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Cultured, innovated

As consumers embrace yogurt as an all-day snack and versatile ingredient, producers are responding with an ever-expanding array of styles

Shutterstock/Elena ElisseevaShutterstock/Elena Elisseeva

The fruit-bottom yogurts of our past have come a long way. This cultured category has seen a remarkable expansion in styles and varieties, which Dana McCauley, food trend tracker and director of new venture creation at the University of Guelph, says can be credited, in part, to the changing ways yogurt is viewed.

“I think it’s really come to fruition in the last five years of yogurt being more than just a breakfast thing and more of an anytime snack,” McCauley says. As well, the increasing popularity of plain, unflavoured yogurts makes it a versatile ingredient in baking or as the base for savoury dips and dishes.

Consumers are paying more attention to ingredient labels, shying away from added sugars and stabilizers. This makes Greek and Skyr yogurts—which tend to be produced using natural and familiar ingredients—more appealing. “Consumers are shifting towards healthier eating habits,” says Jeremy Oxley, vice-president of marketing, strategy and insights at Danone. “We continue to see Canadians trying to reduce their sugar consumption. We’re fully embracing the shift towards lower or no-sugar options, and have reduced the sugar content in some of our yogurts.”

The continuing desire for high-protein foods is also fuelling yogurt sales, according to Oxley. “We’re seeing a big trend towards people wanting to buy yogurt with higher forms of protein, whether that’s Greek or Icelandic-style.”

The latest sales data from Nielsen confirms Oxley’s observations. Greek yogurt has grown by 5.2% in the 20 weeks ending May 23, 2020, while Skyr has grown by 12.8% in the same period. The total yogurt category, meanwhile, has grown by 3.7%. In 2019, yogurt sales actually decreased by 2.8% overall, and this year’s growth to-date is credited, in part, by more at-home eating during COVID-19.

Most impressively, the non-dairy yogurt segment, which accounts for just 1% of the yogurt market, has grown by 79.1%, according to Nielsen’s latest figures. Robin Langford, product category manager at the natural food market Goodness Me!, has noticed an increased demand for plant-based, non-dairy yogurts. “We’ve had great expansion in this area with almond, coconut and oat-based options,” Langford says.

While vegans are a strong consumer base for non-dairy yogurts, Langford says flexitarians and those with lactose intolerances are also purchasing these alternatives. Improved research and development has helped this plant-based category compete with its dairy equivalents. “Coconut yogurt has a very similar taste and texture to a conventional dairy- based yogurt,” explains Langford.

Another emerging cultured food product is kefir, which is fermented at a lower temperature than yogurt. Last summer Lactalis Canada launched its first line of kefir products under its Astro brand. Kefir originates from the Caucasus mountains of Eastern Europe, but is becoming popular in Canada. Burhan Khan, national marketing director for the cultured division of Lactalis Canada, believes globalization, immigration and growing interest in worldly food products is fuelling interest in different yogurt styles. “You have so many more people travelling to different countries and people coming in as immigrants and bringing in their food styles,” Khan says. “That has really helped bring these new trends and innovations into yogurt.”

To draw consumers towards new products, Khan recommends creating an “innovation window” to highlight these items in the dairy aisle. “You can take that same concept to flyers by having dedicated pages for innovations to help drive awareness,” Khan says. “It’s an interesting way to get people to try new products.”

Danone’s Oxley also encourages grocers to think out of the box when it comes to merchandising different yogurt styles. “We’ve had success putting refrigerated units in the produce section where people are buying fruits to pair with yogurt. It becomes a natural touch point for them to see new innovations in yogurt.”

While the emergence of newer styles of yogurt is exciting for consumers, it can pose a challenge for grocers with limited shelf space. “Our yogurt sections need constant realigning to accommodate the trends of what’s selling,” says Brad McMullen, co-owner of Toronto’s Summerhill Market. A broader selection of products means different sizes and for- mats for grocers like McMullen to accommodate. “It’s a challenging section to have looking at its best at all times, so it just needs some extra attention.”

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