Friday, November 9, 2012

Canadians’ consumption of ‘the food of the decade’ is booming, as is the range of products

The culture of yogurt

According to Ultima Foods, makers of the new Iögo brand, the average Canadian consumes 8.7 kilograms of yogurt each year.

MONTREAL - In 2002, the average Canadian ate yogurt 29 times a year — or about once every couple of weeks. That figure has more than doubled in a decade: the average Canadian now eats yogurt more than 60 times a year, or more than once a week.

That’s huge.
“That is very substantial growth,” said Joel Gregoire, the Canadian food and beverage industry analyst for the NPD Group, a market research group that measures consumer consumption.

So significantly has the culture of yogurt caught on in this country that Gregoire has labelled it “the food of the decade” – no less. And Quebecers, he said, eat more yogurt than other Canadians. The Canadian Grocer magazine called yogurt “one of the fastest-growing categories in grocery aisles.”

There’s already a good deal of yogurt made in Quebec, with Danone produced in Boucherville and Liberté in St-Hyacinthe. And now there’s another player in the grocery aisle: a new brand of yogurt, Iögo, was launched recently by the Longueuil-based company Ultima Foods.

Ultima Foods, owned by the Agropur and Agrifoods dairy co-operatives, has been making yogurt for a long time: it had held Canadian brand rights to Yoplait since 1971. Earlier this year, though, Yoplait’s main operating company, Yoplait S.A.S., announced it would transfer the licence to General Mills as of Sept. 1. Ultima continues to manufacture Yoplait at its Granby plant for General Mills, but losing the Yoplait licence meant it could launch its own yogurt brand.

The brand has seven product lines, including a thick Greek-style yogurt, a drinkable yogurt with a resealable twist top, and such combinations among its fruit yogurts as lychee-raspberry and peach-mango. All Iögo products are free of gelatin as well as artificial flavours or colours. A high-profile advertising campaign featuring billboard ads, television and print media ads, online advertising, in-store advertising and coupon promotions has made Iögo almost impossible not to notice: one month following its launch, 31 per cent of Canadian yogurt buyers and consumers had heard of the product — a level of awareness for a new product expected only after three months, said Isabelle Méplon of Ultima Foods. Gerry Doutre, the president and CEO of Ultima Foods, announced in October that the company plans to spend $22 million on equipment intended to increase production capacity — on top of the $60 million already earmarked for marketing and development for Iögo.

Yogurt production, as measured in thousands of kilograms, has been growing steadily: 315,413 in 2011, up from 161,318 in 2001, according to Statistics Canada, based on calculations by the dairy section of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada-Agriculture Canada.

According to Ultima Foods, the average Canadian consumes 8.7 kilograms of yogurt each year (up from 486 grams 40 years ago). That’s less than the average 14.8 kg consumed by the French, but more than double what the average American eats (3.7 kg).

Still, yogurt consumption is increasing in the United States as well; Hamdi Ulukaya, founder and CEO of Greek yogurt-maker Chobani, told Fortune magazine recently that he thinks the U.S. market could double in size over the next few years. “America is considered to be an underdeveloped market when it comes to yogurt,” he said.

Yogurt is on the grocery list in 91 per cent of Canadian households, according to a booklet of facts about Canadian yogurt from Ultima, and Quebecers choose yogurt for dessert twice as often as other Canadians.
It’s a bit of a chicken-or-egg conundrum, trying to figure out whether yogurt consumption is up because there is so much choice available to the consumer, or whether it’s increased interest in the product that’s driving the production.
If the consumer is driving it, the industry is doing a good job innovating, said Gregoire of the NPD Group.
“There is a lot of innovation in the category,” he said. “Ten years ago, single-serve cups started to be more popular, then yogurts infused with probiotics (said to contribute to healthy digestive-tract flora) became more popular; then you see yogurt expand into areas like dessert, and in the past couple of years there has been the rise in Greek yogurt, which is a little more protein-based, a little more filling.”

Greek yogurt represents a relatively small share of the market, but that share has increased significantly in the past year. According to an estimate from the Dairy Farmers of Canada, the market share for Greek-style yogurt is nine or 10 per cent — up from only two per cent a year ago.

Yogurt is in many ways an ideal snack food, Gregoire said: small containers make it portable, so it’s convenient. Different flavours and textures afford variety, and yogurt has what he calls “a health halo.”
Iögo Greko Plain, for instance, contains 17 grams of protein in a 175-gram serving — or more than twice as much protein as the company’s other yogurts. “So even your dessert can have a protein content,” said Jonathan Fontaine, a registered dietitian with Ultima Foods.

Greek yogurt can also be a good breakfast choice, he said: unless you have eggs at breakfast or drink a lot of milk, it’s difficult to get protein into that meal, he said. “Most breakfasts are carbohydrate-based and burned very fast.

“We try to help people to add a little bit of protein to their diet because it has health benefits in the long term,” Fontaine said. “For most people, it’s that you feel satiated for a longer time. And for seniors who don’t have much appetite, getting enough protein in their diet can be a challenge — but protein plays a key role in maintaining muscle function and mass. It’s important for anyone who wants to stay active.”

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