Distribution of Alove is extending beyond its initial 450-store test market of California, where Morinaga Nutritional Foods (MNF) is based, to the Midwest region where it is sold in the natural and specialty store channels.
“By 2019 we definitely want to expand our reach to the East Coast,” Colleen Sherfey, MNF senior director of marketing, told FoodNavigator-USA.
MNF uses a proprietary process to remove pieces of aloe vera gel from the aloe vera plant, which are formed into small, translucent cubes mixed into a “Japanese-style” low-fat yogurt that is less dense and smoother than a traditional Greek yogurt, the company said.
Breaking away from yogurt for breakfast
Alove yogurt drinks were launched in part due to the rising demand for a utensil-less yogurt experience as American consumers increasingly treat yogurt as an-all day snack instead of a food relegated to the breakfast hours.
According to Mintel, approximately 93% of American who eat or drink yogurt have it at breakfast, however more consumers are choosing yogurt as an afternoon snack (84% in 2016 compared to 37% in 2014).
“A growing acceptance of yogurt as a snack creates huge opportunity for the market considering the importance of snacking in US diets. As a result, we’re seeing product innovation expand to include formats that fit non-breakfast occasions,” Beth Bloom, senior analyst of US food & drink at Mintel, said.
While traditional spoonable yogurt makes up most of total yogurt sales in the US, the yogurt drink segment is growing at a faster double digit rate (14% in 2017) but will level off in coming years, Mintel noted. Its future growth will rely on category innovation such as the introduction of lesser-known international styles to the US market like the distinct, silken texture of Japanese yogurt.
“We’re seeing the yogurt category, especially from the Greek standpoint, declining a bit, but that way we can come in with a Japanese style and win over consumers,” Sherfey said.
Due to the aloe plant’s association with beauty and medicinal benefits as well as its clean, not-overly-sweet flavor, the yogurt’s appeal can extend past morning eating occasions to all-day consumption, according to the company.
Alove aloe yogurt is currently the No.1 selling fruit yogurt in Japan where it has been on the market since 1994, according to CEO Hiroyuki Imanishi. However, the Japanese consumer market is projected to shrink by nearly 50 million people by 2065 (according to the Japan Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare) due to declining birth rates and an aging society where citizens over the age of 65 will make up 38% of the population by 2065 without a robust younger generation to follow it.
“In Japan, the population is getting older and consumption of food is declining… a lot of food companies are looking at going overseas,” Imanishi told FoodNavigator-USA.
“Doing dairy in the United States is a special target for us.”
Morinaga Nutritional Foods had been in the US for more than 30 years prior to launching Alove aloe yogurt selling tofu in Tetra Pak carton packaging that has a shelf life of one year.
Connecting with the US consumer
MNF applies the same basic product formulation from it uses in the Japanese market to its yogurt drinks sold in the US, except for two US-specific flavors – coconut and strawberry banana – meant to be more familiar to the American palate and turn consumers onto the brand.
When entering the US market, Alove noticed consumers had a preconceived notion of what aloe is like from a sensory perspective, according to Sherfey.
“Many people think of Aloe as slimy, but it’s quite the opposite in our yogurt; it’s crunchy actually,” Sherfey said. “For the American mainstream, it’s quite an ‘aha’ moment when they try the product.”