Fat is Back...The Rise of Creamy Yogurt
Sales of whole milk are growing; ‘People have been dieting for a long time’
By Ellen Byron in the Wall Street Journal
The yogurt aisle is getting fat.
Leading brands and fast-growing niche players are coming out with new varieties of yogurt made with whole milk. The unabashedly full-fat yogurts are thicker, creamier and, executives say, more satisfying than the long-popular low-fat versions. And to many people, full-fat also tastes better.
“It could easily be a substitute for ice cream,” says Lisa Kinzel, a brand manager for Oh My Yog! whole-milk yogurts, made by Stonyfield, a unit of Groupe Danone SA . “It’s just getting back to what yogurt truly is.”
More consumers want food that is less processed, yogurt makers say, and that includes letting the fat stay put. The preference is reverberating across the dairy aisle: Sales of whole milk, though still about half the size of skim milk, are growing much faster, rising 5% in the 52 weeks ended May 17, while skim milk fell 3%, according to market research firm IRI. Butter sales are up 18% over the same period, while margarine is down 4%.
Consumers’ increasing appetite for fat pushed Stonyfield to develop Oh My Yog!, which launched in January. The product’s whole milk, which isn’t homogenized, forms a thick layer of cream on top of the yogurt. A layer of “honey-infused” yogurt follows, and fruit sits on the bottom.
Stonyfield once made a similar yogurt but stopped four years ago as lower-calorie options sold better. “The diet yogurt trend was happening then and was so much the rage that our whole-milk cream-top yogurt wasn’t selling for us,” says Liza Dube, a Stonyfield spokeswoman. “Now, it is again.”
Long-standing full-fat yogurts are picking up sales, too. U.S. sales of Fage Total, Fage International SA’s whole-milk yogurt, are up by a double-digit percentage so far this year compared with the year before, the company says. “There’s a shift from people feeling that they couldn’t have any fat in their diet to an understanding that it’s OK to have some fat in moderation,” says Russell Evans, director of marketing for Fage USA. “And when they discover it, there’s such a taste difference.”
Some research has shown that dairy fat may actually lower the risk of obesity, and possibly even help with weight loss in part because they make you feel full. Another theory: dairy products with little to no fat sometimes add sugar for taste, while full-fat versions can be good enough on their own.
“Sure, you might consume more calories eating full-fat dairy products, but if it’s saving you from eating a 300-calorie candy bar a few hours later, you’re still ahead,” says Katherine Zeratsky, a registered dietitian nutritionist at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. “It’s about how it fits into the overall picture of one’s diet.”
More satisfied dairy consumers may help yogurt-makers progress in their longtime quest to persuade Americans to eat yogurt throughout the day as a snack, dessert or even a stand-alone meal. “We believe there’s a significant role for yogurt to play outside of breakfast and the first half of the day,” says Michael Neuwirth, a spokesman for Groupe Danone’s Dannon yogurt, adding that low-fat yogurt is still hugely popular. Dannon estimates that Americans on average eat about one cup of yogurt each week, compared with two in Canada and five in France.
Last year, Danone introduced Dannon Creamery, a line of whole-milk dairy desserts including several cheesecake flavors made with Greek yogurt.
For many years, yogurt makers emphasized low-fat varieties with artificial sweeteners that offered a hint of indulgence to calorie-counting Americans. Then about seven years ago droves of Americans started eating low-fat Greek yogurt, drawn by its higher protein content and richer texture.
That in turn tempted Americans to try creamy, full-fat yogurts, companies say. “Greek yogurt redefined the American consumer’s palate, and now they’re more adventuresome and really enjoying thicker yogurts,” says Koel Thomae, co-founder of Noosa Yoghurt, a line of full-fat yogurts. “Fat certainly delivers flavor, and it’s a travesty not to have any in your diet.”
Yogurt makers are taking different approaches toward expressing fat content on containers. Some, including those from Stonyfield’s Oh My Yog! and Chobani’s new Indulgent line specify “whole milk,” while other full-fat yogurts like Noosa and WhiteWave Foods Co.’s Yulu just lack a low-fat or nonfat description. “We wanted the packaging to be as simple as possible,” says Noosa’s Ms. Thomae.
The $9 billion U.S. yogurt business needs a new blockbuster now that the explosive growth of Greek yogurt has lately started to slow. Greek yogurt propelled yogurt to grow an average of 9% from 2010 through 2013, but last year sales growth slowed to 3%, according to market-research firm Packaged Facts. While still one of the biggest sales gainers in the grocery store, yogurt makers face pressure to maintain sales momentum to keep hard-won shelf space.
“We still sell plenty of nonfat and low-fat dairy products, but the growth has come from whole-fat dairy products,” says Errol Schweizer, executive global grocery coordinator at Whole Foods Market Inc., which has increased its selection of whole-milk yogurts and milk in recent years. “A lot of customers have been going toward minimally processed dairy products, and that includes products that have the fat left in it.”
Maple Hill Creamery only makes full-fat yogurts, believing that the organic milk it uses from grass-fed cows shouldn’t be diminished. “We are unapologetically full-fat,” says Sara Talcott, director of marketing for Maple Hill. “Why would you take the best part of the milk out?”
Maple Hill, which launched in 2009, says increasingly mainstream retailers like Wal-Mart Stores Inc. ’s Sam’s Club have recently started selling its yogurts, a reflection of a new shopper sensibility toward nutrition and food production, Ms. Talcott says. “The consciousness of consumers has shifted so quickly to transparency into how we make the milk,” she says. “I’ve never had a consumer ask us for a low-fat version.”
Linda Dolejs, an executive assistant in Portland, Ore., eats full-fat yogurt three or four days a week for lunch or as an evening snack, often choosing a cream-top yogurt made by Stonyfield’s Brown Cow brand. “Full-fat yogurt is creamy, rich and tastes so much better than nonfat yogurts,” she says. “I do read the labels, but I’m paying more attention to whether there are artificial sweeteners in them, and if there are I don’t eat them.”
Some full-fat yogurts are now marketed as a dessert equal and alternative, rather than a dieter’s virtuous substitute. Chobani last year introduced a whole-milk yogurt line called Chobani Indulgent, which is “so decadent, it can only be dessert,” its website says. Flavors include double chocolate chunk.
“We give portion control and it’s under 200 calories, but you don’t feel cheated,” says Peter McGuinness, Chobani’s chief marketing officer. “We joke that indulgence has never been so innocent.”
WhiteWave introduced the Australian-style Yulu in January. “Consumers desire real ingredients, real food and real fat,” says Rebekah Lyle, WhiteWave’s director of marketing and innovation for yogurt. “People have been dieting for a long time.”
1) All things in moderation is still a valid thought.
2) We need some fat to live and enjoy best health.
3) Some people will have a hard time getting fat in their diets during many hard times scenarios.