Because the world we live in is ever-changing, research continues to be top of mind for Midwest Dairy. Research helps us identify the greatest areas for category growth by narrowing in on what consumers want and need from dairy as well as how partners can use this information and dairy product research to truly make every drop count when it comes to dairy sales and innovation.
    Bringing together dairy researchers and industry partners, the Midwest Dairy Foods Research Center identifies and funds research that helps solve current challenges in dairy food processing. This is a collaborative effort between dairy farmers and land grant universities focusing on dairy product research and innovation. MDFRC makes a difference by focusing on pre-competitive research, educating the next generation of dairy leaders, and improving research priorities and return on investment by creating feedback loops among stakeholders. The MDFRC delivers research and education that benefit consumers and fuels a strong market for dairy products.
    MDFRC has recently made headlines as these dairy checkoff scientists have created a new creamer that is being used in Taco Bell beverages. This shelf-stable vanilla creamer is permanently replacing a non-dairy product in more than 7,500 Taco Bell locations across the United States. The MDFRC application scientist, Sonia Patel, had a helping hand in creating the shelf-stable creamers right here in the Midwest at the University of Minnesota. Prior to this creamer innovation, Taco Bell was using a non-dairy creamer product but had shown interest in manufacturing their own creamer that would use dairy ingredients. Interest in a new creamer was due largely to the fact that the non-dairy creamer they were using did not conform to Taco Bell’s clean label statements, plus it was inferior in taste when compared to a dairy creamer. In creating their own product, Taco Bell was looking for something that had many different attributes, including a multi-use product that could be included in a large number of different beverage formats, exhibited a long shelf life and had a nutrition target that was less than 100 calories per ounce, so they turned to the scientist at MDFRC for help.
    The MDFRC application lab developed three formulas of dairy-based creamers that were then scaled up further in the pilot plants. When tested, the new creamer formula not only tasted better than the original non-dairy creamer, but it also met all of the attributes that Taco Bell wanted as mentioned above. This project has been a labor of love and actually started back in 2016 when the initial concept development surfaced and then took 3-5 months of development which included lab-scale formula development, screening ingredients and testing. The commercial promotion of this product was then done by DMI and the team at Taco Bell.
    The creamer has officially taken its place on Taco Bell’s menu and can be found in the Island Berry Freeze, Pineapple Whip Freeze and Mountain Dew Baja Blast Colada. Besides these three beverages, the creamer is automatically added to customers who order a 12-ounce hot coffee or 20-ounce iced coffee. But it does not stop there; the creamer product is also being featured in the Cinnabon Delights Coffee at participating U.S. locations for a limited time. All these new avenues for this one creamer are positive for dairy sales and showcase the importance of partnering with those who have a willingness to innovate their menu to feature dairy products.
    Expanding beverage offerings like this one to include dairy not only delights customers with a better-tasting dairy-based product but also drives additional dairy sales and, I believe, adds value to your checkoff investment.