Faced with changing priorities, a growing number of people around the world are focusing on their health more than ever before as they seek to take on more nutritious diets and healthier lifestyles.
In South Korea, where such considerations reign high, the face of the yogurt industry is quickly changing to meet the demands of health-conscious consumers, following similar trends elsewhere in the world, including the United States and Europe.
If yogurt varieties were limited to simply “plain,” a few standard flavors and perhaps low-fat options in the past, Korean yogurt makers are introducing wider and healthier options today, including those with less or no sugar and added nutrition.
Reflecting such shifts, “Greek yogurt” was a key word that defined and shaped the Korean yogurt industry this year, according to a 2015 market report by the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs and the Korea-Agro Fisheries and Food Trade Corporation.
Simply put, Greek yogurt is a thicker, creamier type of yogurt made by straining off the whey (liquid) during the fermentation process. It contains fewer carbohydrates, less sugar and higher levels of protein in comparison to regular yogurt.
Yogurt companies sometimes add jam or flavors to the mix to improve the taste, as Greek yogurt in its original state has a sour flavor, sparking controversy over the boundaries of what counts as “true Greek yogurt.”
Since Ildong Foodis introduced Greek yogurt to Koreans first in 2012 with “Foodis Greek,” the domestic Greek yogurt market has quickly expanded as local dairy giants including Binggrae, Namyang Dairy Products, Pulmuone Danone and Lotte Food have swiftly launched competing products.
“As general consumer preferences lean toward healthier foods, yogurts with heightened nutrition and without additives are seeing favorable market responses,” a Binggrae spokesperson told The Korea Herald.
“Greek yogurt and even regular yogurts made by fermenting milk with lactic acid bacteria without added sugar are becoming more popular. And we are ensuring that such consumer trends are translated into our products,” said a Namyang representative.
The domestic Greek yogurt market has grown more than threefold from roughly 2.27 billion won ($1.99 million) in 2013 to around 7.46 billion in 2014, doubling to reach a market value of 15 billion won from January to July of this year, according to market research firm Nielsen Korea.
The Korean fermented milk market was valued at roughly 462.6 billion won in the first half of this year, up by roughly 5.3 percent compared to the same period in 2014, “largely due to the rising popularity of Greek yogurt and large-sized yogurt products,” according to the Food Ministry.
Despite its growing popularity, Greek yogurt nonetheless remains a minor player in the nation’s yogurt industry today, as it falls short of becoming the dominant yogurt type sought by the masses.
For instance, Binggrae’s Greek yogurt “Yopa!” accounts for roughly 5.5 percent of the company’s total yogurt sales while Namyang’s “Greek” takes up only 1 to 3 percent of its total sales. Pulmuone Danone said that “Activia” remains its best-selling product, though monthly sales of its “Greek” yogurts are rising by about 10 percent per month.
However, yogurt companies expect such product shares to change in the years to come as Greek yogurt and purer yogurts with superior health benefits are set to rise in line with growing desire for better health and more nutritious food products.
“Right now, Greek yogurt accounts for only around 5 percent of the general yogurt market, a minor figure compared to a market share of more than 50 percent in the U.S.,” said the Binggrae official.
“This means that there is greater potential for the Greek yogurt segment to further growth here, as consumer demand continues to lean toward nutritionally superior products,” he said.