There has been an explosion of functional and probiotic products in the booming drinking yoghurts category

The drinking yoghurts category has experienced dramatic change over the past decade. Where years ago there was one clear player in Yop, now there are many brands jostling for shelf space in a category that has been well and truly bitten by the functional bug.

However, as the drinking yoghurts market continues to expand, with a plethora of functional and probiotic products thrown into the mix in recent years, manufacturers are waking up to the fact that communication is key to avoid confusing consumers.

As a result, big brand names have been spooning out on advertising aimed at getting their healthy messages across effectively - a move that has been welcomed by buyers.

"While the market has enjoyed a boom time over the past few years and manufacturers have jumped on the bandwagon, there is a lot of confusion surrounding functionality and taste," says Steve Dixon, trading controller for Nisa-Today's.

"We are all enjoying the growth that the market shows, but we need to be careful that ranges and NPD remain focused and well communicated."

A classic example of a confused message is Müller's Light Drinking Yoghurt, launched last year but ditched after fewer than six months. Dixon believes one reason for this was poor communication and that it cannibalised market share of Müller's Vitality line.

Müller recently relaunched Vitality with Omega-3, including on-pack communication and TV advertising. "This time around the company is focusing on making the product more clearly understood," adds Dixon.

While also stating the importance of clear communication, Danone, owner of brand leader Actimel, offers another reason as to why some new entries have struggled to hold their own.

"Consumers are rejecting brands that don't have the credibility and the right science behind them," says Adam Grant, sales director at Danone. "There is a lot more belief in the more established brands such as Actimel."

Yet it is a slightly more sober story when it comes to number three brand Yakult, which last year was overtaken by Müller Vitality, and which experienced a sales drop of 3.6% to £29.3m in value last year.

Despite creating the probiotic drinks market in the UK in 1996, the company's scientific approach to the brand, focusing heavily on the efficacy of the bacteria rather than developing new flavours, appears to have hindered rather than helped the brand. Even so, the company is in no mood to change from its initial positioning. Its latest advertising push, which kicked off at the end of last year, lampooned other brands for their more lifestyle-oriented approaches.

Undeterred, Danone this month threw Actimel into the kids' segment with the launch of packs that flag up the benefits for kids, which it believes will further grow the brand. It is supporting the launch with in-store activity and a £4m TV push, and predicts the newcomer will clock up sales of £12m in its first year.

"Other products available are primarily about taste rather than functional benefits, but Actimel Kids Packs is about getting the health benefits of the product across to mums," says Grant.

Danone is not the first manufacturer to tap into the potential for functional products aimed at kids, however.

Yoplait Dairy Crest added Petits Filous Plus, a daily-dose yoghurt drink that contains bacteria to help keep children's digestive systems in balance, to its menu in August last year, backed by a £6m advertising campaign.

"We are planning further extensions this year as well as ramping up the health message," says Yoplait Dairy Crest marketing director Gerry Roads.

Nestlé has also made strides in the kids' probiotic category with Munch Bunch Drinky+. At the beginning of this year it extended the brand's offering by adding Omega-3 across the range and recently added a raspberry variant.

Mark Beales, head of marketing at Nestlé Chilled Dairy UK, says: "Although some parents have started to give their children adult probiotic drinks, these have been designed with the needs of adults in mind. With Munch Bunch Drinky+, we designed a drink specifically for kids.

"Increasingly, parents are aware that the nutritional needs of kids are different from those of adults and are starting to look for more specific solutions to help improve their children's health and nutrition."

Rachel's Organic is the latest entrant, with what it claims is the first organic drinking yoghurt for kids. According to MD Neil Burchell, organic products have taken a 10% share of the yoghurt market and the company predicts they could do the same for the drinking yoghurt category.

He says research had shown that mums didn't really trust some of the other products on the market.

"We think they will be giving our drinks to children at breakfast, alongside toast or cereal, or as a snack."

Read more
Focus on Yoghurts & Pot Desserts (April 2006)