While innovation in the dairy category has been impacted by the pandemic and inflation, processors have found successful innovation centers around plant-based alternatives, new formats, simple ingredient listings and formulations that meet specific dietary needs.

For St. Benoit Creamery, Sonoma. Calif., the most important consideration when developing products will always be sourcing quality milk from a single herd of pasture-raised Jersey cows in Sonoma County, according to Michelle Sheely, head of sales. The company’s newest product line is its organic pot de crème desserts that she says balances an indulgent treat with quality ingredients.

“Animal welfare, sustainability, and overall better-for-you dairy needs to lead the charge when considering any new products,” Sheely said.

Similarly, Laura Chenel’s brand manager Durae Hardy said the cheesemaker sources goat milk from a select group of family farms to ensure the quality and freshness of raw products, and the company then works to enhance the flavor of that goat milk. Its newest product is the line of Everything Bagel Fresh Goat Cheese Chabis, and Hardy said the company will continue to introduce flavors based on its tradition of French cheese making combined with California terroir.

The newest offering from Marin French Cheese Co., Petaluma, Calif., is Golden Gate washed rind cheese, a product that gets its color from being hand-washed with brine multiple times throughout a 14-day aging process. Kelley Levin, marketing communications manager, said consumers want to know what they are eating so providing transparency about what goes into each product and having a short and clear ingredient list is critical.

“We look at our current offerings, we look at the market and trends to get a pulse on what our consumers are buying or looking for, and then we do an internal poll – since our employees are cheese lovers themselves – and then we start the R&D process,” Levin said.

Levin said all its products are a mix of old-world traditions and recipes coupled with California terroir. For future innovation efforts, she said the company loves to make a twist on a classic – which might mean a new variety or a re-vamp of a traditional recipe.

In the last year Bellwether Farms, Petaluma, Calif., has introduced fresh sheep cheese in five varieties – original, strawberry preserves, orange marmalade, Moroccan Spice and Sonoma herbs. The company also reformulated its A2 Organic Whole Milk Yogurt for a product line made with milk from grass-fed Jersey cows containing the easy-to-digest A2 protein.

“We first consider if the proposed new products make sense for us to make, whether they are a good fit for our brand and if they are a logical extension for one of our product lines,” owner Liam Callahan said of Bellwether Farms’ approach to innovation. “We then look at what additional equipment would be required to produce it and consider if we feel the product has a long future or if it is a short-lived trend.”