It’s a weight watcher’s dream come true. Yoghurts so thick their makers claim they can be eaten with a fork yoghurts packed with layer after layer of fudge and banana even yoghurts soused with Marc de Champagne and scattered with cocoa-dusted biscuits and all this, believe it or not, in the name of healthier eating.

OK, their health claims are less than solid next to fat-free and fortified yoghurts - of which there’s also been a spate of launches in the past year - but it’s all relative. “Health isn’t just about 0% fat products,” says Amelia Harvey, co-founder of yoghurt brand The Collective, which launched two new layered yoghurts - Raspberry & White Peach and Banoffi - in February. “Consumers are looking to make healthier choices, away from a dessert or chocolate bar to tasty yoghurt.”

Yoghurt makers are trying to make that choice a little bit easier with a host of indulgent and exotic flavours in increasingly unusual combinations. But can such a strategy give the yoghurt category, which grew value sales 5.1% as volumes slipped 2.5% last year [Kantar Worldpanel 52 w/e 23 December 2012], the shot in the arm it needs? And where does all this leave chilled desserts?

” Luxury, indulgence and treat appeal are key trends we will see developing this year” Michael Inpong, Müller Dairy

While functional and value-based yoghurt brands have come under significant pressure for political and systemic reasons, the more indulgent Greek-style yoghurts are definitely winning favour. Value sales in the Greek sub-category are up 43% and volumes 29.6% [Kantar]. “Greek-style yoghurt is the ultimate ‘win win’ for both health-conscious and taste-loving consumers: more indulgence, without the compromise,” says Claire Simpson, senior brand manager at Yoplait UK, whose latest NPD includes Perle de Lait Greek-style yoghurt and Liberté Strained Greek style 0% fat yoghurt.

Greek style yoghurt has also been a hit for Müllerlight - since its launch in March 2012, Müllerlight Greek Style yoghurt has sold 61 million pots in the UK, with value sales of more than £23m, according to the brand.

Health and functionality

Clearly there’s a fine balancing act between ramping up indulgence while still promoting yoghurt on health and functionality grounds. But Greek-style yoghurt has been used to change the health emphasis, too: from a focus on digestion, to nutrients.

“We expect protein to become one of the most sought-after nutrients in 2013,” says Stuart Forsyth, national sales manager at Fage, owner of Total Greek Yoghurt. And the words ‘high protein’ have pride of place on Danone’s Danio packaging.

Meanwhile, Yoplait launched calcium and vitamin D-enriched Calin yoghurt in September on the back of increased media focus on vitamin D for bone health. And in 2012 Benecol made its first move into fat-free cholesterol-lowering yoghurts with similar success. The launch of its garden fruits four-packs in January, followed by a forest fruits version in September, helped value rise 12.9% on volumes up 12.4% [SymphonyIRI].

” Society is demanding a healthier diet… in 2013 we expect protein to be a sought-after nutrient” Stuart Forsyth, Fage

But the Greek yoghurt launches continue thick and fast. Chilterns-based Tims Dairy is preparing to launch a new variant in May: Greek style yoghurt with vanilla. And though American yoghurt brand Chobani lost its case against Fage, the 2012 entry of another major player into the UK shows Greek yoghurt is a territory many players want to indulge.

“Consumers are looking for a treat without the guilt factor,” explains Laura Graham, marketing manager at Onken. “There have been a number of range extensions from established brands in the last year, which were often a move into the indulgence sector.”

Big pots

It’s certainly paid off for Onken, which achieved the steepest value and volume increase out of the sector’s top 10 brands last year with sales up 16.1% on volumes up 9.1% [SymphonyIRI 52 w/e 29 December 2012]. But the brand is also looking to build on its growth with the April launch of two new variants - apricot & honey and raspberry, cherry & pomegranate - to its fat-free big pot range.

And that’s the other key trend: big pots. Organic brand Rachel’s achieved even greater growth, of 45% on volumes up 37.4% [SymphonyIRI], thanks to a steady stream of NPD that included the launch of a limited-edition apple & cinnamon variant for the autumn and a new range of fat-free big pots boasting strawberry & rhubarb, peach & passion fruit and blackcurrant variants.

The growth of big pot brands such as Rachel’s and Onken has been aided by a continued promotional strategy focused on two-for-£3 deals. “The last year has seen continued heavy promoting from major yoghurt brands with the emphasis on large pots,” says Tims Dairy marketing manager Sally Dorling.


Such promotions are necessary if brands are to compete with own label, which has led the charge into indulgent yoghurts, growing 11.6% on volumes up 7.1% [SymphonyIRI]. Sainsbury’s May relaunch of its entire yoghurt range, including the addition of 125g dessert pots with ‘top hat’ sprinkles - including Apple Crumble, Key Lime Pie and Eton Mess variants - helped the retailer achieve category sales growth of 7.6% [Kantar]. Asda was up 5% too, helped by a new range of fat-free dessert-style yoghurts including Black Forest Gateau and Bakewell Tart flavours.

“Luxury, indulgence and treat appeal are key trends we see developing over the year,” says Michael Inpong, marketing director at Müller Dairy, pointing to the launch this month of Müller de Luxe Corner twin-packs in four indulgent flavours: Marc de Champagne, After Dinner Mint, Coconut Dream and Crème Praline.

Formats

But despite the decadence of these latest offerings, Inpong argues flavours are only part of the equation. The answer to returning Müller Corner to growth - sales slipped 14.9% on volumes down 26.6% in 2012 [SymphonyIRI], despite a ton of NPD featuring classic British flavours to chime with the Olympics and Jubilee - “lies in helping consumers make healthier choices using flavours and formats that fit with their lifestyles”.

” Brands are feeling the pressure from own label. They should focus on providing added value Anthony Donaldson, Haygarth

Other brands eyeing on-the-go formats include Yeo Valley, which extended its lemon and ginger Greek-style limited-edition big-pot yoghurt, launched in March 2012, into a four-pack format. And, in the same month, Ambrosia launched a 12-strong range of rice snack pots that Premier Foods says are “perfect for lunchboxes”.

Breakfast

And it is not just smaller, grab-and-go formats that manufacturers have in mind: they are also focusing on eating occasions, particularly breakfast. “We commissioned an independent survey that found one in three people eats at least one meal at their desk,” says John Allaway, commercial director at Alpro. “With half of these feeling their diet is unhealthy, it provides an exciting opportunity.”

Alpro launched a ‘deskfest’ campaign in January this year to promote its Fruity and Creamy soya yoghurt and Alpro pouring yoghurt, which both hit the shelves in 2012. The campaign targets office workers and includes sampling activity so consumers can try the products at their desk.

And Alpro isn’t the only one eyeing breakfast with increasing interest. Breakfast pot brand Moma launched Bircher Muesli pots, combining probiotic yoghurt with wholegrains and fruit, in April 2012, and extended the shelf life of all its products by 10 days. The same month Rachel’s brought a single-serve vanilla yoghurt with red berry granola to the market in 150 Tesco stores. And own-label yoghurt is also muscling into breakfast territory, again featuring granola and muesli-based toppings.

The greater presence of yoghurt in the breakfast category has arguably contributed to the declining fortunes of many cereal brands. Meanwhile the rise of indulgent yet ‘healthier’ dessert-style yoghurts is clearly aimed at stealing share from chilled desserts traditionally consumed at the end of the day. Sales of chilled desserts haven’t fared too badly overall: behind yoghurts at 3.1% in value terms, while volumes fell in similar fashion to yoghurts, down 2.6% last year [Kantar]. But there have been some notable casualties.

” Greek-style yoghurt is the ultimate ‘win win’ for health-conscious and taste-loving consumers” Claire Simpson, Yoplait UK

Sales of Cadbury’s range of desserts, for example, dived 11.3% on volumes down 17.8% last year [SymphonyIRI]. Ironically, its recovery now rests on Müller, owner of many of the products Cadbury goes head-to-head with when it comes to after-dinner treats. After years of marketing Cadbury’s desserts under licence, in June Müller acquired the licence to manufacture the products and bought Greencore’s Minsterley desserts business.

“This acquisition presents us with unique opportunities to grow our presence in the chilled desserts category,” says Müller’s Inpong. “The Cadbury mousses mark the first step in our plan to support our dessert range with NPD.”

Own label is also stealing growing share of the pot desserts category, with sales up 7.5% on volumes up 5.5%. Meanwhile, branded players have seen their sales fall 4.3% while volumes slumped 13.1% [Kantar Worldpanel].

Entrepreneurs

If the yoghurt and pot desserts category has offered up a surprise, it’s the continuing success of smaller branded players. Following in the footsteps of Gü - whose rise to prominence coincided with happier economic times - New Zealand-based startup The Collective has stunned the market since its UK launch in 2011, and increased its distribution by 60% in the past year thanks to new listings with Tesco and Morrisons, while extending the range it sells through Sainsbury’s and Waitrose.

The brand shows no sign of taking its foot off the new product development pedal, either. Along with the February launch of its layered yoghurts, it rolled out a Plain Jane variant as well as a limited-edition papaya & coconut variant.

Cornwall’s Trewithen Dairy has also secured listings in Tesco and Asda for its natural live yoghurt. Tims Dairy, of course, is expanding.

And in April 2012 family-run Welsh yoghurt producer Llaeth y Llan won listings in Tesco and Asda for its 450g big pots for the first time. As a result, NPD for the brand in 2013 includes banoffee and raspberry big pots and a luxury layered old-fashioned yoghurt in red berry, apple and rhubarb flavours.

“It’s an exciting time for yoghurt,” says Llior Roberts-Radford, director of Llaeth y Llan. “I see a huge trend coming for different and more obscure flavours - this is so that the yoghurt category can go completely head to head with desserts.”

The battle is just beginning, it seems.

Topics

Yoghurts and pot desserts: a healthy obsession?