Donna Berry

Unless you have ignored the media over the past few weeks, you are fully aware of the fact thatThe Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2005is here. This 500-plus page document tells Americans to consume more fruits and vegetables, more whole grains and three servings of low-fat or fat-free dairy products each day. The latter is exciting news for the dairy industry because the previous edition of the Dietary Guidelines (2000) simply encouraged people to eat two-to-three servings of dairy a day. The new guidelines provide more detailed guidance on an exact number of servings and preferred fat levels.

Federal agencies use the Dietary Guidelines in consumer education efforts and as a basis for their administration of national food and nutrition programs, including the National School Lunch and Breakfast Programs. Thus, the Dietary Guidelines are a key driver to immediate future growth for dairy foods, and particularly cultured dairy products, according to a hot-off-the-presses report from Packaged Facts titled "The U.S. Market for Cultured Dairy Products."

According to the report, which provides dollar sales trend data for all retail venues-including supermarkets, mass merchandisers, drug stores, natural foods stores and convenience stores-the $4.7 billion non-drinkable yogurt category (single-serve cups, multi-pack cups and tubes) is expected to grow about 2.6% annually for the next couple of years. What's more exciting, drinkable cultured products are expected to have double-digit increases. In fact, according to the report, the time is right for probiotic shot-style cultured milks.

The report attributes some of this growth to the dairy industry's "3-A-Day of Milk, Cheese or Yogurt for Stronger Bones Program." Many of the nation's leading retailers and dairy manufacturers support the 3-A-Day dairy program via in-store promotions and on product packaging. Cultured dairy product brands sporting the logo include Axelrod, Crowley, Dannon, Darigold, Horizon, Land O' Lakes, Mountain High and Yoplait.

Another campaign promoting cultured dairy product consumption is "Healthy Weight with Dairy." Many cultured dairy products, particularly yogurt and kefir, have licensed use of the claim and it currently appears on package labels.

On the heals of the new Dietary Guidelines, a variety of initiatives and new products starting rolling out to the U.S. marketplace . . . in both foodservice and retail.

For example, Wendy's Restaurants, Dublin, Ohio, has started offering an entree-sized fresh fruit bowl with low-fat, strawberry-flavored yogurt for dipping. Fruits are cantaloupe, honeydew melon and pineapple chunks along with red seedless grapes. This healthful entrée is currently available in more than 80% of its restaurants, with rollout completion scheduled for mid-February.

Appealing to two Dietary Guideline recommendations (more fruit and dairy), "We're giving our customers an easy, convenient way to add more fruit to their daily diet," says Tom Mueller, pres., and COO, Wendy's North America.

The suggested price for Wendy's fruit bowl is $4.19. A smaller cup version is also available for $2.19.

Along with the Dietary Guidelines recommendation to eat more whole grains is commentary on increasing daily fiber intake. To help consumers do just that, The Dannon Co., White Plains, N.Y., just unveiled a new "heart-healthy" nonfat yogurt called Dannon's Light ‘n' Fit® with Fiber. A good source of fiber and calcium, Dannon's new yogurt addresses the government's call for more fiber and calcium in American's daily diet.

According to the American Dietetic Association, Americans should eat 20-35g of fiber a day for heart and digestive health, but the average American only consumes 12-17g a day. Light ‘n Fit with Fiber offers a good source of fiber with 3g of fiber (in the form of resistant maltodextrin) per 4-oz serving-more than any other light yogurt.

"As the U.S. government urges Americans to lead healthier lives and to meet our consumers' needs, Dannon is constantly developing innovative products," says Carmelita Chavez, brand mgr., The Dannon Co. "Our research also shows that consumers are looking for an easy, great-tasting fiber option for their diet. Dannon's new Light ‘n Fit with Fiber will meet that desire. It offers a good source of fiber, helps manage weight and, because it is saturated fat-free and low in cholesterol, is heart-healthy."

The product comes in four-packs of 4-oz cups in three flavors: Apple, peach and strawberry. Suggested retail price is $2.19.

As mentioned, probiotics are starting to catch on in the United States, which is likely why Tyler, Texas-based Brookshire Grocery Co., had its dairy division--SouthWest Foods-add good-for-you cultures to its Goldenbrook Farms® lines of yogurts. Six-ounce cups of low-fat and light yogurt, as well as the 32-ounce multi-serve plain variety, all contain five lactic acid bacteria. In addition to the two standard yogurt cultures-Steptococcus thermophilus and Lactobacillus bulgaricus, Goldenbrook Farms yogurt contains Lactobacillus acidophilus, Bifidobacterium bifidus and Lactococcus paracasei ssp. casei.

Yogurt can have other healthful positionings, too. For example, anticipating that consumers might want something healthful to dip those increased vegetable servings they will be consuming daily, Wells' Dairy Inc., Le Mars, Iowa, introduces Blue Bunny® IncreDiples™. These new yogurt-based dips complement both vegetables and chips. In fact, they are packaged in a tub specially made for dipping. IncreDiples contain savory herbs and small bits of fresh chopped garden vegetables, which merge to create three flavors: Fajita Lime, Spicy Buffalo and Taco Fiesta.

The new dips can be enjoyed every day with less guilt, as IncreDiples contain 50% less calories and 82% less fat than snack dips made from sour cream. Though a single serving contains a mere 30 calories and 1g fat, the dips have extremely bold, intense flavors. IncreDiples can also be used as a salad dressing, a sandwich condiment and in a variety of recipes.

And here's a category first: Minneapolis-based General Mills Inc., adds Healthy Heart™ to its Yoplait® cup yogurt line. The product is low-fat yogurt with plant sterols. Packages contain the following statement: Plant sterols, eaten twice a day with meals for 0.8g daily total, may reduce heart disease risk in a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol. Yoplait Healthy Heart has 0.4g per 6oz.

These are just some of the latest innovations to hit the cultured dairy products case. According to the Packaged Facts report, there are many more to come. Stay tuned . . .

(For more information on the report, visit www.marketresearch.com)