Milk, yogurt and even butter tout value-added health elements that spur sales
YOGURT WITH FIBER. Milk with probiotics and omega-3s. Butter from hormone-free, grass-fed cows — What's the dairy aisle coming to?
Perhaps the better question is: How far can it go? As one of the primary gateways leading to whole health, dairy always has been a favorite among consumers. These days, they're finding a lot more to like. Processors are adding benefits in the form of health-enhancing probiotics and omega-3s, and retailers are lapping up the profits.
“The more consumers learn about functional foods, the more interested they become in foods that really serve as their medicines,” said Carrie Taylor, registered dietitian for Big Y Foods, Springfield, Mass.
Shoppers have latched onto products with added probiotics because they are said to keep the gut's flora in balance and strengthen the immune system. As a result, some people with certain digestive conditions see an improvement after taking probiotics regularly.
“The benefits really run the gamut, but right now the two main ones are gastrointestinal health, which can be tied to lactose intolerance, and reducing cholesterol,” Taylor said.
Intestinal health is also the main interest of yogurt-buying shoppers at Publix Super Markets, Lakeland, Fla. “However, yogurt, kefir and baby formula also contain protein, and vitamins and minerals such as calcium,” noted spokeswoman Maria Brous.
Publix carries brand-name probiotic products such as Dannon's Activia yogurt, Stonyfield Farm's Oikos organic Greek-style yogurt and Nestlé Good Start Natural Cultures, an infant formula with probiotics. It has also started carrying its own-brand Publix Active Yogurt, which contains the friendly bacteria.
Friendly bacteria make for cordial sales. The probiotic yogurt category jumped nearly 25% for the 52 weeks ending Dec. 29, 2007, according to the Nielsen Co.; yogurt drinks and shakes with probiotics skyrocketed 53% during the same period. Yogurts with added fiber, such as Yoplait's new Fiber One, which the company said contains 20% of the Recommended Daily Value of fiber, are also grabbing shoppers' attention. Sales of those types of yogurts grew just over 42% last year.
Still, yogurt containing probiotics has received most of the attention in the functional dairy category to date, thanks to marketing by manufacturers such as Dannon for its Activia product and General Mills for its Yo-Plus product.
“While the entire yogurt category is growing, probiotics products are driving growth,” agreed Michael Neuwirth, senior director of public relations for the Dannon Co. in Allentown, Pa.
In fact, the yogurt and dairy drink category is growing faster than grocers can expand shelf space, Neuwirth noted.
Shoppers are primarily learning about probiotics and other benefits of yogurt and certain milks through manufacturer advertising. Supermarket operators use their own marketing vehicles, such as circulars and newsletters. At Big Y, probiotic yogurts are featured in its “Living Well, Eating Smart” displays, as well as in the retailer's “Living Well, Eating Smart” newsletter, where articles outline the benefits of probiotics.
As consumers become more educated about active cultures, they're overcoming what some see as resistance to the idea that bacteria — any bacteria — can actually be good for them.
“We try to keep the dairy case as clean-looking as possible, and that's why the newsletter is important,” Taylor the dietitian added. “They also see the products written up in the ad circular, and can see the rundown on what the terms mean.”
Manufacturers are helping spread interest through line extensions. After the success of its YoBaby Organic Yogurt, Stonyfield launched its YoMommy line in January, which contains folic acid and DHA for pregnant women.
“I think a lot of surge within yogurts is a better understanding among consumers of probiotics. In the past, consumers heard about probiotics in relation to bacteria and would shy away from trying products,” said Mike Johnson, vice president of sales for Stonyfield Farm in Londonderry, N.H.
Meanwhile, Dannon is trying to draw attention to Activia and its other functional products with multi-pack products and color codes on supermarket shelves. For example, shoppers looking for yogurts for digestive health will find Activia in a green section in the dairy case, according to Neuwirth.
“With our functional products especially, we've incorporated into our retail strategy new packaging, heavily emphasizing multi-packs with strong color codes to create these shelf blocks,” he said.
But enough about yogurt. Nielsen figures reported sales of milk with probiotics at $117.6 million, with an increase of nearly 14% in supermarkets for the 52 weeks ending Dec. 29. Omega-3 and added fiber are likewise being promoted on labels.
A growing number of brands are making their way onto shelves. There's Nurture, a milk fortified with acidophilus and bifidus cultures, made by Mayfield Dairy, an Athens, Tenn.-based division of Dean Foods. The company claims the addition of probiotics helps Nurture boost immunity. Nurture was launched last May, and currently is distributed to a number of food stores nationwide. It already accounts for 7% of the company's total sales.
“In the past 12 months, the price of milk has been so high that everything is performing terribly. Nurture is the only thing in our line that has not seen a decrease,” said Scottie Mayfield, Mayfield's president.
Omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to improve heart health and brain function, are being added to cow's milk, too. One processor, Kemps in St. Paul, Minn., recently launched Kemps Plus, a line of three milks that deliver specific health benefits. One of them is Kemps Plus Healthy Lifestyle, a 1% milk with the omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA.
The cows used by Grass Point Farms in Thorp, Wis., produce milk, cheese and butter that are said to be naturally higher in omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids as a result of their eating grass, rather than grain.
“There is a tremendous amount of scientific research on grass-fed dairy. Those sought-after health benefits are naturally occurring, because of the diet of the cow,” said Chad Pawlak, president of Grass Point Farms.
While Grass Point's cheese and butter have been sold in supermarkets for a few years, the company is working more closely with supermarket dietitians on a nationwide rollout of its milk.
- Merchandise functional yogurts and milks in line with traditional products. Shoppers can miss them if they are relegated to a special section.
- Safety and quality come first. Make code-date checks and product rotation an absolute must.
- Call out products with functional benefits. Work with suppliers to adjust planograms that ease the confusion factor as shoppers search for products.