Promise Active Supershots have been formulated with natural plant sterols to help remove cholesterol.

Judging by recent launches in the yogurt segment, it seems hard to believe there was a time, not long ago, when the mere mention of “gut health” would immediately bring conversations to a close, if not clear the room. Yogurts in refrigerated cases of today proudly proclaim their digestive health benefits and abundance of fiber, prebiotics and probiotics--so much so, in fact, that something special is now required to set new launches apart from their counterparts.

Promoting vitamin content has proven to be one strategy, with Yoplait introducing Yo-Plus Digestive Yogurt with vitamins A and D, as well as the segment’s ubiquitous probiotics and fiber. Dannon similarly boasts the vitamin content of its Light & Fit 0% Plus Mixed Berry with Pomegranate Smoothie, which is claimed to have 10% more of the daily value of vitamins E, B2, B6 and B12 than other dairy-based smoothies, plus active yogurt cultures includingL. acidophilus.

Digestive issues have been the main selling point for one particular range in recent years. Dannon’s Activia line contains a natural probiotic (Bifidus regularis) clinically proven to “have a positive effect on digestion within two weeks.” In addition to that culture, its ingredients legend includes reduced-fat milk, whey protein concentrate and inulin. The latter ingredient is likewise found in Ricera Rice Yogurt, which boasts blueberries plus an array of live and active cultures, includingL. bulgaricus,S. thermophilus,/I>, L. acidophilus and B. bifidum. Made with organic brown rice, the GMO-, dairy-, soy- and gluten-free product is also enriched with vitamins A and D2.

Even the youngest of consumers have yogurts to address their digestive issues. Stonyfield Farms introduced a “baby’s first” yogurt early last year. YoBaby Simply Plain was made with organic whole milk, plus Stonyfield’s six live and active probiotic cultures to “ensure good intestinal health.”

As might be expected with products positioned toward health, berries and other ingredients consumers perceive as fresh and healthy abound in the yogurt segment. Tula Foods’ Better Whey of Life brand has all-natural, non-fat yogurts in a range of such flavors: Açai & Mixed Berry, Strawberry & Banana, French Vanilla and Peach Mango. The Açai & Mixed Berry variety boasts blueberries, açai, strawberries and raspberries, in addition to inulin and live and active cultures S. thermophilus, L. bulgaricus, L. acidophilus and bifidus

Greek to Me
The emerging popularity and scientific support of the health benefits of Mediterranean cuisine have prompted consumers and manufacturers to look to this area of the world for inspiration. In the process, Greek yogurt has emerged on the American scene. AgroFarma Inc., for example, introduced its Greek-style yogurt Chobani by explaining that it contains more than twice the amount of protein than traditional American yogurts (28-34% of the daily recommended value, depending on the variety). The company produces Chobani by utilizing “traditional European straining methods,” and the product contains five live and active cultures, including three that AgroFarma describes as probiotics.

AgroFarma is far from alone in this emerging corner of the yogurt segment. Stonyfield also has a Greek-style line, Oikos Organic Greek Yogurt, produced in partnership with Euphrates, a Greek yogurt maker. The pair recently added honey and blueberry varieties to the line of rich, high-protein yogurt.

Also found in the segment is a line from 3 Greek Gods LLC in such traditional Greek flavors as fig, honey and pomegranate, though the range has recently been augmented with reduced-fat vanilla with cinnamon and orange. Serra Natural Foods has sought to capitalize on the popularity of Greek yogurt with its introduction of Cyclops Raspberry Flavored Frozen Yogurt, which is described as “an organic, Greek-style dessert.”

Greek yogurt has even made waves outside of traditional yogurt territory: Tzatziki Spreads from Cedar’s Mediterranean Foods is a “Greek strained yogurt dip typical of Mediterranean cuisine.” The line’s four varieties include Tzatziki with Cucumber & Garlic; Sundried Tomato Tzatziki; Roasted Red Pepper Tzatziki; and Mediterranean Dip with Tahini.

Similar to Greek yogurt, Skyr is an Icelandic cultured dairy product available in natural food stores. The Icelandic Milk and Skyr Corp. has recreated the authentic process behind the product in Iceland and introduced American consumers to such varieties as blueberry; orange and ginger; pear and mint; and pomegranate and passionfruit.

Yet another specialty yogurt has made its way stateside: Wallaby Yogurt Co. specializes in Australian-style, organic yogurt. The product is made “in small batches, using a long, gentle culturing process.” The process requires twice as much time as conventional yogurts, the company says, but does not require the use of any gelatins.

Studying Up
The health benefits of yogurt are hard to argue. Hardly a month passes without a study touting its virtues. Most recently, the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, Md., suggested calcium-rich dairy foods, such as yogurt, reduce the risk of cancers of the digestive system. The study linked the dietary habits of almost 500,000 men and women with state cancer registries to investigate the role of calcium in cancer prevention. It advised men and women to consume 1,000-1,300mg of calcium per day.

That is not to say that yogurt’s benefits are confined to digestive health; however, certain applications have not met with quite as much financial success. In the U.K., Danone introduced Essensis skin-enhancing yogurt throughout Europe in 2007 and augmented the line with a 100g plastic shot bottle variety in 2008. The formulation for the shot was the same as for the spoonable and drinkable originals: including borage oil, green tea extract and vitamin E. Regardless, less than two years after Essensis’ launch, the company has abandoned the effort, though for economy-related reasons, conceding that consumers are not prepared to spend money on “non-essential” items amid the credit crunch.

U.S. women were the targets for a similarly positioned product from Tara Dairy. Functional Yogurt Drink for Women under Tara’s YOU brand was a line of fortified dairy products, aimed at women between 30-40. It contained a vitamin and mineral formulation that “helps protect a woman’s health in such areas as bone, brain, skin, heart and digestive health,” with such active ingredients as calcium, iron and vitamins B, D and E.

Despite a healthy array of innovative yogurt products on the market, the category has significant room to grow. Fairly few introductions have targeted men, so new possibilities could include heart-healthy yogurts and even energy-enhancing lines. For that matter, a caffeine-enhanced yogurt a la Gelgurte’s Portuguese launch of whipped yogurt with coffee would seem a natural fit for morning commuters of either sex looking for a breakfast pick-me-up. Yoplait As Tentações Logurte Batido com Café has 15.5mg of caffeine per 100ml.

Additionally, manufacturers have largely ignored seniors, which is somewhat surprising, considering the digestive health benefits that are part and parcel of so many yogurts. Coupling these with other functional attributes (combating high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease or osteoporosis) would seem like a natural fit for the older demographic.

Other functional benefits could easily include immunity-enhancements for adult consumers during winter months or in single-serve yogurts for children’s lunches. That latter group might also be served well with brain-boosting functionality during the school year. Canadian consumers have seen a number of such yogurts. Astro Dairy Products’ probiotic yogurt, Astro Biobest Croissance Smart Growth, is claimed to be the only yogurt made with the unique combination of natural DHA milk, probiotic cultures and prebiotic fiber. The omega-3 DHA supports development of the brain, eyes and nerves, the company notes. The ingredient was likewise found in Danone Danino Yogurt in Canada. The strawberry-and-banana-flavored yogurt contained .04g of DHA per portion from fish oil omega-3.

Certainly, a number of efforts have been made to target young consumers, mostly trying to make the products seem more exciting and unexpected. Fizzix from Yoplait was a shining example, adding a carbonation component to a product that might have had a staid reputation. The notion proved so successful, the company has expanded the concept overseas, most recently in France, where Dizzy is a carbonated dairy drink in an aluminum bottle that looks more like a soda or energy drink than a dairy beverage.

In fact, one trend found in Europe that seems a natural fit for U.S. consumers has yet to find much root stateside. With weight management pervasive in Amer-ican culture, and satiety becoming a more prominent issue, Nestle’s Sveltesse line from Spain is a “satiety drinkable yogurt” that could easily find a place in the diets of weight-conscious

Website Resources: National Yogurt Association FDA’s proposed rule to revamp standards of identity for yogurtIdentity Crisis
On January 15, 2009, the Food and Drug Administration issued a proposed rule to revise the standard of identity for yogurt.

“The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is proposing to revoke its regulations on the standards of identity for low-fat yogurt and non-fat yogurt and amend the standard of identity for yogurt in numerous respects. This action is in response, in part, to a citizen petition submitted by the National Yogurt Association (NYA). FDA tentatively concludes that this action will promote honesty and fair dealing in the interest of consumers and, to the extent practicable, will achieve consistency with existing international standards of identity for yogurt.”

The NYA has issued a statement saying, “The live and active cultures present in yogurt give it many of its healthy properties. The NYA believes there should be a minimum level of live and active cultures found in a product in order for it to be called ‘yogurt’—much like the standards for other foods...[T]he National Yogurt Association is seeking a ruling from FDA that requires all products labeled as ‘yogurt’ to contain a minimum level of the live and active cultures that give yogurt its healthy properties.”

The NYA further suggests requiring any product that has undergone heat treatment (with the resulting elimination of live cultures) to be labeled to indicate it does not contain live and active cultures. Considering some manufacturers heat-treat their yogurt products to prolong shelflife or decrease tartness, this could have a wide-ranging impact on the yogurt category.

--William A. Roberts, Jr., Business Editor