About a decade ago, Greek yogurt was the game-changer in the U.S. cultured products space. But newer cultured dairy products are now providing some competition — and adding excitement to the dairy case.
One of those products is skyr. And Icelandic Provisions, New York, lays claim to the only skyr made in the United States using the original Icelandic recipe with heirloom Icelandic skyr cultures.
Dairy Foods asked Elliot Shifrin, the company’s vice president of marketing, about how skyr fits in with today’s consumer preferences and the product’s growth potential.
Dairy Foods: In a nutshell, how does skyr differ from the traditional yogurts to which U.S. consumers are accustomed?
Elliot Shifrin: A couple things make skyr different from yogurt: 1) the cultures and 2) the process of making it. True skyr cultures are unique strands that come from centuries ago in Iceland. They were passed down from generation to generation similar to sourdough starter that a grandmother will pass down to her family members.
At Icelandic Provisions, we are the only company in the U.S. that has access to these cultures because of our partnership with the oldest and largest dairy farmer cooperative in Iceland. The process for making it is the other difference. The process to make skyr strains almost 4 cups of milk, while a Greek yogurt uses 3 cups. The increased amount of milk we use results in a product that is even higher in protein than Greek yogurts, and because of the mild taste of our skyr, we don’t have to add very much sugar to our product.
Dairy Foods: What makes this recipe and the cultures so important to the product’s formulation?
Shifrin: The cultures are what make skyr skyr. There are some skyr-style products in the U.S. that are using the same techniques and equipment we are, but do not have the cultures. The cultures are what give skyr its unique texture and rich taste.
Ask any Icelander and they will tell you that Icelandic Provisions skyr is the only one in the market in the U.S. that tastes like home. Our mission is to bring that authentic skyr to Americans, thus the importance of the cultures.
Dairy Foods: How does skyr fit in with the current and evolving preferences of U.S. consumers?
Shifrin: With regards to food, there are really two main factors that go into preference (both current and evolving): taste and nutrition. Luckily for us, we win on both counts. We have a highly nutritious product that tastes fantastic.
We also have flavors that are constantly piquing consumers’ interests and nodding to ingredient trends in our own Icelandic way that honors our Nordic heritage. For instance, we mix our strawberry with lingonberry, which is native to the Nordics. Our customers like that they can taste something new alongside something familiar.
Dairy Foods: The U.S. cultured dairy products segment recently has been in expansion mode in terms of new product types, flavors, etc. In your view, what is the growth potential for skyr over the next five years?
Shifrin: Skyr/Icelandic yogurt is the fastest-growing segment of the category in the grocery store. In fact, while the category over the last 52 weeks is down 3.1%, Icelandic yogurts are up 63%.
Many consumers are no longer purchasing light yogurts and finding that skyr/Icelandic yogurt is a great substitute. Light Greek yogurt is worth well over a half-billion [dollars], and there is no reason skyr won’t become larger than this segment in the near future.
Dairy Foods: What is the “latest and greatest” from Icelandic Provisions in the skyr space?
Shifrin: We are launching 24-ounce tubs in plain and vanilla. We have had hundreds of consumer calls, emails and messages on social media, and we are extremely excited to bring this new size to them.
Dairy Foods: How does Icelandic Provisions stay on top of U.S. consumer trends? What are you most excited about as a company moving forward?
Shifrin: In addition to monitoring our syndicated POS data, we listen to our consumers and spend a lot of time in the market talking to shoppers in stores and our retail partners. We’re excited to expand upon the incredible wave of support and enthusiasm we’ve built for this humble product from Iceland that has literally existed for a thousand years.