WhiteWave eyeing plant-based yogurt segment

by Keith Nunes
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DALLAS — The WhiteWave Foods Co. wants to extend its plant-based brands’ reach into the yogurt category. Using insights from is European Alpro business unit, company executives believe they may grow and expand in the U.S. yogurt market.

“There’s outstanding potential in this arena, and this is a powerful area where we are going to leverage the know-how across our business in growing the plant-based alternative to the dairy yogurt business in the United States,” said Gregg Engles, chairman and chief executive officer, in a conference call with financial analysts on Nov. 30.

But Mr. Engles added there will need to be an education component for U.S. consumers, and the plant-based yogurt market will be a “slow build.”

WhiteWave Foods currently has a line of yogurts it sells under the Silk brand. Silk Live Soy Yogurt includes probiotics and is currently available in nine flavors. Blaine McPeak, president of WhiteWave Foods, said at the end of this month the company will begin shipping Silk Fruity & Creamy yogurt.

“We currently have plant-based yogurts under the Silk brand today, but in partnership with the Alpro organization, who have just a fantastic tasting yogurt, we have been able to fundamentally improve the overall performance of the launch that we have coming up here in January,” Mr. McPeak said.
He added the new products will be available in a soy and almond variety.

Mr. Engles said plant-based yogurts comprise a “high-teens percentage” of Alpro’s business in Europe, and it is growing at a 25% compound rate.

WhiteWave’s growth in yogurt reflects its strategic insights into the fact that the dairy-based category is going to remain under pressure relative to cost increases related to feed.

“At the end of the day, the plant-based model is a lower-cost model because the cow is a relatively inefficient converter of grain into protein,” Mr. Engles said. “So in what we believe will be a long-term inflationary environment, the cost advantage of plant-based over dairy, we believe, will continue to grow.

“And today, that model puts us in a position of having a ‘premiumized’ product that we can innovate against and invest a robust amount against in terms of marketing to consumers.”

January will be a busy month for WhiteWave Foods as it also will introduce several new products related to its International Delights creamer business.

“On the creamer side we’ll continue to expand the flavor of assortment of that brand overall with the launch of sugar-free caramel in the January time frame,” Mr. McPeak said. “We are really excited about continuing to progress the overall category development of the iced coffee segment. We launched that in January of last year.

“We’re going to expand that fairly aggressively here in the first quarter of 2013 with the launch of an International Delight light iced coffee with just 100 calories, with the launch of Silk iced soy lattes, and as well as a launch of a single-serve offering as well for those people who want to enjoy it on the go. We feel really encouraged about how we are going to be pushing forward on the innovation front. It’s been a clear characteristic of our growth profile historically, and I think we feel good about it going into 2013.”

Mr. McPeak also said WhiteWave Foods will introduce Horizon TrueMoo milk beverages in a single-serve format in 2013. The new product will target the children’s market as an on-the-go item that may be included in a child’s school lunch box.
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