Manufacturers have been working hard to promote the natural benefits of functional products to health-conscious consumers

In line with the nation's continued hunger for better-for-you products, the yoghurts and pot desserts market has been bombarded with countless health-oriented offerings over the past few years.

At the same time, manufacturers have been working hard to promote any natural health credentials attached to their existing portfolios.

Functional products have proven key, with strong growth from yoghurt brands such as Danone Bio Activia and Müller Vitality.

"Consumers are growing increasingly more health-conscious and are well aware of emerging health issues," says Müller marketing director Chris McDonough. "It is vital that manufacturers stay well ahead of such topics in order to meet the needs of consumers in the future."

According to Danone, sales of Activia rocketed more than 70% in the past year, a fact sales director Adam Grant puts down to "finding the right way of communicating with consumers and clearly communicating what the brand is about". The brand benefited from a £3.6m marketing push, which focused on getting its 'beat that bloated feeling' message across.

This year, Danone is keen to transfer its knowledge of the drinking yoghurt market - led by its Actimel brand - to the pots sector. "As a business, we are working on taking the health benefits found in the drinks market and translating them into pot options," says Grant.

However, the interest in functional offerings has not come without a cost.

The light yoghurts sector has been one casualty. According to Steve Dixon, trading controller for chilled at Nisa-Today's, the past year has shown a shift in sales from light or diet yoghurts to more functional brands. "We are seeing diet yoghurt volumes moving from brands such as WeightWatchers and Müllerlight into wellbeing brands such as Müller Vitality and Danone Activia."

One light brand that has been feeling the pinch is Shape, which, according to figures from ACNielsen, experienced double-digit decline over the past year.

To stop the rot, brand owner Danone this month introduced Shape Lasting Satisfaction - a low-fat yoghurt that contains what the company says are "effective fibres and proteins" to make consumers feel satisfied for longer and help them resist their temptation to snack.

The launch is being backed by a £5m TV advertising campaign, which hits screens from next month, and short-term price promotions.

Meanwhile, Yoplait Dairy Crest added a Berry Fruits fromage frais to its WeightWatchers repertoire at the beginning of the year. The newcomer combines four flavours with a layer of vanilla fromage frais.

Not to be left out, Nestlé is relaunching its Sveltesse yoghurt brand next month with new packaging and what it claims are better-tasting products with clearer health benefits. Earlier in the year, it reduced sugar and increased the fruit content of its Munch Bunch and Mega Pots fromage frais as well as introducing clearer labelling and packaging to appeal more to mums.

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Focus on Yoghurts & Pot Desserts (April 2006)