Innovation Investigation: Cultured Dairy Satisfies Craving for Protein and Probiotics

by | Feb 8, 2024

Dairy is making a comeback. Despite historically sluggish growth and skepticism about its value, dairy brands win when they align innovation with functional needs and flavor preferences. Cultured dairy fits well with people’s desire for wholesome products that help them feel good about their food and beverage choices. Recent sales data shows that interest in yogurt and cottage cheese has increased over the last year.

Circana Data, U.S.

Cultured Dairy Segment

Dollar Sales

($MM USD)

% Chg

(52 Wks Aug 2023)

Shelf Stable/Yogurt Drinks

$106

+37.7%

Refrigerated Yogurt Drinks

$1,300

+13.1%

Refrigerated Yogurt

$9,300

+11.8%

Cottage Cheese/Ricotta/Farmer’s

$1,700

+16.1%

Developing cultured dairy products that appeal to North Americans requires staying connected with evolving behaviors and expectations about ingredients, formats, and flavors. Let’s explore the trends affecting cultured dairy innovation and examine how brands are bringing these trends to life in the dairy aisle.

Psst! This blog is the first of a series of resources on cultured dairy. Watch for an episode of FlavorScience focused on formulation, an e-book with shopper, formulation, and regulatory insights, and an infographic showing trends likely to affect your cultured dairy innovation journey.

Spoonable Yogurt Launches Highlight Protein and Craveable Flavors

DESIRE FOR HIGH PROTEIN STAYS STRONG

Protein readily pairs with wellness trends as more people recognize its role in metabolism support and maintaining a healthy weight. According to Mintel, 31% of yogurt buyers say high protein is one of the most important things they look for in a yogurt. Launch data from Mintel’s GNPD shows that 27% of spoonable dairy and plant-based yogurt introduced in 2023 included a high protein claim. Flavor solutions are essential when working with proteins since most protein sources have complex notes to enhance or mask. Working with a flavor house that offers applications expertise can help ensure products have a desirable flavor and mouthfeel.

Siggi’s Banana High Protein Simple Ingredient Skyr

Canada, October 2023

– 16g protein and 13g sugar per 175g serving

– 2% milk fat

– No high fructose corn syrup, aspartame, sucralose, stevia, gelatin, artificial colours or preservatives

TEXTURE AND FLAVOR EXTEND YOGURT BEYOND BREAKFAST

A trend we discussed as part of our 2024 predictions series was how food and drink choices aren’t just about replenishing energy. We also eat and drink to have fun! Complex textures, tastes, and sensations help people treat themselves and turn their meal or snack into a memorable experience. Producers are focusing on adding texture through crunchy inclusions and decadent dessert-inspired flavors that extend yogurt beyond breakfast food. Tastewise, a social listening platform, reports that 15% of discussions around yogurt mention it as a snack.

    Dannon Light and Fit Greek Crunch Cookies And Cream: Vanilla Fat-Free Yogurt With Cookie Pieces And Dark Chocolate

    United States, Aug 2023

    A healthy, indulgent Greek-style yogurt featuring vanilla yogurt with a separate topping of cookie pieces and dark chocolate described as “Greek crunch.”

    Chobani Creations Cherry Cheesecake

    United States, January 2024

    Chobani recently announced a new lineup of desert-inspired Greek yogurt. The flavors include Mocha Tiramisu, Apple Pie à la Mode, Cherry Cheesecake, Orange Cream Pop, Bananas Foster, and Caramel Sundae.

    Drinkable Yogurt Delivers Functional Benefits On the Go

    PASS THE PROBIOTICS, PLEASE

    Dairy food, especially yogurt and kefir, is a well-known source of probiotics, friendly microorganisms linked to gut health and immunity. Offering functional benefits like probiotics and added protein gives people even more reasons to grab a drinkable yogurt on their way out the door.

    Nuestra Cocina Mango Flavored Yogurt Smoothie with Probiotics

    United States, January 2024

    Helps support the immune system with live and active cultures. Made with real fruit and pasteurized grade A milk free from rBST/rBGH hormones.

    HOLD THE SUGAR

    Sugar is quickly falling out of favor. Research links excess sugar with high blood pressure, inflammation, and diabetes. Innova notes that sugar-related claims are the second most influential health claim for spoonable and drinkable yogurt in the U.S., second only to protein claims. Some developers are also staying away from non-nutritive sweeteners, opting instead for stevia or monk fruit extract.

    Chobani Zero Sugar Yogurt Cultured Dairy Drinks

    United States, June 2023

    Chobani® Zero Sugar* Drinks pack the deliciousness of Zero Sugar* yogurt in the convenience of a bottle. With plenty of protein, zero sugar*, and no lactose.

    *Not a low-calorie food

    Cottage Cheese Is In Its Comeback Era

    MEET COTTAGE CHEESE, A SOCIAL MEDIA DARLING

    Cottage cheese is having a moment on social media platforms. On TikTok, #cottagecheese has over 1.2 billion views. People are posting about cottage cheese as a healthy snack and using it as an ingredient in savory and sweet recipes. Innova notes Gen Z and younger Millennials who want to incorporate more protein into their diets are leading the buzz.

    @cooklikeamother

    Strawberry cheesecake cottage cheese ice cream is WORTHY of the hype. Measurements in comments! #cottagecheeseicecream #cottagecheese #healthydessert #healthyrecipe #healthyrecipes #easyrecipes

    ♬ Love You So – The King Khan & BBQ Show

    So far, very few brands offer plant-based cottage cheese. The chemical reaction needed to create cottage cheese is more challenging to replicate with a plant base. Using comparable ingredients like non-dairy milk, lemon juice, salt, and seasonings can create a similar flavor and texture. Currently, only one brand of plant-based cottage cheese seems poised to hit North American shelves, leaving plenty of room for innovation.

    FLAVOR AND TEXTURE MAKE COTTAGE CHEESE EVEN MORE SNACK-WORTHY

    A few producers are leaning into cottage cheese as a snack with fun mix-ins. Hood’s Medleys taps into social media trends like adding fruit, granola, and chocolate chips for a convenient and protein-packed snack.

    Hood Cottage Cheese Medleys

    United States, May 2023

    Craveable flavor combinations and satisfying crunch in one convenient, protein-packed snack. No prep or compromise. Just flip, stir, and go.

    Kefir Is Here and Packs a Probiotic Punch

    KEFIR HAS MORE PROBIOTICS THAN YOGURT

    Kefir’s global value reached roughly $2 billion in 2023, with North America the largest market. Although a small segment of cultured dairy launches, Kefir is a category to watch. Kefir and yogurt are both made by fermenting milk to create living bacteria cultures. Because Kefier has a longer fermentation time, it has more probiotics and can have a slightly carbonated taste.

    The demand for probiotic-rich foods will rise as more people become aware of how gut health affects their overall health. According to Healthline.com, Kefir contains three times more probiotics than yogurt and is the better choice if you want to improve digestive health. People who are lactose intolerant can tolerate kefir, perhaps because of the enzymes used in fermentation.

    Biotiful Mango Plant-Based Dairy Free Oat Kefir

    United Kingdom, June 2022

    A fermented oat-based drink with added vitamins and calcium, fermented with billions of vegan Kefir cultures for a smooth, delicious drink with no added sugar.

    The Intersection of Plant-Based Dairy and Cultured Dairy

    With plant-based dairy now mainstream and some younger North Americans skeptical about dairy’s value and sustainability, people and brands are exploring how plant-based dairy fits into the cultured dairy lineup. Vegan yogurt and cottage cheese align with growing awareness and interest in the perceived benefits of non-animal proteins. Mintel reports that 54% of Canadians agree a healthy diet should contain animal and plant-based proteins.

    Plant-based ingredients have flavor and textural challenges that require flavors with modulating properties and application expertise to deliver a good taste experience. Mixing proteins will require testing (with associated cost and time implications) to confirm nutritional content, functionality, sensory features, and safety.

    2024 may become a year of inclusivity for dairy as people incorporate various dairy foods that help them reach their daily protein and nutritional goals. People may shift between formats, opting for fiber-rich oat milk in their morning coffee and dairy yogurt for a high-protein snack in the afternoon.

    Need Help With Your Next Cultured Dairy Innovation?

    The resurgence of interest in cultured dairy is fueling innovations aligned with current functional needs and flavor preferences. Reach out to the FlavorSum team if you’ve included cultured dairy launches in your strategic growth plans and need support with flavor solutions or applications expertise!

    Author

    Phil a’Becket

    Phil a’Becket is the Senior Consumer Insights Manager for FlavorSum. He has eight years of experience in food ingredient market research, focusing on both primary research and secondary data analysis. He earned his MBA from Clemson University, and joined FlavorSum in 2022.

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