Dannon’s “hybrid” approach to the U.S. market has worked wonders for Activia. From a standing start in 2006, premium-priced Activia sales quickly grew to $130 million that year in U.S. outlets measured by Information Resources Inc., which tracks sales in supermarkets, drug stores and mass merchandisers except Wal-Mart. By last year, IRI-measured sales of Activia had neared $400 million, up 16 percent over 2008 – and that during a global economic crisis and worldwide recession that leveled sales of many other pricey grocery products.
Among the mistakes Yoplait has made are downgrading its initially strong digestive-health positioning in marketing and packaging, a sign of what Mellentin called “strategic timidity” on the brand’s part. YoPlus obviously also has been hurt by much lower overall marketing support than Activia has enjoyed.
General Mills has tried to rally the sub-brand by introducing a “reformulated” YoPlus early this year, with an added 20 percent of the required daily amounts of vitamins A and E. It now also is positioning YoPlus as beneficial not only to digestive health but also immune systems and, with added calcium and Vitamin D, bone health.
However, Kraft’s experience proves that it takes more than brazen digestive-health positioning to succeed with probiotic products. Introduced in 2007, Kraft’s LiveActive probiotic snacking cheeses already were deemed a “disappointment” to the company early last year by Kraft CEO Irene Rosenfeld. Among Kraft’s failures seems to have been believing that cheese – a product about whose overall healthfulness consumers are ambivalent – would be as appealing a vehicle for probiotic bacteria as yogurt is.
Nevertheless, Activia continues to focus single-mindedly on digestive health. And other brands are trying to harness lessons from Activia and succeed where Yoplait and Kraft have not. In the U.S., for instance, new products based on probiotic positioning have ranged from GoodBelly fruit juices, a company launched by Silk soy-milk brand founder Steve Demos, to Naked Pizza, a fast-growing restaurant startup that proudly promotes its pizza as probiotic.
And in Europe and elsewhere, probiotics-based innovations keep coming – some of them taking consumers beyond digestive-health messaging per se. Unilever debuted Latta, a probiotic margarine spread, in Germany last year. Bravo Friscus is a new Swedish brand extension aimed at probiotic remedying of the common cold. And a New Zealand company, BLIS Technologies, has launched an anti-sore-throat probiotic called K12. d is a new Swedish juice.
The flourishing sales of probiotic products – like the good bacteria they nurture in the human intestine – suggests promising things for the future of this nutritional technology. And now that Americans have proven we can handle talking about gut health, U.S. consumers will benefit along with the rest of the world.