“It’s become a very competitive part of the store, so we have to innovate and get back to growth so we can protect our space,” said Carlos Altschul, CEO at high-protein, low-sugar, skyr brand siggi’s, which has also seen its growth slow after experiencing a few years of pretty meteoric growth.
“I’ve seen the category up close as it enjoyed a decade of significant growth, and then it started to decline," he told FoodNavigator-USA after launching a program designed to help registered dieticians (see box below) get innovative nutrition initiatives off the ground. "We’ve seen a few positive weeks in the year to date, but we’re still in the slightly negative to flat [territory].
“Where the trends are improving, it’s driven by innovation, so we’ve seen a focus on less sugar, high protein and probiotics, and [efforts to target] more snacking occasions.”
He added: “What we’re seeing now is a transition… to get to the next instance of growth for the category, we need to see yogurt become more of a better for you snack, and how [players] are able to improve the nutritional profile of yogurt and address more snacking needs is going to define how soon the category becomes more developed in the US.”
Yogurt as a high protein, low sugar snack with simple ingredients
While breakfast has historically been a key usage occasion for yogurt in the US, the key to growing the overall category is positioning yogurt as a high protein, low-sugar, satiating snack that can be consumed at any time of the day, as an inbetween meal snack, as part of a mini meal, and as a dessert, said Altschul.
And siggi’s – which is known for "simple ingredients, not a lot of sugar, and high protein" – is ideally placed to capitalize on the snacking opportunity as it makes products people “can feel good about eating more frequently,” says Altschul, who headed up sales at organic yogurt brand Stonyfield (also owned by siggi’s parent company, Lactalis) before he took the helm at siggi’s in October 2018.
New products such as the almond butter line – featuring 2% yogurt with a side of no added sugar and no added oil almond butter (18-19g, protein, 10g total sugar per cup) – also target consumers looking for nutritious and satiating snacks they can feel good about, said Altschul.
“It helps deliver a more satiating snack in between meals and it’s outperforming other nut butter products in market.”
Other product lines such as siggi’s triple cream – which are higher in fat (9% milkfat) and feature more indulgent flavors such as chocolate – target afternoon and evening snacking occasions (eg.dessert), he added.
“While people are receptive to higher fat yogurts, however, it’s not free rein in terms of sugar and ingredients lists.”
Kids’ pouches: ‘We have to make sure we deliver on what parents are looking for’
Three other key pockets of opportunity siggi’s is focusing on this year are kids’ products, plant-based, and drinks.
Siggi’s new kids’ yogurt pouches – which hit stores late last year and use different cultures that deliver a less tart taste profile – were created in response to requests from moms who enjoyed eating siggi’s products and wanted their kids to “develop palates that are not depending on high sugar," he said.
On a more strategic level, he added, one obvious way to increase per capita consumption of yogurt is to encourage kids to eat it, enjoy it, and become lifelong consumers.
“We’re really excited about the performance we’re seeing on the pouches, and after renovating the tubes [which now have the same formula as the pouches] we’ve started to see better performance there as well.
“Developing better products for kids is in the interests of everyone in the category because countries that are over-developed in per capita yogurt consumption have very developed kids’ sections. But we have to evolve offerings and make sure that we deliver on what parents are looking for.”
[Editor's note: Want to learn more about the kids' yogurt category? Join us at our third FOOD FOR KIDS summit in Chicago November 11-13.]
Plant-based: ‘Demand has completely blown our expectations’
Siggi’s entered the burgeoning plant-based yogurt space in late December. While several rivals are also using coconut as a base, siggi’s offering features 10g protein (largely from peas) and macadamia nuts, which set it apart in the category, said Altschul.
“We wanted to stay true to the values of siggi’s: simple ingredients, lower sugar, a thicker texture, higher in protein, so they don’t sacrifice the eating experience by choosing dairy-free... and demand has completely blown our expectations.
“We decided to focus on rolling it out in places where plant-based is more developed, so we still haven’t seen its full potential and we feel really good about the repeat purchase rates. The reaction from consumers on social media has also been phenomenal.”
Drinkables: Renovation and new products
The drinkable yogurt market has slowed down, said Altschul, “But we still believe the format has a ton of potential for growth as a snacking solution.
“We’re in the process of renovating our drinks portfolio, so we’ll be talking about probiotics in a bigger way, but we’ll also working on differentiated innovation down the line, targeting new consumers and new occasions.”
Beyond the dairy aisle?
Asked whether the siggi’s brand could extend beyond the dairy and dairy alternatives aisle, he said: “For us what is clear that the values siggi’s represents don’t just apply to dairy and dairy alternatives, so down the line, we see room to take these values into other categories.”
“We’ve enjoyed some great years of high accelerated growth and we’ve seen the market coming to us as our competitors have introduced products with higher protein and lower sugar, so we’ve seen our growth slow, but with this round of innovation we’re getting back to accelerated growth.”
Carlos Altschul, CEO, siggi's
Under the Lactalis umbrella
Asked what practical difference being part of Lactalis [which acquired siggi’s in early 2018] had made to siggi’s, he said: “Overall it has been a phenomenal move for us. Siggi’s has launched in 15 countries over the last 12 months, so we’re now an international brand, which would have been very hard to do without the support of the biggest dairy company in the world.
“They allow us to run independently and at the same time support us in terms of investing in the brand, buying, milk operations, R&D, transportation and so on, plus we can leverage talent from across the organization.”
*According to SPINS data (conventional MULO and Natural Enhanced), US retail sales of refrigerated yogurt and kefir were flat (down -0.1% to $7.64bn) in the 52 weeks to February 23, and down -0.4% in the latest 12 week period. Sales were up 2.6% in the Natural Enhanced channel but down -0.2% in the conventional channel.
Nielsen data shows total yogurt sales in the 52 weeks to February 29, 2020, were down -0.4% to $7.1bn, with sales down -0.3% in the latest 12 weeks.
Under its new siggi's starters program - siggi's will award $20,000 to three nutrition professionals to help a community nutrition idea get off the ground or support an existing community nutrition program. The winners will be announced in September.
It will also provide recipients ongoing access to relevant resources and expertise as they execute their initiatives, said founder and chairman Siggi Hilmarsson.
“It’s so important to me to be able to give back to and support the nutrition community. We have loved having a meaningful partnership with registered dietitians since the inception of siggi’s. This relationship has continued to grow as we have and the siggi’s starter program reflects that."
Learn more about the initiative HERE.