Dairy going bold, decadent and child-friendly

by Allison Sebolt
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While health and wellness has emerged powerfully in the cheese and yogurt categories, consumers also are becoming more adventurous in their choices at the same time.

This month, General Mills, Inc., Minneapolis, introduced a carbonated yogurt called Go-Gurt Fizzix. With flavors such as blue raspberry range/strawberry watermelon rush, wild cherry zing/strawberry lemonade jolt, fruit punch charge/triple berry fusion, the product line is strongly geared toward children.

In a December 2006 study that focused on yogurt, Euromonitor International found parents are giving drinkable yogurt to children instead of other snack products such as soft drinks or potato chips.

According to the Mintel Global New Products Database, adults are currently the primary consumers in the drinkable yogurt category, but a number of products geared toward children are hitting the market. In addition, functional claims lead the sub-category, with an emphasis on claims to improve digestive health and boost the immune system.

Yogurt is identified as a healthier snack, but it also is being recognized as a decadent dessert — allowing companies to market health and indulgence at the same time. YoCrunch, a division of The Breyers Yogurt Co., Naugatuck, Conn., developed a line of crunch yogurt mix-ins with toppings such as M&M’s, Reese’s Pieces, Oreos, Nestle Crunch, Butterfinger, Tree Top and Grape-Nuts.

"We are firm believers at YoCrunch that health and great taste need not be mutually exclusive," said Chuck Marcy, president. "We have received such great response to our core line from people of all ages who love the convenience of our crunchy toppings above YoCrunch’s nutritious and smooth yogurt."

YoCrunch also has introduced a natural line, which features all-natural yogurt topped with all-natural toppings such as Back to Nature granola, Grape-Nuts cereal and SunSpire baking chips.

"As the yogurt category is growing, and it’s growing both in dollar sales and unit sales, the U.S. consumer is looking for other eating occasions," said Shannon Daily, brand manager for YoCrunch. "These flavors are

indicative of that snacking increase."

Reduced or no fat products still maintained the leading claim in the spoonable yogurt category and represented 30% of total product introductions, according to the Mintel Global New Products Database.

In addition, functional ingredients aiding digestion remain prevalent in the spoonable yogurt category, and a move toward more natural products with less additives and preservatives with more all natural and organic ingredients could be seen, Mintel said. Fortification with

vitamins and minerals remains important and allows consumers to gain extra nutrition from yogurt.

According to Euromonitor, General Mills and The Dannon Co., White Plains, N.Y., a subsidiary of Groupe Danone, are leading the yogurt category with the Yoplait and Dannon brands. Sales are predicted to grow by 26% between 2006 and 2011 largely a result of large growth in drinkable and probiotic, spoonable yogurt.

Euromonitor indicated vanilla is the most popular yogurt flavor in the United States, with strawberry, mixed berries and blueberry also popular. Chocolate was a popular decadent flavor to be introduced in an effort to market products as a healthier alternative to dessert. Dannon’s Activia, which was launched in January 2006, continues to drive yogurt sales as consumers become more aware of the health benefits of probiotics.

Americans have stepped up yogurt consumption in comparison with Europeans, according to Euromonitor. Until the 1970s, yogurt in the United States had a reputation of being sour, clumpy, runny and flavorless.

Looking for adventure

While consumers are looking to more decadent flavors in yogurt, the sky seems to be the limit when it comes to what consumers are willing to try with cheese. Variety appears to be essential.

"Our research indicates consumers are becoming more adventurous in their cheese choices," said Barbara Gannon, vice-president of corporate and marketing communications for Sargento Foods, Inc., Plymouth, Wis. "They travel more and eat out in restaurants frequently and want to be able to enjoy those same flavor options at home."

Sargento recently introduced a limited edition line of cheese that allows the company to offer a specific cheese flavor for about six months and then change it to provide additional variety. For example, Vermont sharp white cheddar was the first limited edition variety of 2007, and the company currently is selling an aged provolone in its limited edition line.

"There seems to be something that is real special happening with people’s enthusiasm for cheese and willingness and interest in trying different varieties," Ms. Gannon said.

Ms. Gannon said the company noticed an interest in a variety of cheeses, and since the limited edition concept has worked in other food segments, Sargento decided to give it a try. She said the company buys what it expects to be about a five to six month supply of each cheese and replaces it as it sells out.

She said while it was not the company’s original intent to make any of the limited edition lines available permanently, she said that would be a possibility if the demand is great enough. She also said Sargento is monitoring flavors being offered in restaurants and trying to mimic similar trends in the grocery store.

"We expect the current interest in specialty cheeses and more bold, flavorful high-quality natural cheeses will appeal to the baby boomer generation that is aging and the Generation Xers who have a global perspective on all consumer goods, including food," Ms. Gannon said.

She said bolder flavors are increasingly popular with baby boomers, attributing the interest to the segment’s desire to experience new flavors as their taste buds lose their sharpness as they age.

Chipotle cheddar is another new variety of cheese from Sargento, and Ms. Gannon said it was introduced in response to how popular the chipotle flavor is in menus and in commercial products such as mayonnaise.

In terms of all-time favorite flavors, Ms. Gannon said the popularity of mozzarella never seems to wane in the United States, and Sargento’s four-cheese Mexican blend has been popular since its introduction. She attributes this to the popularity of Italian and Mexican foods in the United States.

According to Mintel Global New Products Database, a move toward natural products in the cheese category has been seen with no additives or preservatives being a major claim. Organic and all natural formulations are becoming important as well, with seasonal and limited editions featured more often.

According to The NPD Group/National Eating Trends, 19% of cheese consumed in-home for the year ended in February 2007 was American, with the average person consuming 22 servings of American cheese. For the same year, 18% of cheese consumed in-home was cheddar and 8% was parmesan. In addition, total cheese consumption has increased about 14% over the past five years.

According to ACNielsen, sales in all cheese departments for prepackaged products in retail channels excluding Wal-Mart during the year ended May 19 was $352,187,817,357, up 2.6% from the previous year. Specialty and imported cheeses had an 8.4% sales growth during the year compared with the previous year, while natural cheese variety packs rose 111.3% compared with the previous year.

This article can also be found in the digital edition of Food Business News, July 24, 2007, starting on Page 45. Click here to search that archive.

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