Plant-Based, Savory Options Next Big Yogurt Trend?

Lynn Petrak
Senior Editor
a woman smiling for the camera

The term “live and active” may just as easily apply to innovation in the yogurt category as it does to living organisms used in the product’s fermentation process.

On the heels of continual expansion and innovation — which started several years ago with kid-centric yogurts and has continued over the past few years with Greek yogurts — the marketplace remains intriguing both for those on the R&D side and those who consume yogurt.

That innovation, according to some experts, arises from the proverbial necessity of invention.

“Yogurt is an interesting segment right now, because after two decades of growth in consumption, there is some plateauing,” observes Darren Seifer, food and beverage industry analyst for The NPD Group, based in Port Washington, N.Y. “Yogurt is looking for a pocket of growth that they can latch onto, and that leads to a question in Greek and traditional yogurts: ‘What do we do next?’”

Industry research bears out a certain leveling off within the category. According to data from Chicago-based market research firm IRI, total sales of yogurt reached just over $7.4 billion for the last 52 weeks ending Sept. 10, a 2.12 percent decline from the previous year. Within the category, Greek yogurt remains strong: Greek-style yogurt sales are projected to grow 9 percent globally, with moderate growth in the U.S. market, according to a recently released report on yogurt from London-based Technavio.


Beyond Sweet

One pocket of potential growth may be in yogurts that aren’t flavored with traditional sweet ingredients like fruits. “Some manufacturers are trying to get into savory, and there are good reasons for that, because Americans are concerned about their sugar intake,” notes Seifer. “Seventy percent of adults say they want to cut back on sugar consumption.” He cautions that a gradual introduction may be needed for real growth to take off, given the fact that savory yogurts are so different in taste from sweet varieties.

Niche brands have already introduced savory items to the market. Blue Hill Yogurt, a brand that sprang out of the Blue Hill Restaurant in New York City, offers vegetable-based yogurts in carrot, sweet potato, beet, butternut squash, tomato and parsnip varieties, made with milk from 100 percent grass-fed cows. Meanwhile, Sohha Savory Yogurt, also of New York, which temporarily halted production last summer, is planning to get “back up and running in 2018” with a product line including such flavors as tangy sea salt, according to co-founders Angela and John Fout.


Global Inspirations

Another take on nontraditional yogurt flavor comes from Torrance, Calif.-based Morinaga Nutritional Foods, which has introduced an aloe-flavored yogurt called Alove. The first yogurt of its kind sold in the United States, the Japanese-style product combines yogurt with the tender parts of the aloe vera leaf. The brand offers basic aloe yogurt as well strawberry aloe and blueberry aloe varieties.

“As the novelty of Greek yogurt fades and other ethnic varieties take the spotlight, such as Icelandic, Australian, French, etc., we find ourselves in a great place to capitalize not only on a cultural variety like Japanese-style, but also the innovative addition of aloe vera cubes suspended in the less viscous yogurt base,” says President and CEO Hiroyuki Imanishi, who adds that the product is uniquely positioned to “disrupt and challenge” the yogurt category. To help introduce the product to consumers, Alove has created POP materials and is focusing on in-store demos.

Like this Japanese-inspired yogurt and, before that, Greek-style yogurt, other global yogurt styles are emerging in the U.S. retail market. This past summer, the Yoplait brand, from Minneapolis-based General Mills, launched a line of French-inspired — and -named — Oui yogurt. The artisanal thick yogurt is cultured and sold in French-made glass pots.

“We wanted to bring something special to our U.S. consumers — something we have been enjoying during visits with our French colleagues for many years, but [which was] hard to replicate in large quantities here in the U.S.,” said David Clark, president of U.S. Yogurt at General Mills, at the time of the launch.

While the glass pot is used to protect the delicate texture of the yogurt, Yoplait has also touted the opportunity for consumers to “upcycle” the pot in creative, Pinterest-like ways.


Plant-based Products, and More

The widening of the category includes yogurts made with plant-based milks. One example is the Silk brand line of almond and soy milk yogurts, available in flavors like strawberry almond, dark chocolate coconut almond, peach and mango soy, and tropical pineapple soy.

“While they are not dairy, we believe plant-based yogurts will continue to be a high-growth segment within the yogurt category,” notes Michael Neuwirth, senior director, external communications for Denver-based DanoneWave, adding that the company’s “plant-based yogurts, Silk and So Delicious, grew 60 percent year over year from 2015 to 2016.”

Another example of alternative-milk yogurt comes from Boulder, Colo.-based Good Karma Foods, which has unveiled dairy-free yogurts made with flaxmilk. Those yogurts are also marketed as free from major allergens, including dairy, soy and tree nuts.

On another front, mix-ins may not be new to the category, but the types of ingredients stirred in with yogurts, and the type of packaging, have changed a bit. The Norwich, N.Y.-based Chobani brand, which made its mark in Greek-style yogurt, has continued to add to the line of Chobani Flip snacking yogurts, which now spans 20 varieties. Yoplait, for its part, recently added Yoplait Mix-Ins, featuring items like Very Berry Crisp, Salted Caramel Pretzel, Key Lime Crunch and Cherry Chocolate Almond, to name just a few.

Some yogurt formats also remain potential expansion areas. “While growth in the traditional yogurt category has slowed due to the stabilization of Greek yogurt and the underperformance by a few yogurt makers, we are seeing growth in the drinkables format,” observes Neuwirth, citing Oikos Nonfat Yogurt Drinks and Wallaby Organic’s drinkable kefir.

Finally, as a look at the retail yogurt case reveals, yogurt’s health halo extends to ingredient sourcing. Neuwirth notes that organic yogurt category sales have grown 12 percent from 2014 to 2016.

“Regarding other non-nutritive areas, we hear that consumers increasingly want to know what’s in the products they buy and how they’re made, and many are looking for organic or non-GMO options,” he points out, adding that DanoneWave’s portfolio of Non-GMO Project Verified products is growing, in addition to its organic brands such as Horizon and Earthbound Farm.

The push for wholesome ingredients may also be fueling the rise of whole-milk yogurts. The Oregon-based Tillamook County Creamery Association recently launched a whole-milk Farmstyle Greek Yogurt, with 4 percent milkfat, in flavors such as Raspberry Fig, Clover Honey and Meyer Lemon Pear. DanoneWave, meanwhile, now sells Dannon Whole Milk yogurt, which Neuwirth says has become the brand’s second-highest product in trial and repeat purchases. PG

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