Leftovers is our look at a few of the product ideas popping up everywhere — some are intriguing, some sound amazing and some are the kinds of ideas we would never dream of. We can't write about everything that we get pitched, so here are the leftovers pulled from our inboxes.
Orange you glad Cheetos is taking on popcorn?
It’s getting more easy to be cheesy.
Cheetos has exploded into another category: popcorn. The Frito-Lay brand launched two bagged varieties of ready-to-eat Cheetos Popcorn: Cheddar, covered in the snack’s iconic bright orange dust, and a fluorescent red Flamin' Hot variety.
With this launch, the brand has also officially named the flavor-filled dust that makes snackers’ fingertips orange or red. It's now called Cheetle, which Frito-Lay trademarked last month (but apparently previously trademarked back in 2009).
"We've seen the way Cheetos lovers don their red- and orange-dusted fingers like a badge of honor, and we're always looking for ways to help them step up their snacking game," Brandi Ray, senior director of marketing for Frito-Lay North America, said in the press release announcing the launch. "The only way to truly take popcorn to the next level is to add the iconic Cheetle, the cheesy dust that will entice Cheetos fans to snack on this popcorn all year long."
Cheetos have been a popular snack since they were first developed in 1948. In the more than 70 years since, the signature orange cheese dust (rather, Cheetle) has found its way onto snacks including traditional cheese curls, cheese balls called Asteroids Flavor Shots and paw shapes in honor of the brand’s mascot Chester Cheetah.
So why bring the flavor to popcorn? After all, cheddar cheese corn has been on the market for years. The answer could lie in the crunchy, popped snack itself, which is seen as more natural and healthier than extruded and fried salty munchies. According to Mintel research, U.S. retail popcorn sales grew 32% from 2012 to 2017, reaching a total of $2.5 billion in retail sales. Ready-to-eat popcorn grew 118% in that five-year period, with sales reaching $1.1 billion. And almost half of consumers said cheese was their favorite popcorn flavor.
Big Food is taking notice of popcorn’s popularity and snapping up successful brands. Conagra Brands, which owns legacy popcorn giant Orville Redenbacher, bought Angie’s Boomchickapop for $250 million in 2017. That same year, Hershey bought Amplify Brands, which owns SkinnyPop, for $1.6 billion. And last month, PepsiCo — which is also Frito-Lay's parent company — acquired popcorn chip PopCorners maker BFY Brands.
Judging from the lasting popularity of all snacks containing Cheetle, Cheetos Popcorn is likely to find its way into many popcorn-lovers’ shopping carts. And unlike most of its competitors, this snack is designed to physically leave its mark on those consumers.
— Megan Poinski
Trendy oat milk is making its way into the chocolate aisle.
Endangered Species Chocolate is replacing dairy milk with oat milk in its new chocolate bar product line. The 3-ounce oat milk chocolate bar will be sold exclusively at Whole Foods Market this month before launching at other retailers in April, according to a release sent to Food Dive.
The new plant-based bar line comes in three flavors: Oat Milk + Dark Chocolate; Oat Milk, Sea Salt & Almonds + Dark Chocolate; and Oat Milk, Rice Crisp + Dark Chocolate.
Whitney Bembenick, ESC’s director of innovation, said in the release the company explored other dairy-free options from almond to coconut milk, but “nothing compared” to the taste and health benefits of oat milk.
All three bars contain 55% cocoa, and each is vegan and gluten-free. Compared to dairy, oat milk is lower in cholesterol and provides heart health benefits, the company said.
“Our consumers really dictate where we take our new product lines,” Bembenick said in the release. “We saw the growing trend of milk alternative products available and we knew we needed to respond to market demand.”
Alternative milk products have become increasingly popular in recent years as consumers turn away from traditional dairy. U.S. sales of plant-based milk products grew by almost 6% between 2018 and 2019, according to investment firm UBS.
Oat milk has been especially trendy in the last year. Many big companies are introducing yogurts, drinks, coffee and ice cream featuring the oat beverage, including Nesquik, Chobani and Danone. But the chocolate space doesn’t have as many competitors when it comes to this category.
Although ESC does face competition on shelves from some other small oat milk chocolate bars, including Goodio and Raaka, there aren’t many big name brands in the space yet, so they could have an early mover advantage.
— Lillianna Byington
Dean Foods smooths out the lumps in cottage cheese
Beleaguered Dean Foods is no stranger to cottage cheese, which is one of many products in its sweeping portfolio.
But the Texas dairy giant is trying a new way for consumers to experience cottage cheese. The Smooth Cottage Cheese product, which mirrors yogurt in its consistency, is available in three flavors: Original, Raspberry and S’mores. The cottage cheese offering taps into a number of trends popular with today’s consumer, including a high protein content, real and non-GMO ingredients and a portable container ideal for people on the go.
Dean Foods found an opportunity to drive growth in the single-serve cottage cheese segment by changing the texture so it would be attractive to more people, SmartBrief said. While the dairy product has many attributes shoppers look for in a snack, the chunky texture and tangy flavor of traditional cottage cheese can be off-putting to some people, it reported.
“We ... saw the cottage cheese category in particular has suffered from a lack of innovation, something that younger generations are craving in their food decision making,” Sindhura Polasanapalli, senior director of marketing at Dean Foods, said last year to The Shelby Report. “It was the perfect ‘white space’ to take a classic snack, add a twist to make it fun, and create a product that is a first within the market that consumers could truly indulge in.”
Cottage cheese has long struggled to gain traction in a dairy space that has seen yogurt garner much of the attention during the last 20 years through innovations such as Greek styles, flip tops, nut butter mix-ins and trendy new flavors.
According to Statista, per capita consumption for cottage cheese has been gradually trending downward since the turn of the century. In 2018, the average U.S. consumer ate 2.1 pounds of cottage cheese annually, a decline of half a pound from 2000.
But food companies desperate for growth have started spending more money to innovate in a product known for its heyday generations ago as a diet food. Cottage cheese consumption peaked in the early 1970s, when the average person ate about 5 pounds of it per year, according to the NPR, citing data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Last year, cottage cheese brand Good Culture closed an $8 million funding round led by CAVU Venture Partners, with a significant investment from General Mills' 301 INC. And in 2017, Muuna started selling Israeli-style cottage cheese in U.S. stores.
It wasn’t all that long ago when yogurt received a jolt after Chobani came on the scene. Since then, the industry has seen more plant-based, low-sugar and new varieties like Icelandic enter the market. Maybe the new Dean Foods cottage cheese will spark a renewed level of interest and bring more people back to the once-loved category.
— Christopher Doering