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Yogurt Report: Get me to the Greek

Yogurt, the food of the decade, seems to have another big hit on its hands

Brad McMullen isn’t surprised when customers drive from across the city to check out his store’s dairy case. That’s because Summerhill Market, a small grocery store located in Toronto’s Summerhill neighbourhood, carries an array of brands and products not easily found elsewhere.

Take Greek yogurt, for example. This traditional Mediterranean product has developed a strong following over the last few years and there are now dozens of Facebook pages where fans extol its glories. In the U.S., Greek yogurt has gone from essentially zero market share to 15% in just a few years. With few companies making the product in Canada, shoppers headed online to find places to buy Greek yogurt. One store that came up in their searches was Summerhill Market.

“We decided to source and stock Greek yogurt in the first place because we pay close attention to food trends and we’d heard about how great it was,” says McMullen, the store’s general manager. “We like to be in a position where we are leading a trend rather than responding to one, so we went out of our way to learn more about it.”

Yogurt growth remains steady, up 4% over the past year

At Summerhill, Greek yogurt has become so popular that it’s starting to outsell conventional yogurt. More stores are starting to stock up as well. In February, Loblaw launched its own President’s Choice lineup of Greek yogurt.

Loblaw’s vice-president of grocery, Claudio Gemmiti, points to Greek yogurt’s benefits. It’s no-fat but doesn’t have the runny, thin texture of zero-fat yogurts. “I think our PC line is what yogurt should be like,” he adds. Plus, it can be used in cooking. By adding it to the PC lineup, Loblaw hopes to give Greek yogurt a national presence and perhaps replicate the sales growth found south of the border.

Demand for Greek yogurt is also strong at Nester’s Market in Squamish, B.C. The 20,000-sq.-ft. store carries four brands. But the store manager, Sean Daly, has noticed other significant trends in the yogurt category. “A customer asked us to bring in 1.5-litre sizes of plain yogurt and at first I
wondered how would we ever sell it,” he says. “But the bulk sizes have been going fast.” Consumers are also looking for more active culture yogurts and the store offers cultures and starter kits so that people can make their own yogurt.

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Yogurts: What’s the difference?

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* Greek

This yogurt has a thick texture that’s made by removing some of the water. Greek yogurt is high in calcium and has twice the protein of regular yogurt.

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* Kefir

Creamy with a tart and refreshing flavour. It’s made by mixing milk with grains containing a mix of bacteria and yeast.

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* Skyr

Skyr is similar to strained yogurt and has a slightly sour dairy flavour with a hint of sweetness. It’s traditionally consumed with porridge, but can also be mixed with jam or fruit for dessert.

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But these trends are tiny niches compared to the yogurt category as a whole. For the year ending Jan. 11, 2011, total category dollar sales grew 4%, to just over $1.2 billion. Unit volume also climbed 4%, according to Nielsen figures.

The active segment—touted to improve digestion—shows the strongest growth and holds one-third of the market, says Anne-Julie Maltais at Danone, maker of such yogurt brands as Danino, DanActive, Activia, Silhouette and Danissimo. “If you combine DanActive and Activia, together they are worth $300 million,” she says. “This is healthy growth because it is driven by consumer demand rather than promotions.”

The main challenges grocers face when selling yogurt are trying to find space for new products and fitting diffierent sizes of packaging on the shelves. “Our butter and margarine sales have declined so we’ve been able to steal some space from there,” says Daly. “But we do the best we can with the package sizes. Trying to _ t round packaging on square shelves is a common problem in grocery.”

Other grocers are redesigning their sections to make them easier to shop. A few months ago Loblaw began to break its yogurt aisle into five areas: kids’ yogurt; traditional; plain; light and diet; active health (those that contain probiotics, for instance) and organic. Bright signs denote each section under the heading “your yogurt, your style.”

The good news, however, is that it doesn’t take much effort to sell yogurt, says Daly. “We seem to have growth no matter what we do in store.”

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Top 4 Merchandising Tips

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1. Use signage to remind shoppers that dairy products are an excellent source of calcium, protein and vitamin D.

2. Shoppers decide which yogurt to buy after only two seconds standing in front of the shelf, says Danone’s Anne-Julie Maltais. So clearly identify product benefi ts such as gut health, high protein, low-fat and organic.

3. Use end-cap coolers to build cross-merchandising displays that feature breakfast foods and healthy snack options.

4. Not everyone is familiar with Greek yogurt. Offer recipe ideas to introduce the product to consumers.

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