Jan. 12 2021 09:00 AM

Developing dairy products is a long-term process.

For most people, January is considered a fresh start. Belongings are often organized and purged to make room for the new, nutrition is top of mind after indulging in holiday treats, and many consider improving their habits and planning for the year ahead. It feels like a clean slate.

Both personally and professionally, I am very much a planner. I heavily rely on my calendars and am committed to arranging my responsibilities, tasks, and meetings in an efficient, practical manner. This past year, many of those plans either went up in smoke or were significantly delayed or altered. And, unfortunately, 2021 still holds many uncertainties due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

I recently heard the phrase "shortening your gaze" as an approach many planners used when faced with last year’s unexpected pandemic. In other words, rather than looking at the weeks or months ahead, they instead looked at what can be planned for today and tomorrow.

However, this is not something we can do in product development. Just adding new flavors takes months of work. The flavor profiles must be decided, tested, and tweaked; artwork needs to be designed; packaging must be manufactured; ingredients must be ordered; and only then can production and distribution of the final product take place. During this time, meetings must be had with retailers to request that they sell the product, and quality trials must be done to ensure the product’s integrity throughout shelf life. If the products require new equipment, that adds months, if not a year, to the timeline. Product development, unfortunately, is not very likely to turn on a dime.

Thus, January is spent planning for the upcoming year, including the next holiday season. Before the pandemic, we usually had a pretty good feel of how products and flavors were trending. This allowed us to create a framework of new items we planned to introduce in the near future and also mark potential products for retirement.

After an unprecedented year, predictions are more difficult to make. However, we are still looking and planning ahead. Some of the trends that had momentum before the pandemic may pick up steam again, and some of the old favorites that made a comeback amidst the pandemic we hope may be here to stay.

So, as I keep the holiday cards lining my desk a little longer while I plan the flavors for next Christmas, this year I am doing it in pencil with an eraser always within reach. I still have the hope and promise of a new year motivating me, even with the hindsight that is now 2020. I do not know what this year may bring, but I do know that our new dairy products will be here for it.

Erin Massey

Erin Massey is the product development manager at Prairie Farms, a farmer-owned cooperative based in Edwardsville, Illinois. She is responsible for overseeing all aspects of the development process, from concept to commercialization. Erin grew up on a Florida dairy farm and has a deep-rooted passion to invigorate the dairy industry. Erin earned a bachelor's degree in chemical engineering from the University of South Florida. Her personal mantra is "Be Bold."