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by Keith Nunes
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While the fact personal care product maker Dial has introduced a body wash made with Greek yogurt may be irrelevant to the purposes of this publication, it does underscore the broad reach that the yogurt trend has achieved in the United States. Yogurt is no longer restricted to the refrigerated dairy case. It is appearing in a variety of applications, even those outside of food and beverage.

On March 10, the market research company Information Resources, Inc., Chicago, published its New Product Pacesetters for 2013, the branded products I.R.I. judged to be most successful in 2013. To qualify, a product had to have been introduced in the past year. Among the top 10 food and beverage New Product Pacesetters were three yogurt products, including Dannon Light & Fit, which ranked No. 1 with $144.9 million in sales, Yoplait Greek 100, which ranked No. 2 with $135.1 million in first-year sales, and Müller Yogurt, which had $95.8 million in sales. A deeper dive into the I.R.I. report identified Dannon’s Activia Greek yogurt as a rising star among the products that made the list, but not the cut for the top spots in the ranking.

In announcing the New Product Pacesetters for 2013, Susan Viamari, the editor of Thought Leadership for I.R.I., said innovation in 2013 was all about “healthier-for-you products.”

“‘Healthy’ is truly everywhere,” she said. “From food and beverages to hair care, skin care and even pet food and cleaning products, consumers not only want to look and feel their best, but they want improved wellness to extend to their homes and pets, too.”

Dial’s recent foray into the market for added protein, whether it is for satiety, weight management or shiny hair, highlights the health halo that surrounds the yogurt category.

To understand the interest in yogurt it is useful to review the attributes that are driving the purchasing patterns of consumers.

This year’s New Product Pacesetters hit the market at a challenging time in the consumer packaged goods industry’s history, according to I.R.I. Conservative purchasing behaviors still have a strong hold on the industry, but the upside of conservatism is the critical role packaged goods are playing in helping consumers live well for less.

“This year’s I.R.I. New Product Pacesetters embody several powerful C.P.G. opportunities: C.P.G. is going healthy; category expansion expands market potential; less is more, but more is more, too; variety is the spice of life; and convenience is a cost of entry,” I.R.I. said in its New Product Pacesetters report.

The yogurt category captures four of the five opportunities identified by I.R.I., and food and beverage manufacturers outside of the yogurt category are trying to capture a small slice of the yogurt pie.

“The variety of yogurt will affect its usage as an ingredient,” said Ivan Gonzales, dairy director with Ingredion, Inc., Westchester, Ill. “Yogurts have a wide range of different compositions that will ultimately impact which type and how much you want to use.

“Protein, fat and lactose are some of the major components of yogurt that will impact the overall functionality. For example, Greek yogurt has far different ratios of the major components compared to stirred yogurt. In general, Greek yogurt will have a different whey/casein ratio and less lactose than traditional yogurt. The other added ingredients, like sugar and stabilizers, will also have an impact on functionality of the yogurt in the end application.”

Blend, drizzle and coat

Yogurt is moving out of the dairy case and into a variety of applications

One of the most recent high profile introductions to include yogurt as an ingredient is the introduction of the Panera Bread Co.’s new flatbread sandwiches. Made with 20% whole wheat flour and Greek yogurt, the flatbreads will be used in sandwiches prepared on grills at the chain’s stores. Varieties include Southwestern chicken, Mediterranean chicken and Thai chicken.

“One of the reasons why it has that texture is we use a Greek yogurt base in this, like an authentic style naan bread,” said Scott Davis, chief concept and innovation officer for Panera, during the company’s investor day on March 25. “You’ve got sort of another sort of texture, a flavor component. The other thing you’ll taste … is the dynamic between sort of the crunch and the flavor of the Greek yogurt, and how it kind of plays back and forth with the whole wheat flour.

“So, for us, flatbreads are really the newest introduction to our bread line. And we’ve had, for sandwiches, probably it’s the first one we’ve had in about five or six years. We are very excited about this as a new style for sandwiches.”

Mr. Gonzales said there are some issues product developers need to consider when adding yogurt to bread.

“Several components of yogurt make it an interesting ingredient in bread,” he said. “Whey protein, for example, has water holding capacity that impacts the texture and stability of breads. Lactose serves as a reducing sugar that participates in maillard browning which is responsible for color and flavor development as well as a potential food source for the naan fermentation cultures.

“While Greek yogurt has higher proportion of casein (and overall) protein than traditional yogurt, it has lower amounts of whey protein and lactose. Depending on formulation, more Greek yogurt would potentially be needed to contribute the same amount of whey and lactose functionality when compared to traditional yogurts as an ingredient.”

He added that an important attribute may be how well the yogurt holds during the baking process.

“Typically yogurts are formulated to be eaten directly and not to be used as an ingredient where they will be going for an additional processing condition, like baking, whipping, stirring, etc.,” Mr. Gonzales said. “Making sure the yogurts holds well or perform under these additional processing conditions may require some adjustment to the way they are being formulated; for some of these cases the use of starches or hydrocolloids will actually help to perform well.”

Yogurt has been a popular coating for raisins and it has remained so. During the past year Diamond Foods, Inc., San Francisco, introduced Emerald Yogurt Bites, which are nuts with such yogurt flavored coatings as strawberry vanilla and mixed berry. Marketed as “breakfast-on-the-go” by the company, the product is being positioned as a convenient, portable meal replacement option.

This past February, Sunsweet Growers, Inc., Yuba City, Calif., pushed its way into the yogurt category with the introduction of Greek Style PlumSweets, diced, dried plums featuring a Greek yogurt coating.

“Nearly one-quarter of Americans report eating more Greek yogurt this year compared to last,” said Jeff McLemore, vice-president of North America marketing for Sunsweet. “People are looking for their favorite brands to incorporate Greek yogurt into the foods they already love. We put a modern and healthier twist on Greek yogurt with Greek Style PlumSweets.”

Mr. Gonzales said producing yogurts that may be used as coatings for nuts, fruits and nutrition bars generally involves a lot of other added components.

“Yogurt coatings are much higher in overall solids than typical yogurts with added sugar being the major contributor to the higher solids,” he said. “Other ingredients like starch, gelatin and/or agar are used for several reasons. Good adhesion to the substrate, increased stability and improved texture are the main reasons for these ingredients.”

He added that yogurt powders may be used for these types of applications.
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