Forget about New York’s “borscht belt.” The hottest food and fashion accessory in the Empire State is the “yogurt belt.” Chobani, Fage, Emmi-Roth and Alpina Foods have yogurt processing plants in an east-to-west swath of upstate New York.

Last year, Commonwealth Dairy, a joint venture between Ehrmann USA, and Commonwealth Yogurt, opened a facility in Brattleboro, Vt. However, this is no Northeast phenomenon. Chobani is building a plant in Twin Falls, Idaho, to serve customers in the west. Mid Frisian Dairy in Clovis, N.M., broke ground in March for a yogurt facility where the van der Ploeg family will produce Freanna Original Yogurt.

The action is driven by Greek-style yogurt, one of the fastest-growing foods ever to hit the U.S. market. According to the Chicago-based market research firm Mintel, Greek-style yogurt accounted for about 25% of all segment sales, more than doubling the figure from the previous year.

Consumer interest in yogurt is just part of the story in cultured dairy foods, albeit a big part. Elsewhere in the category, processors and brands are developing product extensions and cleaning up their labels on cottage cheese, cream cheese, dips and sour cream.

At Kraft Foods Inc., Northfield, Ill., the company now offers the Breakstone’s Sour Cream Dip Line with the tagline: “Real Dairy – No Oils. No MSG.” The product comes in four flavors: Buffalo, French Onion, Ranch and Southwest Style.

Kraft is also aggressively growing its Philadelphia cream cheese brand. Last year it struck gold with Philadelphia Cooking Crèmes, a line of refrigerated creamy and spoonable seasoned creams to be mixed into pasta, spooned onto a baked potato or stirred into a casserole. The most popular original flavor — Italian Cheese & Herb — now comes in a 15-ounce container (all others are in 10-ounce tubs), as well as in a reduced-fat version. New flavors include Creamy Pesto and Savory Lemon & Herb.

On Valentine’s Day, the Philadelphia brand rolled out Indulgence, a cream cheese in dark, milk or white chocolate flavors. The spread is meant to be paired with fruit, cookies or salty snacks. It is sold in the cream cheese section in 8-ounce tubs, as well as in four packs of 1.25-ounce single-serving cups.

Another noteworthy rollout for Kraft is in its cottage cheese. The company is using a trick that yogurt marketers have known for some time: indulgent flavors transform cultured dairy products into better-for-you desserts. The Breakstone’s 100-calorie line of 4-ounce cups of cottage cheese (sold in four packs) now comes in Strawberry Shortcake and Peach Cobbler varieties.


Cleaning up labels

A number of dairies have given their cottage cheese and sour cream lines a make-over. For example, Fit to Go is a new line of single-serve (5-ounce) cottage cheese cups from Friendship Dairies, Friendship, N.Y., a part of Dean Foods, Dallas. High in protein, cottage cheese is increasingly being recognized by health- and wellness-conscious consumers as a satiating snack. These portion-controlled cups make cottage cheese convenient and portable. Varieties are: 4% California Style, 1% Low Fat and 1% Low Fat with Pineapple.

“Simple” is the name of the game for Smith’s All Natural Sour Cream. “Today’s consumers are looking for foods with less processing and more natural ingredients,” says Penny Baker, director of marketing, Smith Dairy Products Co., Orrville, Ohio. “Our new All Natural Sour Cream is a simple recipe made with cultured milk and cream.”