Germ Warfare
James Dudlicek
(847) 405-4009
Gary Hirschberg was the luncheon speaker at the Healthy Foods Conference in mid-September, so I decided to play chicken with my deadline and jet off to Washington, D.C., for a day to listen in. The tale of Stonyfield Farm’s rise from commune to corporate giant is fascinating, but the other sessions also were valuable. They told me that while dairy is doing well in the good-for-you arena, there’s still much unfulfilled potential.
Stonyfield is making great strides in promoting healthier eating and fighting obesity, especially among children. Famous for its YoBaby line that gets kids in on the ground floor of cultured products, the company is seeing success with its Menu for Change program. In 900 schools nationwide, Stonyfield vending machines are introducing youngsters to yogurt and other healthy food items.
“The kids devour this stuff,” Hirschberg told the luncheon audience. “Don’t tell them it’s healthy — put it in cool machines in day-glow colors and they love it.”
That commitment to better health and growth in the natural/organic segment is fueling Stony­field’s success to the tune of $210 million in annual sales, which Hirschberg reports is a 45 percent jump over last year, versus 8 percent for the total yogurt category.
This and other data tell me that many processors need to do more to educate consumers on the health benefits of cultured products. True, Yoplait has added plant sterols to fight cholesterol and Dannon is spiking yogurt with more fiber. But according to Productscan Online’s Tom Vierhile, probiotics have only 16 percent consumer awareness, compared to 68 percent for whey, 74 percent for omega-3 fatty acids and 94 percent for green tea.
“It is a challenge,” Vierhile said at a conference session, while noting that “yogurt/kefir” is among the top five retail sales trends. Could American consumers, addicted to anti­bacterial cleansing products, be getting mixed messages about bacteria’s significance to wellness?
Further data confirmed opportunities are to be had in healthy foods for kids. Indulgence, however, is another strong trend, with the frozen dessert segment offering the most product launches with 109 SKUs in the past year, Vierhile noted. Of course, many of those have been in the better-for-you arena, with products from Dreyer’s, Breyers and others promoting the best of both worlds.
In all, the conference (co-hosted by Stagnito’s New Products Magazine) left me with the impression that there’s a whole big world of oppor­tunities in wellness and functional foods waiting for enterprising processors to conquer it.
“Got milk?” delivers the generic message; 3-A-Day is turning attention toward the calcium-weight loss connection. Cultured could be dairy’s next frontier in overall health and wellness: Boost awareness of probiotics and find ways to leverage the better-known functional ingredients. It’s time to start working on a new message.  
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