Greek introductions continue to dominate growth in the yogurt category, but the other cultured segment to watch is drinkable yogurt. Volume sales in 2012 were 211 million pints and the latest IRI data for 2013 showed yogurt drinks experiencing double-digit growth in the United States. This trend was fueled by products for children under 6, drinks for the breakfast occasion, and consumption in Hispanic households with five or more members.
Cultured dairy beverages include drinkable yogurt and a variety of fermented milk drinks with origins in various countries (see the table). Many cultured dairy beverages contain probiotic bacteria. Fermented milk drinks, because of their short refrigerated shelf life, are a good vehicle to deliver these viable healthy bacteria at efficacious levels.
“Several research projects funded by the Dairy Research Institute [supported through the dairy checkoff] are examining the influence of dairy foods on the survival and activity of different probiotics,” said Chris Cifelli of the Dairy Research Institute, Rosemont, Ill.
As of Dec. 14, 2012, the European Food Safety Authority did not approve any probiotic claims, and so the term “probiotic” will no longer appear on food labels in many European Union countries. That is unfortunate because clinical trials continue to show the benefits of consuming probiotics. A substantial body of evidence supports a beneficial role for specific probiotics for gut health, and there’s emerging evidence that probiotics could also aid in improving immune function and preventing infection.