companies, was one of three dairies chosen to produce Nesquik(R) ready-to-drink single-serve beverages and Coffee-mate(TM), using a Serac filler for these products and Darigold brand single-serve milks, achieving a product shelf life of 90 to 120 days. The 16- and 32-ounce containers, believe it or not, are still considered single-serve in the convenience market retail channel.

According to Randy Eronimous, director of marketing, from Westfarm Foods’ standpoint, ESL technology allows the company to increase the length of its runs. “That way, we run more efficiently and less often because we don’t cycle our products as often as we used to, and we can build some inventory that previously would have run into code problems,” he says. “For our retail stores, convenience stores and distributors, ESL products offer the ability to serve distribution channels not as efficient at moving product and in a more efficient manner. They can drop more product each time they deliver and avoid out-of-stock issues because instead of a 16- to 18-day shelf life, they have product with a minimum guarantee of 30 days.”

Other new distribution channels opening up include ports overseas. Due to their west coast location, combined with ESL capabilities, WestFarm Foods ships both ESL plastic and gabletop containers to Alaska, Hawaii and Pacific Rim countries. ESL technology allows the company to ship ultra-pasteurized milk in gallons and quarts via refrigerated cargo containers to the Philippines, for example, to provide fresh product in a country where that is a rare commodity.

Make Mine Organic

The organic market entered the single-serve competition with Horizon Organic(TM) Milk-on-the-Moo-ve , a single-serve, 8-ounce, reduced-fat milk line in white, chocolate, strawberry and vanilla. Billed as the only single-serve organic milk on the market, they are ultra-pasteurized and filled in Tetra Prisma Aseptic metallic, somewhat octagonally shaped, packaging. This allows an ambient storage time of up to seven months.

According to Kasi Reddy, vice president of research and development and quality assurance, Stonyfield Farm, Londonderry, N.H., the company does not use any particular technology to achieve the impressive shelf life of its products, but concentrates on rigid quality controls and careful formulations. “We evaluate product, process and environmental quality and take great pride in producing an organic yogurt with no preservatives or special processes, yet still retains an impressive shelf life,” he says. “We achieve at least a 10- to 15-day longer shelf life than our competition – compared to any other single-serve yogurt container, refrigerated yogurt or yogurt drink.”

Without using preservatives, starches, fillers or gelatins, the company achieves 50 to 60 days of shelf life for their refrigerated yogurt. According to Reddy, part of Stonyfield Farm’s secret relies on its formulation and ingredient selection. “We select the mildest and best flavor-producing cultures and ensure that our products do not contain any of the acidity or bitterness that turns off the customer,” he says.

Reddy says formulators must consider flavor reaction over time and how this relates to shelf life. “For vanilla, we need to formulate it so that it develops a rounded flavor profile by the time it reaches the consumer, the same with citrus or any other flavor that has a tendency to develop strength over shelf life,” he says.

Careful, innovative formulating techniques could be credited with the creation of Stonyfield Farm chocolate yogurts, which Reddy says are unique in the marketplace. Flavors such as Chocolate Underground and Vanilla Truffle feature whole milk yogurt on the top and chocolate sauce on the bottom.

In the Deep Freeze

Molecules don’t do very much when they’re cold. One company, Dippin’ Dots Inc., Paducah, Ky, takes cold to the extreme, the only ice cream manufacturer in the country to use cryogenic freezing technology to manufacture its product. While the listed shelf life is one year, communications director Terry Reeves indicates the company’s product has tested internally for a two-year shelf life.

Dippin’ Dots were introduced in March 1988, with approximately 2,000 dots in a 5-ounce serving, made with a 10 percent butterfat mix, available in a wide variety of flavors. The dots supply the customer with a “tingly” feeling first impression and as they melt, they release mouthfeel and flavor characteristics. The product is produced at temperature extremes exceeding 300 degrees below zero. The ice cream is stored at 40 degrees and served at -20. This deep-freezing technique, says Reeves, allows them more intense flavors, while the product shape ensures an even quality of taste throughout the bead.

Part of the product’s longevity is due to the fact that the quick, deep-freezing preparation allows only miniscule amounts of air or moisture to be trapped in the ice cream beads. While deep-freeze technology offers a long shelf life, the product is sold only through specially equipped kiosks at malls, amusement parks and movie theaters. “It loses the effect if you would try to take the product home,” says Reeves.

Over There

While we might take for granted the numerous product selections offered on the shelves of our local grocery store, regardless of how they are processed or packaged, for other American citizens, they can mean a whole lot more.

Shelf-stable technology and innovations in aseptic packaging enable our American military troops serving in any part of the world, from those afloat to our ground forces, to enjoy fresh milk produced in the United States. Gossner Foods Inc., Logan, Utah, supplies single-serve flavored cartons for military use and has been selling to the military for 19 years. The company aseptically packages 8-ounce and 32-ounce Tetra bricks. General manager of milk operations Kelly Luthi says the military installations generally take half their shipments in 2% white milk, with a 30/20 split between chocolate and strawberry for the remaining half of their supply.

Another such processor is USA Fresh, a division of Alder Foods, which has a 40year tradition of serving the military market worldwide. The USA Fresh label was created in 1997 and supplies an entire line of ESL products to the military.

Created using ultra-pasteurization, their extended shelf-life milk shipped to the military can tolerate temperature extremes of temperatures higher than 100 degrees and on the low end, temperatures to 32 degrees. Aseptic packaging protects the milk from outside influences like air, heat and light to prevent bacterial growth.

Kevin Snyder, vice president of marketing and sales, says product safety with the military is a greater concern after September 11. “Worldwide, our troops find their milk supply from various global processors in Europe, New Zealand and Australia. Our goal is to provide the safest, highest quality U.S.-produced dairy products to our troops anywhere, ground troops or ships at sea,” he says.

USA Fresh supplies half-gallon paper-board in whole, 2% and nonfat to service commissaries in Puerto Rico, Cuba and the Azores, shipped from the mainland, currently processed at Morningstar facilities in Mt. Crawford, Va. They also supply USA Fresh in a five-gallon bag-in-box in 2% white and 1% chocolate, processed by Parmalat facilities in Grand Rapids, Mich. with a 180-day shelf life.

Snyder says the military, especially on board ship, does have the facilities to make the milk cold before the troops drink it. “It is critical on a ship to have ambient temperatures. Its amazing when we introduce it to a ship and can show them you can stuff these boxes anywhere you can find a space, until you’re ready to use it,” he says. “Up on the flight deck, or wherever they are, this gives them the chance to have fresh milk from home.”

No matter how modern the technology or to what lengths it takes us, that might be its ultimate purpose – to bring someone a little touch of home.

Copyright Stagnito Publishing May 2003

Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning Company. All rights Reserved.

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