Supermarket GROCERY Business: A case for culture

Yo! Check out the dairy case! It's growing like crazy—especially in the yogurt section! There an endless stream of new products—including full-fat, drinks, indulgent whips, blends, and vitamin-fortified probiotic yogurts—combined with a better educated and informed consumer, are creating new interest and growing sales like never before.

"Yogurt intake is definitely on the rise, and has been experiencing double-digit growth," says Nicholas Kelly, senior director of administration at the National Yogurt Association in McLean, Va.

"Everyone recognizes yogurt as a healthy snack, both in terms of getting the calcium, and the fact that the cultures are good for digestion," says David Landau, a spokesman for the International Dairy Foods Association, in Washington, D.C. "That message is reaching consumers, and consumers are becoming increasingly aware that those kinds of probiotics are good for them."

"The yogurt category continues to experience strong growth, with the blended segment leading the way, with the help of many new product launches," says Mary Jane Kinkade, senior manager, communications, at Kraft Foods in Rye Brook, N.Y. Teaming with sister company Life Savers, Kraft's Breyers brand last month launched three flavors of Breyers Crème Savers yogurt "combining the creamy, dreamy taste of Crème Savers candy with the wholesome goodness of 98-percent fat-free yogurt."

"Lifestyle yogurt is the big trend these days; custom products for custom needs," says Carol Christison, executive director, International Dairy-Deli-Bakery Association, Madison, Wis. "Yogurt varieties are endless and appeal to kids of all ages. Flavors run the gamut from apple pie to watermelon and everything in between. Funky colors are big this year as are funky fixin's," she says, citing Dannon's Sprinkl'ins Color Creations and Sprinkl'ins Mystery Surprise.

When the sprinkles are mixed into the yogurt, they change the color and flavor of the yogurt. Dannon is targeting this line to children. "Obviously, if you introduce yogurt to children earlier, there is a better chance they are going to be a lifelong consumer," says Anna Moses, p.r. manager for Dannon Co., Tarrytown, N.Y. "And yogurt is good for kids. If you look in the supermarket today, you are going to find more and more of the kids' products because they are good alternative snacks."

To reach kids, manufacturers have rolled out snazzy packaging with wild animal and jungle theme graphics. To satiate small stomachs, packages are less than the standard 8-ounce cup, with some products, like Dannon's Danimals drinks, coming in a 3.1-ounce mini-jug.

"We see a lot of growth with the kids' products," says Laura Coblentz, director of marketing, Horizon Organic, Boulder, Colo. "That is going to continue to be a big area of growth, and organic in particular resonates with families with young children." Horizon Organic recently introduced a 100-percent organic pudding packaged in four-packs of 4-ounce cups in chocolate, vanilla, and chocolate/vanilla flavors.

While organic pudding is targeted to kids and adults alike, other new product introductions definitely have an adult audience in mind. "The past couple of decades have been devoted to product introductions in children's yogurt. I believe this decade is going to be product innovation in more adult-style yogurt," says Pam Vallone, general manager, Mountain High Yoghurt, a product of Dean Foods, Denver, Colo., that is sold throughout the West. "We're looking at fortified cup yogurts, fortified liquid yogurts, indulgent dessert-style yogurts," she says. "We're also looking for the 'globalization' of different products—adapting different products from Europe and Latin America. Latin America consumes far more liquid and liquid fortified yogurts than the U.S.; Europe has many adaptations in the dessert style."

To target that adult audience, Mountain High Yoghurt just introduced a breakfast-style yogurt in a cup that is nutritionally fortified with vitamins, protein, and fiber.

Among the new "indulgent" products are the Yoplait Whips from Minneapolis-based General Mills. Foamologists—physicists who study foam—say foamy foods appeal to the taste buds. That is the inspiration behind Yoplait Whips, which are available in six flavors. "Eating a spoonful of Yoplait Whips yogurt is like eating a spoonful of mousse, making that cup of yogurt seem even more indulgent than ever," says Trent Blain, Yoplait marketing manager.

Competitor Dannon has also introduced a whipped product—Dannon Low Fat Whipped—available in six flavors.

While some yogurts are lighter than air, others are too thin for a spoon. "The hottest new item in the category is drinkable yogurt," says Gary Hirshberg, president & c.e.o. of Stonyfield Farm, Londonderry, N.H. "There is no question that in much of the world drinkable yogurt almost rivals spoonable. In parts of Europe and Latin America, drinkables completely dominate."

Other rapidly growing segments include soy yogurts and organics. "Organics is a big, big story at Stonyfield. It is by far our fastest growing subsegment. It has been so successful our goal is to convert to 100-percent organic," Hirshberg says.

Fat is back

Sales are also skyrocketing with the full-fat, whole milk yogurts. "Fat is definitely back. Unfortunately, it is a little bit harder sell in the supermarkets than natural food stores, but there are a few visionary chains out there," Hirshberg says, citing Wakefern Food Corp., the Elizabeth, N.J.-based cooperative that services ShopRite supermarkets.

"People are less willing to make any sacrifices in taste and texture for the non-fat feature," says Greg Hartman, president, Oasis Sales and Marketing, the Sebastopol, Calif. firm that handles advertising and promotion for Brown Cow West, Antioch, Calif. "The fastest growing category by a wide margin over the last few years has been our whole milk," he says. "It used to have a bit of a stigma because of the fat, but now it's being embraced by more and more people."

Brown Cow West just entered the beverage category with its Yogurt Quencher drinks. Each is made with pasteurized low-fat milk free from bovine growth hormones, fruit concentrate, natural flavors, and live active yogurt cultures. A 12-ounce serving contains up to 280 calories, but only 4 grams of fat, 11 grams of protein, and 35 percent of the RDA for calcium.

Senior editor Richard Turcsik can be reached at [email protected].
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