Manufacturers are seeking the next big thing to dominate the dairy case.

Timing is everything. Greek yogurt entered the U.S. marketplace when scientific research recognizing the benefits of a high-protein diet started emerging. Ten years earlier when the focus was on low-carb, Greek yogurt may have been a flop. Instead, it turned the refrigerated retail dairy case into a shopper’s destination.

Currently, savvy marketers are trying to be first to market with the next “it” yogurt. Some think it may be a new style or form, while others believe it will be decadent dessert formulations.

WhiteWave Foods, Denver, for example, just started rolling out yulu Aussie Style Yogurt, giving the original Aussie brand, Noosa Finest Yoghurt, Bellvue, Colo., some competition. Australian-style yogurt is known for its velvety texture and creaminess as well as inclusion of large, identifiable pieces of fruit. Similar to Greek yogurt, it features a higher protein content and is typically made in small batches and sweetened with honey.

Again, timing is everything. There’s a growing consumer segment — those who want to hear about hand craftsmanship — that likely will find Aussie-style yogurt appealing.

The good news is the time is right for a variety of yogurt innovations. Its versatility as meal, snack and even dessert appeals to a wide spectrum of consumers, consumers who crave variety, along with enhanced nutrition.

For example, to get the burgeoning U.S. Hispanic population on board with Greek yogurt, Grupo LaLa, a Mexican dairy doing business in the United States as Borden Dairy Co., Dallas, is introducing Greek yogurt cups and smoothies under its popular Hispanic dairy brand LaLa. Labels are bilingual as is its marketing campaign.

Drinkable is often the preferred form for yogurt in Latin America. Grupo LaLa is the leader in the category in the United States and in many Latin American countries.

“The time was right to get LaLa Greek into retail outlets, big and small, from the national chains to the neighborhood bodega,” said Kristen Williams, brand manager for LaLa. “Greek yogurt is one of America’s favorite protein-packed snacks, and our smoothies are the first drinkable Greek dairy product available nationwide.”

Functional appeal

Yogurt’s natural wholesomeness and nutrition appeal to a variety of consumers. It’s a versatile product and adaptable to market trends. That’s what manufacturers learned with Greek yogurt.

Three important consumer segments — millennials, baby boomers and health-engaged and exercise-conscientious consumers — are driving growth in the functional food segment, according to the report, “Functional foods: Key trends and developments in ingredients” from Packaged Facts, Rockville, Md. As an inherent source of high-quality protein, essential fatty acids, vitamins, minerals and beneficial bacteria, yogurt is considered one of the original functional foods and is a product that appeals to the three powerful consumer groups.

Millennials are interested in optimizing their current health and preventing declining health in the future. They are more likely to seek foods fortified with calcium, fiber and vitamins and minerals, according to the report. In addition, millennials are driving the trend toward more frequent and healthier snacking. Desirable, healthier snack foods, such as yogurt, are those that millennials are comfortable selecting both in addition to and instead of traditional meals, offering flexibility to be consumed in either fashion.

One such innovation comes from Stonyfield Farm, Londonderry, N.H., which long has recognized the potential for drinkable yogurt, having offered numerous forms during the past 20 years. The company believes the time is right for a high-protein format and is rolling out OP Organic Protein.

Merchandised in the yogurt case, the drink is a uniquely formulated cultured dairy product positioned as a protein smoothie for on-the-go nutrition, a millennial favorite. Available in chocolate, strawberry and vanilla flavors, each 10-oz single-serve bottle provides 15 grams of protein.

San Fernando, Calif.-based Karoun Dairies Inc. recently entered the drinkable cultured dairy category with Blue Isle Yogurt Drink in blueberry, plain, pomegranate and strawberry varieties. The company is building on yogurt’s healthful halo by promoting the probiotic content of the yogurt drinks.

Probiotics for gastrointestinal health resonate with baby boomers, the demographic segment that reportedly controls 70% of U.S. disposable income and drives, to a large extent, the demand for functional foods. A majority of consumers in the demographic want more of the ingredients that have been identified to help prevent or mitigate conditions that relate to aging and tend to afflict older consumers. Such ingredients include probiotics, as well as fiber, antioxidants, heart-healthy ingredients, vitamins and minerals, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D, calcium and
whole grains.

Yogurt is a source of many of the nutrients, while at the same time is an ideal carrier for added nutrients. This is because yogurt’s relatively short, refrigerated shelf life helps ensure nutrient stability and efficacy.

The third group of consumers driving the functional foods market is mindful of the nutritional needs associated with athletic activity and performance, as well as the importance of weight management. They recognize the important role of protein-rich foods, such as yogurt, in the daily diet.

This is the precise demographic The Dannon Co., White Plains, N.Y., set out to reach with its new Oikos Triple Zero Greek Yogurt. The “triple zero” refers to the fact that the yogurt has zero added sugar, zero artificial sweeteners and zero fat. Each 5.3-oz single-serve cup packs in the protein: 15 grams. The product’s formulation, along with its marketing platform (the brand is the official yogurt of the National Football League), showcases Dannon’s continued efforts to engage a wider audience and expand its once predominantly female consumer base to include men.

A healthful indulgence

It tastes good, it’s loaded with nutrients — It’s no wonder consumption of yogurt continues to rise. Although the rise in yogurt consumption is a global phenomenon, there is not one single brand or yogurt style to which it may be attributed, according to an international perception survey on yogurt among 6,000 men and women in Brazil, China, France, Poland, Turkey and the United States, conducted by DSM Food Specialties, The Netherlands, in May 2014.

“The really exciting thing about yogurt is its flexibility and the way in which manufacturers can work with it to create products that meet consumers’ needs,” said Mark Fahlin, global marketing manager-fermented milk products at DSM. “We’ve seen this in the U.S., where a new focus on protein consumption has led to a spike in the sales of Greek yogurt, which sits on the shelves alongside low-fat options and yogurts containing substances to help lower cholesterol.”

That same shelf is making way for an emerging category of dessert-inspired yogurts, with many containing creamy milkfat, while also being a source of protein and other nutrients. These yogurts give permission for consumers to indulge.

For example, to help consumers keep their New Year’s healthful-eating resolutions, Stonyfield introduced Oh My Yog!, a triple-layered indulgent yogurt. The top layer is cream, the middle layer is honey-sweetened whole milk yogurt and the bottom is fruit, such as apple cinnamon, gingered pear and orange cranberry. Each 6-oz cup contains 190 calories, 5 grams of fat and 7 grams of protein.

Another example comes from Dannon. The company shows consumers that Greek yogurt may be an indulgent dairy snack with its Oikos Chocolate On Top and Oikos Caramel On Top products. Each 5.3-oz cup is Greek yogurt topped with a dollop of smooth creamy chocolate or caramel. The chocolate varieties are raspberry truffle and chocolate-covered strawberry, while caramel comes in bananas Foster and caramel macchiato. Even with the extra layer of indulgence, the dairy snacks still pack the protein, with each single-serve container providing 10 grams.

Müller Quaker Dairy, Chicago, adds ice cream-inspired flavors to its refrigerated yogurt offerings. Described as “thick and creamy,” the four new flavors — mint chocolate chip, raspberry chocolate chip, strawberries and cream and vanilla bean — sound more like dairy treats found in the retail freezer or a scoop shop.

The company is marketing the indulgent yogurts as “a good source of protein and calcium for 210 calories or less for that ‘me moment’ you deserve.” Each 5.3-oz cup contains 8 to 9 grams of fat, 16 to 22 grams of sugar and 7 grams of protein.

A household staple

Though there appears to be a yogurt for everyone’s tastes and nutritional preferences, in the United States, yogurt is part of the daily diet for only 20% of consumers and 14% eat the food less than once a month, according to DSM’s survey. But consumers in the United States are still eating more yogurt than ever before, with almost 6 in every 10 families who have children under the age of 16 doing so.

Furthermore, it is families with children under 16 who are most likely to eat yogurt daily. The DSM survey revealed that 35% of households with children under the age of 16 consume yogurt daily compared to 22% of singles. Women are more likely than men to make yogurt part of their daily diet, with 36% of women having a yogurt a day versus 26% of men.

The survey showed that respondents in the 25- to 35-years-old range, part of the millennial generation, are the ones who are really adding more yogurt to their diet. Every year, more of the millennial demographic enters the workplace, marries and starts a family. As their purchasing power increases, the role of value-added yogurt in their diet quite possibly could, too. Interestingly, this demographic expressed a willingness to pay more for value-added nutrition in yogurt, in particular for their offspring, who in turn will have always known yogurt as a staple part of the diet.

It’s no wonder numerous dairies are investing in innovations for the youngest family members. Most notably, Chobani L.L.C., Norwich, N.Y., America’s No. 1 Greek yogurt brand, has a major portfolio expansion along with new marketing initiatives to continue its category leadership and deliver on its mission to provide better food for more people.

Its new platform is designed specifically for children and toddlers — Chobani Kids and Chobani Tots — Greek yogurt comes in convenient, single-serve pouches. Chobani Kids offers 8 grams of protein and 25% less sugar than the leading children’s yogurt and comes in child-approved flavors such as banana, chocolate dust, grape, strawberry and watermelon. Chobani Tots combines whole milk Greek yogurt with real fruits and vegetables and is enhanced with docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), an omega-3 fatty acid associated with cognitive development. Varieties are banana and pumpkin and mango and spinach.

For on-the-go adult household members, the company is introducing Chobani Greek Yogurt Oats-Ancient Grain Blend, an extension of the brand’s recent take on oatmeal that offers a hearty breakfast with 10 grams of whole grains, 10 grams of protein and 3 grams of fiber per container. The new Ancient Grain Blend is packed with steel-cut oats, quinoa, chia, buckwheat and amaranth, creamy Greek yogurt and fruit blended into two new flavors: Mixed Berry 5-Grain and Apricot 5-Grain.

“We see significant room for growth,” said Peter McGuinness, chief marketing and brand officer. “Our marketing in the coming year will focus especially on driving trial and raising awareness, including national campaigns, event marketing and sampling programs that introduce even more people to our products and the category.”

Dominik Grabinski, global marketing manager-cultures at DSM, concludes, “It is difficult to think of a more dynamic food than yogurt or one that is used by consumers in a wider variety of ways. To a greater extent than almost any other product, yogurt has the ability to be consumed at breakfast, lunch or dinner and as a snack between meals. What this means for manufacturers is the opportunity to think bigger: to identify the ways in which their products are being used day-to-day and build upon these.”

The industry is heading into a new era of yogurt innovation, one that knows no boundaries.