by Lynn Petrak
The yogurt category continues to make the case with new flavors and formats.
To borrow a category turn of phrase, yogurt has become a cultural phenomenon. Once considered a niche in the United States compared to its status as a household staple in Europe and other parts of the world, this cultured dairy product has been transformed into a darling of product development and marketing over the past decade.
The expansion of the yogurt case is a testament to American ingenuity, with basic formulations giving way to a slew of new formats, flavors and packages. Vanilla may have its place, but so do items like hot-pink bubble gum-flavored yogurt, gourmet dessert-inspired yogurts and drinkable yogurt varieties specifically tailored for groups ranging from infants to consumers with cardiac concerns.
The boom doesn’t appear to be slowing. According to market research conducted by Chicago-based Information Resources Inc. (IRI), dollar sales of refrigerated yogurt grew 7.8 percent from April 2004 to April 2005, while unit sales increased at a rate of 6.3 percent. Eight of the top 10 vendors posted gains during the same time period, with many new products entering the market high in the rankings.
Yogurt manufacturers say there is room for additional growth. “The beauty of this category is that it is still very young in the U.S. Whether it is kids or (baby) boomers, there are many need states and as those evolve, we’ll see the category continuing to have a lot of innovation,” says Troy Davis, marketing manager for retail dairy for LeMars, Iowa-based Wells’ Dairy Inc., manufacturer of the Blue Bunny brand.
Matt Pierre, marketing manager for the Yoplait brand of products from Minneapolis-based General Mills, agrees. “Don’t think that the last 10-year growth rate won’t continue. Yogurt offers great taste, convenience and an awful lot of health benefits. There are not many categories that can hit that trifecta,” he says.
What’s more, the popularity of the youth yogurt segment means this is a category with a strong future, as children literally grow up on the product in ways their parents in this country did not. “The kid consumption of yogurt is 50-50 now between boys and girls, and if you look at adults, it is more 70-30,” Pierre says. “One of the growth engines in this category is that as you bring more boys into the category, they should age as consumers.”
Top 10 Yogurt Brands
  $ Sales (In Millions) % Change vs. Year Ago Unit Sales (In Millions) % Change vs. Year Ago
Private Label $341.7 3.6% 334.4 3.1%
Yoplait Original 293.3 4.4 180.8 7.3
Yoplait Light 188.1 19.5 115.3 25.9
Dannon Light N Fit 173.1 9.4 112.6 10.3
Yoplait Go-Gurt 129.2 4.7 55.5 5.0
Dannon Danimals 97.0 2.3 40.5 4.0
Stonyfield Farm 91.0 22.6 52.1 19.2
Yoplait Trix 90.9 -2.5 54.0 -2.8
Yoplait Whips 82.1 -3.0 33.1 1.1
Dannon Fruit on the Bottom 78.9 -3.3 50.9 -2.1
* Total sales in supermarkets, drug stores and mass merchandisers (excluding Wal-Mart) for the 52-week period ending April 17, 2005.
SOURCE: Information Resources Inc.
Top 10 Yogurt Vendors
  $ Sales (In Millions) % Change vs. Year Ago Unit Sales (In Millions) % Change vs. Year Ago
Total Category $2,870.0 7.8% 1,812.0 -6.4%
Yoplait USA Inc. 982.7 7.5 546.2 11.3
Dannon Co. 882.0 9.6 491.7 6.9
Private Label 341.7 3.6 334.4 3.1
Stonyfield Farm 163.7 31.2 84.0 27.5
Kraft Foods Inc. 107.6 -14.6 86.8 -13.5
YoFarm Corp. 49.7 3.4 27.8 2.2
Columbo Inc. 47.7 -19.8 34.3 -21.9
Johanna Foods Inc. 37.3 4.6 30.1 3.9
Wells’ Dairy 36.0 25.8 24.3 27.9
Meadow Gold Dairy Inc. 32.0 5.2 24.5 7.5
* Total sales in supermarkets, drug stores and mass merchandisers (excluding Wal-Mart) for the 52-week period ending April 17, 2005.
SOURCE: Information Resources Inc.
To Your Health
In terms of new product development, a strong focus during the past year has been on products with health benefits. Consumers once again are seeking foods and beverages that can play an important role in their diets, whether to improve health or drop pounds.
Some recently developed yogurt products are geared to specific health conditions. In January, for instance, Yoplait rolled out its new Healthy Heart line, the first yogurt in the country formulated with cholesterol-lowering plant sterols. “The target for that product is adults with high cholesterol. We felt yogurt was a perfect fit, because of high yogurt consumption among adults, who have the ability to eat it three times a day,” Pierre explains, adding that women in particular are looking for ways to reduce their risk, as figures have shown that heart disease kills more than six times as many females as breast cancer.
The Dannon Co. Inc., the White Plains, N.Y.-based company second only to Yoplait in annual dollar sales, is also pursuing consumers concerned about heart health. In February, Dannon launched Light ‘n Fit® with Fiber nonfat yogurt, in Strawberry, Peach and Apple varieties with 3 grams of fiber per 4-ounce serving. “Our research shows that consumers are looking for an easy, great-tasting fiber option for their diet,” brand manager Carmelita Chavez says.
Fiber isn’t just for mature consumers. The Longmont, Colo.-based Horizon Organic brand — now wholly owned by Dean Foods Co. — has formulated its Whole Baby Milk Yogurt and Yo-Yos with NutraFlora®, a natural, soluble fiber that has been shown to improve calcium absorption.
Tied into wellness, of course, is weight management, and the yogurt case reflects American’s ongoing clamor for lighter fare. New Londonderry, N.H.-based Stonyfield Farm recently repositioned its Moove Over Carbs product as Moove Over Sugar to appeal to those watching both carbohydrate levels and sugar content.
“Our core Stonyfield customers have been asking for products with lower sugar, even though we use less than most brands already,” reports Maureen Wolpert, senior product manager, noting that the product contains a natural sugar substitute instead of an artificial sweetener. “People are watching sugar for different reasons. More people have diabetes and there has been a lot of media attention on the role of sugar in the diet.”
Although the reduced-carbohydrate diet trend has cooled off by most accounts, several yogurt makers continue to tout low-carb products with the understanding that carb-counting consumers are now a permanent part of the overall market. Several low-carb yogurts now line the retail yogurt section, including Yoplait’s Carb Monitor, Blue Bunny’s Carb Freedom and Dannon Light ‘N Fit Carb Control, among others. According to IRI, sales of Dannon Light ‘N Fit Carb Control rose more than 267 percent from April 2004 to April 2005.
Blue Bunny launched a low-carb smoothie in February after a six-month development process, and Davis says it has already been well received. “The low-carb craze peaked last summer but what we’ve seen over the fall of last year and the first quarter of this year is that it has moved at a steady state,” he says. “I don’t think that low-carb will ever go away and you’ll probably get new users looking for less-sugar type of products.”
Blue Bunny also aims to make snack dips healthier with IncreDiples™, a line of dips made with fresh yogurt.
Meanwhile, light and reduced fat/calorie yogurts are performing strongly. Yoplait Light is the third most popular product in the category, ringing up nearly $189 million in sales, followed by Dannon Light ‘N Fit yogurt at more than $173 million, according to IRI tracking data.
Fun With Flavor
In addition to better-for-you products, yogurt R&D teams have also been going more boldly where the category has not gone before in terms of flavor. Blue Bunny’s new low-carb smoothies, for instance, are available in traditional strawberry and raspberry flavors, but also in blackberry cream and mango passion fruit.
“One of the things we try to do is to bring out unique flavor combinations,” says Davis, citing recent consumer demands. “In general, we are starting to see more interest in tropical flavors. Mango passion fruit, for example, is going stronger than we anticipated.”
Beyond more intense fruit flavors, yogurt producers are also gravitating toward more upscale, dessert-inspired varieties. Des Moines, Iowa-based Anderson Erickson Dairy, for example, is well known in the Midwest for its indulgent flavors and offers a host of dessert-style yogurts, such as Key Lime Pie, Lemon Chiffon, Apple Pie and Strawberry Rhubarb Pie, among others.
Blue Bunny, too, is going for the dessert taste with its new Homemade Apple Pie yogurt. “The data we have shows that dessert-flavored yogurts continue to grow. It’s the same thing on the tropical fruit side — as people understand flavor profiles better, they are accepting of new ones,” Davis says.
Yoplait is also going after consumers with a sweet tooth. This summer, Yoplait is adding a series of chocolate mousse flavors to its Whips! line, including chocolate mousse, chocolate cherry mousse and chocolate raspberry mousse. “We are very excited about this, because we feel we have a new processing innovation to deliver a great chocolate taste — this was the best way to deliver chocolate, via the Whips texture,” Pierre explains, adding that the product, at 160 calories and 4 grams of fat per serving, is also a “guilt-free” way to indulge a chocolate fix.
Interest in gourmet-style, non-traditional yogurt is also supported by the recent publicity surrounding a line of yogurt made with water buffalo milk. Woodstock Water Buffalo Co. LLC, South Woodstock, Vt., has generated food industry and consumer buzz over the past year with its Water Buffalo Milk Yogurt, purported to contain more protein than yogurt made from cow’s milk. The company offers unique flavors such as Chai, Cappuccino and Black Currant, as well as a line of kid-friendly Buffalo Buddies yogurts.
Package Deal
Although a marketplace review indicates that most new yogurt products are related to product flavor and composition, manufacturers continue to tinker with format and packaging.
The surge in drinkable yogurts and smoothies is the most dominant packaging trend. Several national yogurt brands are going for the bottle, including Yoplait, which recently added new Go-Gurt Smoothies for kids and Yoplait Smoothies for adults, in Original and Light varieties. “Those areas have had strong growth, and smoothies bring more portability and incremental occasions to the category,” Pierre says.
Horizon Organic also recently created a series of smoothies that contain a blend of nonfat organic yogurt and real organic fruit juice. Meanwhile, Blue Bunny has complemented its Carb Freedom spoonable yogurt line with several new low-carb smoothies.
And Stonyfield Farm has rolled out Yo-Baby smoothies and smoothies made with fruit juice and yogurt for toddlers and older children. “That segment continues to become important overall,” Wolpert says, “and now we are seeing more splintering, with basic smoothie and light smoothies, as more need states are being met.”  
Lynn Petrak is a freelance journalist based in the Chicago area.