Ambient yoghurt beverages on the rise
The emergence of ambient drinking yoghurt (correctly termed ‘yoghurt-based product for ambient distribution’) is a trend spreading across Asia and other markets. While global production volumes of most yoghurt types grew at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 4% during the period 2013–2016, ambient yoghurt production grew at a CAGR of 19% in the same period.
In China, almost 50% of total yoghurt sales is ambient drinking yoghurt, which follows the launch of the product in 2010 by a major Chinese dairy in collaboration with Tetra Pak.
Shelf-stable yoghurt has similar nutritional benefit to traditional fermented chilled yoghurt, minus the probiotic bacteria because it is heat treated after fermentation. As a result, the product doesn’t need refrigeration but the taste is described as comparable to the chilled variety.
Lin Lin, Tetra Pak Dairy Cluster Category Leader in China, said the secret to the product’s success is its shelf-stable format, which allows it to achieve nationwide distribution.
“In China, the cold distribution chain is not well developed, so traditional chilled yoghurt cannot reach some consumers. But ambient yoghurt has succeeded in reaching consumers all across the county, even in small towns. The product goes wider and deeper,” he said.
Unlike traditional fermented yoghurt, ambient yoghurt lacks a live bacteria culture because it must be sterilised to remain shelf stable. However, this has not been an obstacle to success in the Chinese market.
“Chinese consumers are open-minded and willing to accept new products, so establishing the ambient concept wasn’t a big step for them. What matters to the consumer is the knowledge that ambient drinking yoghurt is a protein-rich and healthy food — and Chinese dairies have promoted it on those lines,” Lin explained.
New flavours and blends are appearing as the market develops, and dairies seek to differentiate themselves from the competition. Blueberry, vanilla and even cheese flavours have proven popular, and 2017 saw the launch of ambient yoghurt with fruit and cereal particles.
Some dairies from outside Asia have begun producing ambient yoghurt specifically for export to China, while others are now moving to replicate the Chinese success on their home soil.
In Nigeria, for example, a new production line for ambient yoghurt is under construction. And 2019 will see the product arrive in South America when it launches in Brazil, with Richard Brockhof, Dairy Processing Category Leader for Tetra Pak, involved in this project.
“We saw the immense popularity of ambient yoghurt in China and decided there was potential to take this forward in Brazil,” he explained. “The essential point is that the product has the nutritional aspects, the proteins and the minerals you get from yoghurt, yet also the advantage of ambient distribution. It’s a healthy product you can take everywhere.”
Chilled distribution is very expensive in a tropical country like Brazil and can account for up to 30% of a product’s cost. For obvious reasons, chilled products tend to be consumed at home. An ambient option paves the way for consumers to enjoy yoghurt outside the home as well.
Brockhof notes that chilled milk consumption is falling in some developing countries because consumers increasingly eat their breakfast outside the home. The emergence of ambient yoghurt is one response to this shift in habits.
In Brazil, the product is classed as an ‘ambient dairy beverage’ because national law reserves the term yoghurt for milk with a live culture that undergoes a certain process.
However, Brockhof does not see this as a hindrance. “Ambient dairy beverages will not be competing with existing products but will bring something new to the market and provide a good opportunity for producers to move to added value products.”
The initial projection for Brazil is total production of 3 million litres of ambient yoghurt in 2019, rising to 10 million litres in 2020.
For more information, visit Tetra Pak.
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