Yoghurt’s natural protein content and live bacteria culture makes it a natural choice for health-savvy consumers. As demand rises for healthier low-sugar varieties with fewer additives, producers have a chance to grow their yoghurt sales – and raise margins.
It’s something of a paradox that one of the most dynamic categories in the dairy industry today is also one of the oldest.
Around 8,000 years ago, Central Asian nomads first noticed how milk would ferment when stored, as was customary, in pouches made from animal stomachs. The fermentation process, caused by bacteria and other microorganisms present in the pouches, gave the yoghurt its special sour taste.
Fermentation remains central to yoghurt’s appeal today. Yoghurt is not only tasty, it is also good for human health. The lactic bacteria present in traditional yoghurt offer consumers a host of benefits. Scientific research suggests that our digestive and immune systems, and even our mental wellness, can benefit from a balanced gut flora.
“Eating more fermented foods is seen as a way to improve health and wellbeing. Yoghurt is easy to include in your diet because of its appealing taste and the many varieties that make sure there is one yoghurt product for every preference,” explains Katarina Ternström, Manager of Tetra Pak’s Centre of Expertise Dairy Chilled.
Growing interest in gut health and healthy eating has encouraged dairy producers to emphasise the probiotic attributes of their yoghurt. Some also add extra vitamins and proteins to achieve enhanced nutritional appeal.
Offering benefits that approach those of health-promoting products, traditional yoghurt presents producers with a market opportunity – and higher margins than in milk and other dairy staples.
The link between food and medicine is becoming more obvious. Yoghurt has the potential to move from a food product to something that actively benefits your health, or makes you feel healthier.
So how can you as a producer tap this potential? One way is to explore different bacteria strains with your yoghurt culture supplier and to explore what options exist to tailor them to customer demand.
“The objective should be to have a discussion with your culture supplier as a basis for bringing forward the right product that best fits your market needs,” Ternström says.
Another route is to work with your ingredient suppliers to discover new ways to enhance your yoghurt’s health profile with added vitamins and proteins.
Producers can also segment the market by offering a wider range of fermented dairy products. Why not consider branching out into kefir or a probiotic milk beverage?
Financial rewards lie in wait for companies that launch the right products in the right markets. Products that offer health benefits can command higher margins. As pharmacies move towards a more holistic health focus, it may not be long before we see probiotic milk beverages in the pharmacy fridge.
Another trend is the boom in “concentrated” products like Greek yoghurt and quark. These have a thicker consistency than standard yoghurt and are often rich in protein. Indeed, protein-enriched fermented dairy products are one of the fastest-growing areas in the yoghurt category.
“There’s a huge movement of new products in this market, with different tastes and protein contents targeting different groups such as children, men and women, sportspeople and others,” Ternström says.
Another health-related yoghurt trend – low sugar – is spurring innovative solutions among producers. Some are switching to alternative sweeteners like stevia and aspartame; others are ditching refined sugar in favour of natural fruit sugars.
As a producer, you could consider adding grape or apple juice concentrate to your yoghurt rather than refined sugar. Achieving a sweet taste through natural fruit ingredients creates a product that is perceived as healthier and which may allow you to state “no added sugar” on your label.
Another alternative is to add lactase. By doing so you benefit from the breakdown of lactose, which will simultaneously cause increased sweetness when the lactose turns into glucose and galactose. This gives a win-win: a lactose-free product which requires less sugar to achieve the same sweetness.
Producers should also be aware of consumers’ desire to see fewer additives in yoghurt and other foods. Demand is growing for “clean label” products that appear completely natural and are, therefore, theoretically better for you. Yoghurt, which has just two essential ingredients – milk and bacteria – is well placed in this respect.
Consumers increasingly want to understand what ingredients are in their yoghurt, and why they are there. Additives are often required to counteract the impact of mechanical processing on the yoghurt. Processing manufacturers that can design equipment that treats the product as gently as possible therefore have a potential market edge by removing additives from their recipe.
For the best results, you not only need top-class equipment but also good control over the processing line and the avoidance of pressure shocks or too many starts and stops.
In turn, this demands that the equipment supplier understands your product and can offer you exact control over fermentation time and the right technology and configuration to avoid long waiting times.
“Our advice is simple: choose a supplier that can provide that,” Ternström says.
Yoghurt lines also need to be increasingly versatile. Local varieties increasingly attract global appeal. Kefir, which originates in the Caucasus, has in recent decades become popular from Europe to America and Asia to South America. Greek yoghurt has spread far beyond its native Greece and is currently being tipped to catch on in China.
Faster product introductions mean local products like these quickly find their way to new corners of the globe. As they do so, yoghurt lines need to offer greater flexibility to support the production of multiple varieties and support trends such as the shift from traditional fruit-based products to more vegetable tastes and spices.
Ternström says: “As yoghurt evolves from the breakfast table to the dinner table, you as a processor need to find new ways to market your products. You also need to think carefully when choosing equipment for your yoghurt line, so you have the flexibility to move with the times and the market.”
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