CHICAGO — About a year ago, Dallas-based LaLa U.S.A. decided to shake things up in the retail yogurt market, which was still growing in sales, but much slower than when Chobani, New Berlin, N.Y., introduced America to Greek yogurt. LaLa introduced drinkable yogurts — and continues to add variations — along with a national advertising outreach based on the concept of “#Yogurting.” The desired outcome: to differentiate in the crowded, and at times, a chaotic yogurt case.
Large or small, most yogurt companies are trying every strategy possible to stand out; to be the next Chobani. Consider Dannon Co., White Plains, N.Y., a subsidiary of Groupe Danone, Paris, and the nation’s leading yogurt maker. In July 2016, the company announced that in response to evolving consumer preferences, it was making major changes to provide more choice to consumers. The effort included reformulating products with non-G.M.O. ingredients. Further, starting this year and completing the transformation by the end of 2018, the company only will source milk from cows fed non-G.M.O. feed for its three flagship brands (Dannon, Danimals and Oikos). The initiative involves the conversion of an estimated 80,000 acres of farmland to produce non-G.M.O. crops.
The company also hopped on the whole milk yogurt bandwagon with a line of products made with all-natural, non-G.M.O. ingredients and fortified with vitamin D. Fortification is an anomaly in mainstream yogurt, and thus another potential point of differentiation.
Kendall Powell, chairman and chief executive officer, General Mills Inc., Minneapolis, alluded to the fact that the company would be stepping up its game in the yogurt sector during a conference call with financial analysts on Sept. 21, 2016. He said there is immense competition in the business and that Yoplait’s products have become less differentiated.
“So we’re looking to change that by rolling out a significant product improvement,” he said.
Yoplait, along with General Mills' other yogurt brands — Liberte and Annie’s — have come through with numerous introductions in the months since the presentation. The Yoplait brand has a series of new product lines and redesigned packaging. The company recently introduced Yoplait Custard Yogurt in a completely different package for the brand, one that provides the illusion of a dessert cup. Made with whole milk, and a clean and simple ingredient legend, the line aims to radiate indulgent flavor.
New Yoplait Greek 100 Protein, on the other hand, is all about protein density. The artificially sweetened nonfat yogurt packs in 14 to 15 grams of protein in every 5.3-oz container.
The brand also has extended itself into the interactive snacking sector with Yoplait Dippers. The dome-style container includes sweet or savory nonfat Greek yogurt in one part and crunchy dippers in the other. Offerings include chipotle ranch yogurt with tortilla chips, coffee chocolate chunk yogurt with cinnamon crisps and toasted coconut yogurt with honey oat crisps.
Liberte Nicaraguan Coffee Bean joined the six-month old organic whole milk yogurt line as a limited-batch variety. The line features worldly flavors, with product labels calling out the source of the ingredients. There’s Californian pomegranate, Baja strawberry, Ecuadorian mango, French lavender, Philippine coconut and Washington black cherry.
LaLa is introducing a line of Greek yogurt smoothies as part of its #Yogurting platform. It joins the original two product lines designed for weight management. One formulation is based on whole grains and protein, while the other is a 100-calorie smoothie.
This month, Wholesome Yogurt, Bellevue, Wash., is reintroducing its Cascade Fresh brand as Cascade Culture. With the tagline of “Crafted for your health,” the product addresses major trends around simple ingredients, dairy’s inherent healthfulness and sustainability. The artisan product highlights the inclusion of probiotics, milk from grass-fed cows and the absence of refined sugar. The fruit preparation used in the new 6-oz low-fat yogurt line is sweetened only by fruit juice and is made with locally sourced fruit from Pacific coast states. The uniquely shaped package — described as a round square — has a transparent bottom to showcase the fruit pieces.
The package showcases watercolor art, which, according to the company, reflects its artisan nature artisanship and its support for local artists. The package uses the new Nutrition Facts Panel, making the brand one of the first dairy products to market with the new format. It declares 3 grams of added sugar from juice concentrate.
Innovative flavors and flavor combination also are being used to differentiate. For example, Chobani added three new dessert-flavored low-fat Greek yogurt options to its Flip line in January 2017. As with all of Chobani’s products, the new flavors are made with “only natural non-G.M.O. ingredients.”
Carrot Cake Creation is sweet carrot yogurt with a side of cinnamon-glazed cake pieces, walnuts and creamy white chocolate chunks. This flavor contains carrots, pineapple and coconut to replicate the carrot cake flavor. Cinnabun Fun is cinnamon yogurt with a side of pastry pieces, chewy caramels and cinnamon-roasted pecans. S’more S’mores is vanilla yogurt with a side of honey graham crackers and milk chocolate and toasted sugar bits.