Processors should be talking about some kind of marketing campaign for cultured products.

David Phillips, Editor
Here’s an idea for a marketing campaign for a new yogurt product: The Three Stooges are waiting in line at a convenience store. Larry has a soft drink, Curly a donut, and Moe has selected a yogurt drink.

“Hey Moe, what’s that ya got there?”

“It’s yogurt, ya numbskull!”

“Oh, cultured, are we?”

Sorry, but I didn’t say it was a good idea. The old “culture” pun had to show up somewhere in this issue of Dairy Foods, which contains our annual Cultured Products Trends feature. Processors should be talking about some kind of marketing campaign for cultured products. With cheese having lost some of its luster in the last year or so, yogurt seems to be the shining star of dairy right now.

“The yogurt category continues to grow because today nearly every shopper believes yogurt is a healthy food choice,” says Pam Vallone, g.m. for Mountain High Yoghurt, Englewood, Colo. in an interview with Donna Berry for this year’s feature.

Not to steal the thunder, but our feature depicts a segment where some new product forms grew by more than 30% last year, and even old standards like dairy-based dips are up by 5% or more.

Cultured dairy is gaining popularity, because it’s healthful (arguably the most healthful of the dairy segments), because today’s consumers have grown up with or grown accustomed to it, and because processors are doing amazing things to make it more desirable.

Those of us who attended high school and college back before Ronald Reagan was in Washington remember yogurt being something new, something different and something European. You stirred the fruit up from the bottom. We knew it was good for us, and we even tried the frozen interpretations in place of ice cream. It’s come a long way since the 70s. Now look at what we have:

  • Yogurt geared to children that can be squeezed from a tube (Dannon just introduced a Danimals line extension that’s squeezable).

  • Yogurt marketed to women and even yogurt for babies.

  • Yogurt for people who don’t usually like yogurt—rich, creamy dessert yogurts. (la Yum!)

Low fat yogurt has always been popular with consumers looking to stay trim. Those who are now counting carbs instead of fat grams can turn to plain whole milk yogurt with cream on top. And if you want to help save the planet, there are plenty of organic options.

Sour cream, cottage cheese and dips may not be as sexy as their European cousins, but as our story indicates, a little innovation can do wonders for these products too. After a recent visit to western N.Y. I flew home with a cache of dip flavors that I knew I couldn’t get in Chicago.

Processors making cultured products today have more competition, but perhaps more opportunity than ever. It’s easy to look at Europe and Asia and think that consumers in the U.S. will never eat so much cultured dairy, or so many different kinds. But while Americans may have a way to go before they embrace the functional food concept, they are attracted to healthful food options if they are convenient and if they taste good. American consumers have only had a sampling of what cultured dairy products offer, so don’t count anything out. Try something the big guys haven’t tried. After all, look at how quickly soymilk reached the mainstream.

Before concluding, I’d like to digress a moment. In the recent flurry of publicity surrounding Dr. Pepper/Seven Up’s jaunt into the dairy-based beverage segment, an often cited comment from a company representative kept bothering me.

“Consumers were telling us that milk is pretty boring,” said Andrew Springate, dir. of brand marketing in the company issued press release.

Now I’m not going to debate what consumers were telling Dr. Pepper, but my guess is that the company’s move into milk had more to do with dairy processors having made milk more exciting through flavors and packaging, than with milk being “boring.” I don’t see anything in what Dr. Pepper is doing that hasn’t been done already by dairies large and small across the country, so if consumers are bored with milk, Raging Cow isn’t going to rescue them from their indifference.

Thank you, now back to cultured dairy. It’s time to gear up the R&D and beef up the marketing campaigns.

Still no takers on the Three Stooges idea?

“Why I oughta…!!!”