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The Cultured Club

This dairy category is live and active-packed with innovation
Photograph courtesy of Chobani

With on-trend and highly desirable attributes such as protein and probiotics, cultured dairy products have untapped potential for growth, especially when they also meet consumer demand for convenience and snacking.

While new product innovations from plant-based to grab-and-go have consumers spoiled for choice in the category, the abundance of options has intensified the need to make shopping the cultured dairy set fast and friendly.   

Ahold Delhaize’s Quincy, Mass.-based Stop & Shop brand recently revamped the cultured dairy sets in all of its stores with shopper convenience in mind. “Our cultured dairy sets are now more clean and streamlined with organized brand blocking that not only helps customers to find their favorite brands, but also helps newer items stand out,” says Stop & Shop Manager of Merchandise Acceleration Deane Sullivan, who led the set restructuring.

“Lactose-free options are now next to each other to help those with sensitivities easily locate their options. Ethnic items that cater to consumers of various cultural backgrounds have also been added into our mainline set,” he says. “When you make it easier for the customer to find exactly what they’re looking for, you make shopping a much more fun and convenient experience for them.”

The Surge in Snacking 

Increasingly what Stop & Shop customers are looking for are better-for-you snacks. As the trend to replace sit-down meals with on-the-go snacks continues, convenient grab-and-go cultured dairy products are in demand.

“As new diets like keto are on the rise, and people continue to look for more healthy natural snacking options, the cultured segments of dairy—yogurt, cottage cheese, etc.—are leading the way,” says Sullivan, who sees cottage cheese, in particular, making a comeback.

Cottage cheese for years has been considered something your parents ate, but “now all generations are reaching for cottage cheese, as it’s packed with great protein and healthy fats,” he says.

Sullivan finds that brands such as Good Culture, with its all-natural and simple ingredients, are resonating with today’s consumers. Irvine, Calif.-based Good Culture offers Simply Cottage Cheese in several varieties, including recently launched Double Cream Classic, a clean-label cottage cheese that contains 6% milk fat.

“This new product has a craveable mouthfeel and supports today’s increasingly keto-centric consumption behaviors,” says co-founder and CEO Jesse Merrill, who sees a “big shift to full-fat cultured dairy products that support a keto lifestyle and on-the-go permissible indulgence.”

Stirring Opportunities 

While total sales of yogurt are flat, the global market researchers at Mintel suggest that new yogurt styles may present opportunities for growth. “After peaking in 2015 due to the growth of Greek yogurt, sales of yogurt have gradually declined year over year,” finds Mintel’s 2018 U.S. Yogurt and Yogurt Drinks report, which projects total yogurt sales will reach $8.2 billion by 2023, representing a 3.5% decline from 2018.

However, drinkable yogurt as well as nondairy, high-protein/low-sugar and snack-friendly offerings show strong growth potential, according to Mintel.

“Consumer needs are constantly evolving, and for grocery retailers to maintain or increase their success in cultured dairy, it’s critical to provide a comprehensive range of choices that directly address those needs,” says Michael Neuwirth, senior director of external communications for Danone North America, White Plains, N.Y.

“In the yogurt category, specifically, there’s an opportunity for growth with Americans eating much less yogurt than our Canadian and European counterparts. To get more people excited about eating yogurt and keep consumers coming back to the aisle, it is important to continue to provide new on-trend innovations,” he continues.

One trend Danone sees in the yogurt category is a consumer preference for on-the-go options, such as yogurt drinks or bars. This sparked the launch of Activia Probiotic Smoothies in three flavors. The low-fat yogurt drinks, with zero grams of added sugar, blend Activia’s billions of live and active probiotics with fruit, veggies and seeds.

“Activia Probiotic Smoothies provide the on-the-go consumer with a one-hand solution to make it easy to support gut health as part of a balanced diet and daily routine,” says Neuwirth. “We’ve also seen consistent trends in more premium yogurt, low-sugar options, probiotics and kids.”

Quark-Conscious Consumers 

A relative newcomer to the U.S. market, quark may soon be more commonplace in America as this cultured dairy product delivers the protein and probiotics consumers increasingly crave.

New York-based Wunder Creamery launched its line of quark made with whole milk from grass-fed cows in May 2018. Its authentic quark recipe is non-tart, high in protein, powered by probiotics (one serving contains 2 billion colony-forming units, or CFUs) and low in sugar; it’s also all-natural with no artificial additives, sweeteners or gums.

grassfed quark wunder creamery

Photograph courtesy of Wunder Creamery

But as with any new product, getting consumers to try it is an essential first step in ushering it into more households. “Trial is definitely an important part of our success with retailers,” says Tom Lavery, VP of sales for Wunder Creamery, who points to West Bridgewater, Mass.-based Shaw’s Supermarkets and Keasbey, N.J.-based Wakefern/ShopRite as grocers who’ve successfully introduced the category to shoppers. “They believe in our product and the growth of the quark category.”

Wunder Creamery, which launched with traditional flavors such as Blueberry and Raspberry as well as trend-forward varieties such as Coffee and Matcha, recently expanded its line with three new SKUs: Strawberry, Mango and Coconut.

Permissible Indulgence 

As consumers increasingly seek healthier indulgences, yogurt in dessert-inspired flavors such as chocolate and vanilla provide a sweet treat that also features protein, probiotics and more.

Rachael Richards, category manager of cultured for Waitsfield, Vt.-based Cabot, sees consumers looking for a more rich and indulgent cultured product, possibly as an ice cream or traditional dessert alternative.

“Cabot’s new Triple Cream Vanilla Greek Yogurt was created to be a more indulgent, dessert-like product, while still providing an excellent source of calcium, vitamin D and protein that our customers look for,” she says. “We added cream to this recipe, on top of the whole milk base, making it one of the more premium Greek items in the line.”

Earlier this year, Minneapolis-based General Mills launched Oui Petites under its Yoplait brand also to provide consumers with a balance of taste and health for a more decadent way to enjoy yogurt.

“The product line consists of French-style yogurt in more indulgent flavors like Chocolate With Shavings and Sea Salt Caramel packaged in petite glass pots,” says Melissa Gallant, senior marketing manager for Yoplait. Sold in two-packs, the flavors are designed to be an afternoon sweet treat.

For younger consumers and their families, the company’s Go-Gurt brand launched a Hershey’s Cookies ‘N’ Creme flavor in June. “Cookies and cream is the No. 3 kids’ flavor profile, and now kids can enjoy it from a tube,” she says.

Mixing Things Up 

“Though total yogurt consumption is down, consumers—particularly iGens, [or Generation Z]—are eating yogurt more often as a snack,” the Mintel yogurt report. “Consumers are interested in healthful, functional snacks and the snack occasion represents a key opportunity for yogurt brands.”

Mintel points to yogurts that are packaged with other ingredients that can be mixed in for a convenient snack or breakfast option as a growth area. According to the report, sales of Chobani Flip now surpass $371 million.

Last month, Norwich, N.Y.-based Chobani introduced Chobani Greek Yogurt With Nut Butters in five varieties: Vanilla Greek Yogurt With Almond Butter, Plain Greek Yogurt With Almond Butter, Honey Greek Yogurt With Almond Butter, Chocolate Greek Yogurt With Hazelnut Butter and Vanilla Greek Yogurt With Cashew Butter.

The platform combines low-fat Greek yogurt with nut butter blends on the bottom of each cup. Chobani Greek Yogurt With Nut Butters are made using only natural, non-GMO ingredients. They do not contain artificial flavors, sweeteners and preservatives

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