For nutrition, flavour and versatility, new yogurt offerings fit the bill

By Sean Moon
For nutrition, flavour and versatility, new yogurt offerings fit the bill
Long gone are the images of Birkenstock-wearing hippies or wizened old Bulgarians digging into a dish of their favourite dairy concoction— yogurt in its myriad forms is now enjoyed by millions around the world, from toddlers to grandparents, supermodels to bodybuilders.

In fact, Canadian consumers have been lapping up the silky smooth delight in ever-increasing numbers — thanks in large part to the recent popularity of Greek yogurt — both at home and in their favourite restaurants. With such a wide variety of styles and flavours available, foodservice operators would be well served to give this international dairy staple more than a passing thought.

With its creamy texture, wonderfully sweet, yet refreshingly tangy flavour profile and its abundant healthful qualities, it is no surprise that yogurt has captured the hearts and tastebuds of Canadians. Popular with everyone from the on-the-go fitness enthusiast to dessert-loving hedonists, yogurt is quickly becoming a foodservice menu must-have.

“Yogurt is a versatile food that can easily be incorporated into different recipes, from starters to dessert,” says Jamie Millette, key account manager for Danone. “It can be appreciated by cooks for its unique taste, but also for its texture and good nutritional profile. By incorporating yogurt into recipes, operators can leverage the increased nutritional value as well as reducing certain costs in other ingredients.”

Get me to the Greek

Although there are several yogurt trends that have become increasingly popular in the last few years, none has been as prevalent as Greek yogurt. Now one of the largest segments of yogurt consumption across Canada, Greek yogurt has a high protein content and superior nutritional profile, along with incredible recipe versatility. This makes it not only a favourite with chefs looking to add both flavour and healthy functionality to their dishes, but also with bean-counting operators with their eye on the financial bottom line.

“Greek yogurt is a major opportunity for chefs and foodservice operators,” says Andreane Leblanc, spokesperson for Ultima Foods, makers of iögo brand yogurt. “Greek yogurt can replace mayonnaise, sour cream or cream cheese in a recipe. For the consumer, it’s more nutritious, especially with the protein intake. Also, the perceived value of the meal is increased, which is very positive for profitability. Most Canadians adjust recipes to make them healthier. Restaurants and foodservice also need to do the same.”

New flavours abound

Leann Claerbout, Business Team Lead, Convenience and Food Service for General Mills Canada, adds that even with consumers’ eagerness to accept new and exotic flavours, the company’s Greek yogurt offerings such as Mediterranée or Classique have never been as popular as they are today.

“By offering Greek yogurt in your restaurant, your clientele will know you are aware of emerging trends,” says Claerbout. “Greek yogurt offerings should bring new client consumption to an establishment and Greek-style yogurt products also provide opportunities for menu innovation. This should provide the consumer a higher quality product offering leading to higher client satisfaction.”

Keeping in step with the Greek yogurt trend is the consumer preference for indulgent, pleasurable and dessert-inspired flavours such as coconut, passion fruit and key lime. These flavours have not only garnered new fans for their perceived indulgent qualities, but have also allowed chefs and operators to expand their yogurt offerings beyond the traditional dayparts of breakfast and lunch to dinnertime dessert and afternoon snacks.

Not just for breakfast anymore

“While strawberry, vanilla and plain remain the most popular, flavours like coconut, mango, and cherry are leading category growth,” says Claerbout. “This has enabled yogurt to move beyond breakfast and grow overall consumption. The after-dinner eating occasion, which has long been popular in France, is now growing in Canada. Yogurt has responded with innovation to meet this need through flavours like apple pie, caramel and white chocolate.”

Leblanc says yogurt producers need to stay on top of flavour trends and recipe innovation, something she says Ultima Foods has been able to achieve with several of its more “indulgent” brands.

“After dinner (for dessert), there is a big opportunity to position yogurt as a delicious and nutritious choice,” says Leblanc. “Indulgent yogurt, such as our coconut and passion fruit varieties, creates an opportunity for chefs to experiment, particularly with desserts. For example, an indulgent yogurt like iögo Moment or Olympic Krema can easily replace whipped cream and ice cream.”

A healthy alternative

Of course, yogurt’s health halo has always been one of the main reasons for its longevity and popularity with consumers. As a convenient, go-to food for a quick snack or even meal (think yogurt smoothie) on the run, yogurt is often presented as a nutritional powerhouse. And with drinkable variations such as Kefir becoming more readily available, Canadians are likely to keep yogurt on their nutritional radar for years to come.

“Consumers are more and more conscious of their health and want calories that matter,” says Millette. “Yogurt is a champion food as it contains calcium, vitamin A and D, bacterial cultures and other important nutrients our body needs on a daily basis. By providing nutritious, on-the-go snacking options like parfaits and smoothies, operators can generate incremental sales and profits.”

In addition to the beneficial ingredients it does contain, yogurt is also notable for its ability to often be well tolerated by some people with lactose intolerance, an ever-growing concern for today’s health-conscious consumer.

“Many lactose intolerant people can eat yogurt because the bacteria help digest the lactose content of the product,” explains Millette. “It’s more than tasty food – it’s smart nourishment.”

Courtesy of General Mills Foods Canada

Courtesy of General Mills Foods Canada

Lactose-free options

Claerbout says that with General Mills brands such as Yoplait Yoptimal and Liberté Greek also available in lactose-free versions, yogurt’s health halo is becoming even more brilliant.

“Yogurt is a convenient, low-fat way to consume dairy and obtain your daily Vitamin D requirements. And with its two billion good bacteria coming from 10 different strains and clean ingredient deck, products such as Kefir have a lot to offer in terms of maintaining good gut health.”

Packed with nutrition, full of enticing flavours and extremely versatile for use in recipes, yogurt is poised to make even greater headway onto foodservice menus across the country. It truly is one magical multitasker.

“Yogurt can be eaten anytime, from breakfast to dessert and can also be integrated as an ingredient in meals,” says Leblanc. “It is a fantastic product.”

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