Dozens of cultured dairy innovations have been launched since January, with more to come this summer.



Remember when yogurt only came in a cup and cream cheese in the form of a brick? Or when consumers made their own spinach dip by stirring dried vegetable soup mix and thawed frozen spinach into sour cream? And who would have thought Greek yogurt would be made in the United States, and by so many companies?

Dairy’s healthful halo coupled with an incessant drive by processors to innovate has made today’s refrigerated dairy case the most dynamic it has ever been. And as the lyrics go, “you ain’t seen nothing yet,” as more than a dozen cultured dairy innovations have been introduced since the beginning of the year, and more are primed for a summertime roll out.

Greece is the word

Without a doubt, Greek yogurt continues to drive innovation in the cultured dairy category. Enough so that Kraft Foods Inc., Northfield, Ill., a company that exited the yogurt business in 2005 with the sale of its Breyers brand, jumped back in with the introduction of Athenos Greek yogurt in November.

“Adding a Greek yogurt to the Athenos family is an exciting next step for the brand,” says Marshall Hyzdu, brand manager. “Greek yogurt has become one of the fastest-growing food categories since its introduction into the United States about five years ago. Volume has doubled every year, with sales reaching approximately $500 million in 2010. Additionally, household penetration has already reached nearly 20%, surpassing many other food categories. It seemed only natural that Athenos, a leading line of authentic Greek foods in the marketplace, take their offering to the next level of taste and convenience by introducing a rich and creamy, authentic Greek yogurt.

“We believe the category will continue to grow,” says Hyzdu. “U.S. consumers will continue to develop a palate for a larger range of global foods, while looking for foods that are nutritious, versatile and convenient. Consumers will also be moving toward foods with cleaner labels, including those without preservatives, artificial flavors or high-fructose corn syrup. (For a discussion on the latter, see page 38.)

Clean and simple ingredient legends are what many authentic Greek yogurt manufacturers tout, as the straining process used to thicken the yogurt reduces or eliminates the need for stabilizers. Straining also increases protein content, another consumer-appealing feature, as high-quality proteins such as those found in milk are associated with satiety. When consumers feel full, they eat less, and with many Americans carrying too much weight around, the concept of satiety-inducing foods is increasingly appealing. Hence, the time is right for Greek yogurt.

To create a point of differentiation in what is becoming a crowded category, national players are putting a spin on their marketing efforts, as well as their product line. (See “It’s Love and War for Greek Yogurt Marketers” about TV commercials for Athenos and Chobani, page 46.) For example, Stonyfield Farm, Londonderry, N.H., will show Americans this summer that Greek yogurt can be consumed in a drinkable format. That’s right. The company’s organic Oikos brand will now include a smoothie format sold in four-packs of 6-fluid-ounce bottles. Marketed as being thick and creamy with 50% more protein than traditional smoothies, Oikos Organic Drinkable Greek Lowfat yogurt comes in two varieties: Honey Vanilla and Pomegranate Berry.

“With the growing popularity of Greek yogurt among athletes, foodies and people on the go, we recognized the need for a thick, creamy, protein-rich drinkable Greek yogurt that’s easy to take with you,” says Gary Hirshberg, president and CE-Yo. “Oikos Organic Drinkable Greek yogurt combines the portability of a smoothie with the high-protein nutritional benefits of Greek yogurt.”

Stonyfield is also expanding its Oikos cup line with Honey Fig joining the smooth and creamy lineup, and Peach Mango, now part of the fruit-on-the-bottom range.

Another national player, Sun Valley Dairy, Sun Valley, Calif., makers of Voskos Greek Yogurt, one of the first Greek yogurts to enter the U.S. marketplace, now offers YoGreek, the only dual-compartment cup of side-by-side Greek yogurt and granola. All consumers do is “lift & crunch,” an instruction that is cleverly imprinted on the YoGreek product lid. YoGreek comes in four different yogurt flavors: blueberry, honey, strawberry and vanilla.

At the beginning of the year, Fage, Johnstown, N.Y., rolled out the Fage Total 0% Flavors line. This is the first time that the company’s nonfat Greek yogurt has been made available with flavors, which are: Blueberry-Acai, Cherry-Pomegranate, Honey, Mango-Guanabana and Strawberry-Goji.

To support the introduction, the company recently launched a 45-second TV spot entitled: Plain. The commercial has a voice-over take the viewer through a poetic journey from “plainly plain” to “plain extraordinary,” the latter of which has become the brand’s new positioning line. Using live action and computer animation, the viewer is held captive until the very end, when it is revealed that the artistic display of milk, fruit and beautiful women is for Fage yogurt. To view the commercial, visit www.fageusa.com.

On the regional side, Auburn Dairy Products, Auburn, Wash., is introducing customers in the Pacific Northwest to Zoi Greek Yogurt. In select Midwestern markets, Anderson Erickson Dairy, Des Moines, Iowa, now offers its own version of this Mediterranean delight.

And other regional dairies have Greek yogurt in their plans. “We are always looking into new product introductions and listening to what retailers want when considering expanding their product line,” says Ted Barlows, assistant general manager/general sales manager, Hiland Dairy, Springfield, Mo. “Of course, the Greek yogurt trend is very hot and Hiland will be introducing a Greek yogurt line in the near future.”

More than a cup

“Because of Greek yogurt’s versatility, consumers will most likely begin to see it packaged in ways that allow for on-the-go snacking, as well as incorporated into food offerings such as dips, dressings or beverages, and integrated into the foodservice channel more prominently,” adds Hyzdu.

This is already happening in the dip category. At the end of 2010, T. Marzetti Co., Columbus, Ohio, introduced Otria Greek Yogurt Veggie Dip in five varieties: Chipotle Cheese, Cucumber Dill Feta, Garden Herb Ranch, Salsa Cilantro and Spinach Artichoke.

Santa Barbara Bay Greek Yogurt Dip made with Voskos Greek Yogurt now comes in a club store-size (24 ounces) container. The original retail product line from Santa Barbara Bay, Buellton, Calif., debuted about a year ago in 12-ounce tubs in five varieties:  Cucumber Dill, Thai Three Pepper, Roasted Red Pepper & Asiago Cheese, Zesty Ranch and Spinach. The new variety - Garden Vegetable - is what comes in the club store pack. The dip is loaded with large pieces of fresh vegetables (artichokes, asparagus and carrots), dehydrated vegetables (carrots, leeks, onions, mushrooms and red bell peppers) and an array of savory spices. The company is also in the process of transitioning its 12-ounce tub product into a sleek, clear container that functions as an attractive serving dish.

Larger-sized containers of Greek yogurt are becoming increasingly common, as this encourages use as something more than a grab-and-go snack. For example, because of its thick, rich, dense nature, it can be used as a bagel spread or fruit dip.

This is what The Greek Gods brand, which was acquired by The Hain Celestial Group, Melville, N.Y., in July 2010, is likely hoping for with its two new flavors (honey blueberry and vanilla honey), which are only available in a 24-ounce multi-serving cup size.

To educate consumers about Greek yogurt’s cooking performance, Agro Farms Inc., Norwich, N.Y., developed a “CHO Conversion Chart” to make it easy for consumers to substitute Chobani for other cooking ingredients. For example, plain Chobani can be a direct replacement for sour cream, mayonnaise or cream cheese in most recipes. To reduce the amount of fat used in some applications, one cup butter can be reduced to a half cup when one-fourth cup Chobani is also added. One cup oil can be replaced by three-fourths cup Chobani. The plain variety comes in 6-, 16- and 32-ounce containers.

Yogurt for children

Chobani is also into little portions for little tummies. Chobani Champions come in two kid-pleasing flavors: Honey-Nana and VeryBerry. Sold in four-packs, the 3.5-ounce cups are said to better accommodate a child-size appetite. After all, Greek yogurt is more satiating and nutrient dense.

According to the new Packaged Facts report Kids’ Foods and Beverages in the U.S. 2011, yogurt designed just for children is a booming business, and one that will continue to thrive in upcoming years. “Retail dollar sales of kids’ yogurt products - cups, tubes and even containers that you squeeze and slurp - grew 12.7% annually from 2005 to 2010 thanks to an influx of innovative products,” says Don Montuori, vice president-publishing, Marketresearch.com, Rockville, Md. “We project growth will continue to be double-digit every year from now until 2015, with retail sales reaching about $1.3 billion in 2015.”

And it’s no wonder, as market research firm NPD Group, Port Washington, N.Y., identified yogurt as the No. 1 food eaten as a snack by children 2 to 17 years old. It is also quite popular with babies, thanks to the extensive line of YoBaby products from Stonyfield Farm.

The Hain Celestial Group is now ready to give Stonyfield some competition. Hain is a leader in frozen and shelf-stable foods and beverages targeted to kids, but has yet to take a stab at the refrigerated dairy category. That is about to change thanks to last year’s acquisition of The Greek Gods Greek Yogurt. The first innovation scheduled to roll out sometime this summer is Earth’s Best Organic Baby Yogurt, which debuted at the Natural Products Expo West show in March.

This new whole-milk yogurt is loaded with nine live and active cultures, including probiotics, and has been formulated for a baby’s nutritional needs, with each 4-ounce cup delivering 25% of the Daily Value for calcium, vitamin D and zinc, 2 grams fiber, 5 grams protein, and other important vitamins and minerals. Made with no refined sugars, the yogurt gets its sweetness from the addition of organic fruit and fruit juices. It will come in four-packs of four different varieties: Apple, Banana Mango, Peach Pear and Vanilla Prune.  

Easy on the tummy

There’s more going on in yogurt than just Greek and kids’ innovations. For example, there are a growing number of lactose-free options for those who are intolerant to cows milk’s inherent sugar but want to reap the benefits of the live and active cultures and other nutrients that yogurt delivers. 

Bellwether Farms, Sonoma County, Calif., has been selling its five-flavor (blackberry, blueberry, plain, strawberry and vanilla) line of 6-ounce cups of sheep milk yogurt regionally for about three years. At the beginning of this year, in response to consumer requests, the company made the product available for national distribution.

“Sheep milk yogurt can be enjoyed by many people who are intolerant of cows milk,” explains Lenny Rice Moonsammy, education and marketing coordinator at Bellwether.

The same is true of goat milk yogurt. Sierra Nevada Cheese Co., Willows, Calif., just started rolling out 6-ounce cups of Capretta Goat Yogurt in four flavors: blueberry, plain, strawberry and vanilla.

Redwood Hill Farm, Sebastopol, Calif., has been marketing goat milk yogurt for some time. The company recently decided to enter the cows milk yogurt business, with one key point of difference: the yogurts are made with lactase enzyme so that they can be labeled as lactose free. The products are branded Green Valley Organics, and in addition to yogurt, kefir and sour cream are also available as lactose free.

“The Green Valley Organics products were developed with the same intent as our goat milk yogurts: to bring peace to the stomach,” says Ken Strunk, chief executive officer.

And as a result of France’s Groupe Danone owning approximately 85% of Stonyfield shares, Stonyfield was able to license the Activia brand and is in the process of rolling out Stonyfield Organic Activia. The initial launch will be in four-packs of 4-ounce cups in either strawberry or vanilla flavors.

According to Stonyfield research, 73% of its customers currently do not purchase Activia, yet 58% said they would buy it if it was available as organic. The product launch is an opportunity to reach 6.8 million new households for incremental sales.

“We’re pleased to have the opportunity to offer a great product to organic consumers that they didn’t previously have access to,” says Hirshberg.

Beyond yogurt

Without a doubt, yogurt is the most replenished perishable product in the majority of supermarkets across the country. But cultured dairy product innovations are not limited to the yogurt category.

For example, Smith Dairy Products Co., Orrville, Ohio, recently added Smith’s Buttermilk Ranch Dip to its product line-up. Made with real sour cream and a blend of ranch seasonings and spices, including garlic and onion flavorings, the dip is positioned not only as an accompaniment to chips and veggies, but also as a cooking ingredient.

“Buttermilk ranch is a top-selling salad dressing, and it was a natural fit for us to use as a dip flavor,” says Penny Baker, director of marketing. “What I like about the flavor is that it can be used with snacks, but it also works as a versatile ingredient in different recipes - from soups, to wraps and casseroles.” To promote its use in cooking, the company developed a number of recipes that consumers can access through the website.

Barlows agrees that using dips in recipes is a growing trend, and one that is driving innovation in the refrigerated dairy dip category for Hiland Dairy. “We are noticing more and more customers contributing recipes using our dips to make their own unique side dishes like pinwheels and seven-layer dips,” he says. “Unique dips, such as our new Jalapeño Fiesta dip have quite the loyal following. Hiland recently added this new spicy dip and it has been one of our best sellers ever since.”

Hiland also recently added single-serve cottage cheese to its retail lineup. “Several schools and institutions expressed a need for a single-serve cottage cheese, so we first developed this product to serve their needs,” says Barlows. “Due in part to the success at the schools, we expanded distribution to retail. The single-serve cottage cheese snack cup is sold to consumers in a four-pack, as we found our customers are always looking for convenience. They’re perfect for lunches, picnics or just as a snack on the go.” 

Anderson Erickson developed a cottage cheese with 15% less sodium than its original product. This is accomplished through the use of sea salt, and is appropriately called AE Dairy Lowfat Cottage Cheese with Sea Salt.  

This product was in development for several years and included side-by-side taste testing. “Because the sea salt grains we use are finer, we were able to get more salt flavor coverage even though we were reducing the amount of salt we used,” says Miriam Erickson Brown, president and CEO. The introduction of AE Lowfat Cottage Cheese with Sea Salt coincides with the new Dietary Guidelines recommending Americans reduce their sodium intake drastically.

If that sea salt comes from the Mediterranean, maybe there’s a Greek connection that can carry over to cottage cheese as well other cultured dairy products that contain added salt. Anything is possible in this dynamic category.

Sidebar: It's Love and War for Greek Yogurt Marketers

As more Greek yogurt brands enter the retail channel, manufacturers have had to turn up the heat in their marketing efforts.  From putting passionate customers to discriminating grannies in the spotlight, here are two national Greek yogurt marketers who have taken very different approaches with on-screen advertising. Read more about these campaigns and Fage’s advertising efforts on page 10.

On Valentine’s Day, Agro Farma Inc., Norwich, N.Y., debuted its first national advertising campaign for Chobani Greek yogurt. Entitled “Real Love Stories,” TV commercials feature true stories from “Chobaniacs,” the yogurt’s greatest fans who often share their Chobani love with the brand via social media platforms. To view the commercials and fan-submitted stories, visit chobani.com.

Less than two weeks after Chobani’s love story campaign hit the air, Kraft Foods Inc., Northfield, Ill., rolled out three commercials for the Athenos brand, with one focusing on Greek yogurt and the other two on hummus. The campaign is centered on the simplicity of the product formulations, with respect for traditional ingredients and yiayia’s approval of them.

Who is yiayia? Greek for grandmother, the three yiayias in the spots were cast in Athens, adding authenticity to the dialogue. Each yiayia brings her unique personality and approach to the shoot. What all the yiayias have in common is their old-school beliefs, which they convey in blunt and honest opinions of modern situations.  To view the commercials, visit www.athenos.com.

Sidebar: Noteworthy Recent Introductions

In February, Walmart stores became the exclusive distributor for enLiven low-fat yogurt manufactured by Ganeden Biotech Inc., Cincinnati. “Yogurt has long been touted as a healthy breakfast and snack food,” says Carl Freund, vice president of consumer products at Ganeden. “We believe Walmart shoppers will enjoy our tasty new enLiven yogurt with beneficial probiotics, as it is not only good for you and your whole family, but it is affordably priced to help save you money.”

The Dannon Co., White Plains, N.Y., takes its unique crush cup concept to the next level with Double Crush Cup. Each 4-ounce cup contains two kid-friendly flavors of yogurt that come together when the cup is crushed.

Ontario, Canada-based Skotidakis Goat Farm has developed Ranch Yogurt Dip, which is made with strained Greek probiotic yogurt based on both cows and goats milk.

In private label, Safeway Inc., Pleasanton, Calif., now offers 6-ounce cups of Lucerne Greek yogurt in honey, plain, strawberry and vanilla varieties.

White Wave Foods, Boulder, Colo., a business of Dean Foods Co., Dallas, is rolling out Horizon Organic Cream Cheese in 8-ounce bricks. Previously only sold as a spread in tub format, the new bricks can be used in baking and cooking applications. Varieties are original (full fat) and reduced fat (30% less fat than original).

Heluva Good!, a brand of HP Hood LLC, Lynnfield, Mass., adds Limited Edition Buffalo Wing to its sour cream dip line. The dip features fiery hot buffalo wing sauce blended with cool, creamy blue cheese that functions not only as a veggie and chip dip, but also as a condiment.