Five yoghurt and cultured trends influenced by COVID
Of all the foods in the supermarket, cultured products are among the most innovative and evolving.
03 Sep 2021
1. Protein quality & quantity
The trend towards higher-protein yoghurts has existed for at least a decade. What’s different about this year’s high-protein trend is an emphasis on protein quality rather than quantity. Cultured dairy products are beginning to communicate the unique benefits of dairy protein.
For instance, a product launch from a leading US nutrition and health-focused brand claimed a “full set of 20 nutritionally important amino acids, including all nine essential amino acids, which are building blocks for proteins in the body.” A Swedish sports-focused brand launched a yoghurt containing both whey and casein with the claim that incorporating both types of protein can maximise the effects of training. Before 2020, virtually no products outside the sports and fitness market made amino acids or protein types part of their messaging.
First came Greek yoghurt — then Icelandic, Australian and French. Consumers value yoghurts that are distinctly ‘from somewhere’, and most cultured products present a back story about how and where they are made. This trend was supercharged in 2021 by two factors:
Firstly, due to COVID-19, provenance is increasingly seen as a measure of safety. Local products and imports from countries perceived as “safe” are presumed to be more trustworthy. In China, yoghurt and dairy brands with European, Australian or New Zealand origins often attract higher margins.
Secondly, a growing distrust towards globalisation across many countries means cultured products with a solid national/regional identity are gaining market share. This is especially true of yoghurt, with its connection to farming and the dairy industry. Some markets, like the US, take a nationalistic stance and emphasise supporting local dairy farmers. In others, dairy’s strong association with farming drives demand for products from countries with a reputation for being green and pristine. Yoghurts from Iceland, New Zealand and Australia have capitalised on this trend. A simple, authentic story about provenance from the right kind of country is just as powerful as the “support local” driver in most markets.
3. Immunity surges in popularity
Yoghurt is already associated with protein and probiotics. COVID-19 presents an opportunity to add immunity to the list, and brands are already doing so: 10% of new prebiotic dairy products launched in the last two years carried an immunity claim.
The pandemic triggered a surge in demand for dairy products, particularly in Asia, where they have long been associated with immune health. However, the effects were also seen in other markets — leading UK brands reported similar sales growth to that usually seen in flu seasons.
Brands have several options to strengthen the connection between yoghurt and immunity. They can increase consumer awareness that yoghurt is fermented and probiotic, since such products are frequently associated with immunity. Or they can include vitamins (particularly C and D) and other ‘immunity halo’ ingredients like elderberry and turmeric.
4. Snackability and fragmentation
Snackability isn’t new in the cultured products space. However, COVID lockdowns have added a new angle by reminding everyone that on-the-go snacks aren’t just for outside the home. They’re also handy as a convenient, time-saving energy and nutrition boost – especially if you’re busy with young children. Despite the pandemic, 41% of European consumers would like to see more yoghurt and yoghurt drinks that are suitable for snacking.
Snack-sized yoghurts are also a way to respond to the fragmentation of diet and health beliefs. Consumers have increasingly different definitions of healthy eating that are wide-ranging and sometimes contradictory. Some consumers think fat is beneficial, while others avoid it. Some are shifting to plant-based diets, while others swear by animal protein. The yoghurt category – already full of different product varieties – may become even more diverse.
5. Favourable attitudes towards fat
Low-fat yoghurts are still prevalent in some markets, such as the Middle East and Japan. But other markets are increasingly losing their fear of fat. Carbohydrates and sugar now take most of the blame for weight gain, while fat has continued to build a reputation as good for body and brain.
There are two strategies manufacturers are following to market higher-fat products. The first is launching indulgent products that win on flavour. Fat creates delicious yoghurts. It provides flavour, texture, mouthfeel, structure and moisture. To a consumer who believes that fat is beneficial, or not unhealthy, indulgence in them does not come at a cost to personal health. Furthermore, the strong association with health and wellness that yoghurts have makes them feel more permissible than other treats.
The second strategy is to market products as keto-friendly. This is particularly relevant for English-speaking markets. After intermittent fasting and clean eating, ketogenic or high-fat diets were the most-followed diets in the US. Australia and the UK are similar. Keto products have also benefited from a spike in interest during COVID-19 due to their strong connection to fighting obesity and diabetes, two of the most common COVID comorbidities.
The new cultured trends – same as the old ones?
With the possible exception of higher-fat products, each trend has appeared in some form among cultured products in the past. What differentiates them today is increased fragmentation and complexity in what consumers seek from their foods. Consumers have more curiosity about their foods, specific and often different beliefs on good nutrition, and access to information that supports these beliefs. These attitudes are strongest among health and wellness foods. Cultured products – being firmly associated with health and wellness – are in the eye of the storm. Expect these trends to continue in the years to come, perhaps with an even more interesting twist.
-  New Nutrition Business: 8 Key Trends in Dairy Nutrition 2019
-  Mintel GNDP
-  The Grocer: Pandemic triggers increased demand for gut health products
-  Mintel: Yogurt and Yogurt Drinks incl impact of COVID-19, UK
-  IFIC Survey 2020