It’s not a secret what consumers want when it comes to a healthy, on-the-go treat. According to many, it must be convenient, nutritious and delicious. That’s why yogurt drinks are one of the fastest growing sectors of the dairy market.

It’s not a secret what consumers want when it comes to a healthy, on-the-go treat. According to many, it must be convenient, nutritious and delicious. That’s why yogurt drinks are one of the fastest growing sectors of the dairy market.

Yogurt drinks: versatile all-round stars
There is no definitive answer to the question “What are yogurt drinks?” To some extent, the figures for yogurt drinks are hidden in the categories ‘Milk products,’ ‘Milk drinks’ and ‘Yogurt.’ But one thing is clear: consumption levels are high.

According to estimates, global sales of yogurt drinks topped 7.2 billion liters in 2008 – and the trend is rising.

“Right now, our customers are opting for yogurt drinks in a big way. This is a trend that has been going on for a number of years already, and one that we believe is set to continue. Especially in Asia we see high potential for new product concepts and – in some cases – double-digit percentage growth rates,” says Diana Bechtold, global market segment manager liquid dairy at SIG Combibloc, a Chester, Pa.-based carton packaging supplier.

Drinking yogurt is an ideal starting base for innovative products. It can be offered in virtually every flavor imaginable and can be either sweet or salty to the taste. It also can be easily enhanced by the addition of fruit juice, grains, nuts or chocolate. Many manufacturers tote drinking yogurt to a functional drink by adding Omega-3 fatty acids, plant sterols to lower cholesterol, vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals or probiotic and prebiotic bacteria cultures. With the help of marketing campaigns and a packaging form tailored to the desired target group, yogurt drinks can be designed to appeal to virtually any customer group – from toddlers to health-conscious senior citizens.

There is a wealth of possible applications as well. Yogurt drinks can be positioned as a breakfast beverage, a snack to fill the gap between meals, a sport or wellness energizer, a digestive aid, a refreshing pick-me-up, or a drink just for the taste.

Megatrends keep demand high
This means yogurt drinks are real all-rounders. A correctly positioned drinking yogurt is able to ideally meet consumers’ three key product demands: health and enjoyment, combined with mobility. Today’s major cities are populated by a performance-oriented society, where people are mobile, spend a lot of time working, and consume random food choices grabbed on the way to the next appointment.

To meet these requirements is an intrinsic success factor for a product, according to a study carried out by German market research company GfK. The study shows that since 2002, the expenditure of German households on products from the areas of health and wellness, enjoyment and convenience has increased more significantly than that on other fast-moving consumer goods.

Consumers are health conscious, but still don’t want to go without the special treat. Unfortunately, great-tasting products are often unhealthy, as they contain a lot of fat or sugar. Yogurt drinks offer consumers a way out of the conflict. Yogurt is a healthy food, and has even been used as medicine in the past. It can be manufactured with low-fat content and enriched with nutritious ingredients. It offers the ideal conditions for probiotic and prebiotic bacteria cultures, and often serves as the basis for functional foods that promise to regulate digestion or strengthen the immune system. And far from having a dreary image as a worthy “health” food, it is available in a multitude of different flavors and is positioned by marketing strategies as a little treat in the daily grind. A one-stop shop for health and enjoyment – with yogurt, it is possible.

A final challenge presents itself with the mobility factor. Convenience is in demand. As a practical alternative to yogurt cups and spoons, yogurt drinks come in recloseable carton packs or are provided with a handy drinking straw, making it the ideal snack for people on the go, a replacement breakfast or the healthy between-meal snack that does not crumble and does not make a mess.

Asia: from children’s drink to wellness product
In many Asian countries, milk, milk mix drinks and yogurt drinks were thought of merely as products for children until just a few years ago. But now, major dairy producers such as Mengniu and Yili have gradually opened up new target groups.

Ten years ago, in countries such as China, yogurt drinks were initially positioned as drinks for children. Nowadays, yogurt drinks also are immensely popular with teenagers and adults, and have evolved into an extremely multifaceted and diverse product segment. In Asia too, yogurt drinks are considered to be very healthy, and in China yogurt drinks containing pieces of real fruit, launched by Mengniu, have become a particular favorite and an extremely well-received premium product in this segment.

Moreover, enjoyment and mobility are key issues in Asia too. At the end of 2009, yogurt drinks had a 49% share in China’s long-life, liquid dairy products market – compared with 36% for classic long-life white milk.

Long-life yogurt drinks also have logistical advantages. They can be transported and stored without a closed cool chain. Especially in countries such as China, Vietnam and Thailand, but also in South America, Africa and the Middle East, logistics and packaging have to be adapted to the local conditions. Closed cool chains cannot always be guaranteed, and in addition, refrigeration can be cost-intensive due to the high temperatures.

Therefore, more and more manufacturers rely on aseptic carton packs. Yogurt drinks aseptically filled in carton packs are non-perishable without refrigeration for an extended period. This also is why these products enjoy a high level of confidence with many Asian consumers. With fresh products, there is always the question of whether the cold chain has been broken, and quality has been compromised. Additionally, due to the shape, beverage cartons can be stacked easily, and transported and stored in a space-saving manner.

Yogurt drinks imaginatively packaged
Yogurt drinks are versatile like few other foods – especially with regard to target groups and flavors. Accordingly, packaging must offer a wide spectrum of possibilities.

“Packaging today has to be as dynamic as the market itself. For instance, whether a product needs a package with a screw cap or a straw, which volumes are best for specific target groups – these need to be tailored individually to the required product positioning”, Bechtold says.

For example, the “Immergut Drinkfit” yogurt drinks in Strawberry, Peach and Forest Fruits flavors come in the aseptic carton pack combifitSmall, which is easy to handle and has a screw cap. At the same time, the product name “Drinkfit” signals health, but thanks to all the fruit packed into it, it is not short on enjoyment either. And the packaging makes it obvious to the consumer that three key product requirements are fulfilled: mobility, health and enjoyment.

SIG Combibloc is a leading system supplier of carton packaging and filling machines for beverages and food. In 2009, the company achieved a turnover of 1,260 million Euro with around 4,250 employees in 40 countries. SIG Combibloc is part of the New Zealand-based Rank Group.

Beatriz Callanta, marketing manager
SIG Combibloc Inc.
Chester, Pa.