Faced with a rapidly evolving market driven by changing consumer lifestyles and demographics, key dairy industry leaders convened recently in Rosemont, Ill., to make recommendations about the type of product research required to ensure milk maintains its presence on American dining tables.

Fluid milk processors, dairy researchers and others participated in a two-day Fluid Milk Forum in Rosemont, Ill., presented by Dairy Management Inc. (DMI) and funded by America's dairy farmers. Top research priorities identified by the group included fur-ther investigation into the nutraceutical and probiotic benefits of milk products; packaging applications and technologies; and extended shelf life.

Speakers at the forum agreed that evolving lifestyles profoundly affect beverage choices and even distribution channels. For instance, meals eaten on the road -- sometimes literally in the car -- demand a portable beverage choice.

Several speakers, including Greg Soehnlen, vice president of operations, Creative Edge Design Group Ltd., Canton, Ohio, challenged processors to continue to "think out of the bottle," regarding new products and packaging concepts. Some examples of fluid dairy products that have met consumer needs include new ergonomically friendly, easy-pour family-style containers, portable single-serve containers for consumers on the go, and nutritionally fortified fluid milk for the health-conscious segment.

Jim Tillotson, formerly with Ocean Spray Cranberries, Inc., urged dairy processors to grab the initiative and create new dairy-based beverages before soft drink companies do so. "You have a great delivery network going. Leverage your distribution system and get their first," he warned.

In addition to probiotics and packaging, dairy processors identified other research priorities such as processing technologies for developing new dairy-based beverages. As a next step, DMI staff will consider research proposals submitted to its Extraordinary Dairy product research program and determine which research areas to pursue.

For questions regarding the fluid milk forum, contact DMI's toll-free technical assistance hotline at 1-800-258-8829.