While new product launches in the drinking yoghurt and fermented beverages category have been relatively stable in recent years, one variant is bucking the trend. Kefir launches grew more than threefold between 2011 and 2016, according to data from Innova Market Insights.
Kefir is a fermented milk drink that originated in the north Caucasus Mountains, located in Eurasia between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea. Made with kefir ‘grains’, a yeast/bacterial fermentation starter, the drink is prepared by inoculating cow, goat or sheep milk with kefir grains.
The US pioneered the kefir market in the West and brought value-added options in resealable plastic bottles to the mainstream market, allowing for more direct competition with other dairy and non-dairy beverages.
The US accounted for over one-third of global kefir launches in 2016 and beverages featuring kefir accounted for 40% of US drinking yogurt/fermented beverages introductions overall, compared with just over 8% globally. Europe accounted for the bulk of the remainder, led by more traditional markets in Eastern Europe. Launches in Western Europe have grown strongly, but from a very small base.
Kefir is strongly promoted on its healthy properties, particularly with rising interest in fermented foods and beverages overall. All US and nearly 94% of global kefir launches used some kind of health positioning in 2016. There was initial emphasis on probiotics, particularly focusing on digestive health benefits, and though regulatory issues have made this type of claim more difficult in some parts of the world, digestive health claims were still used for nearly two-thirds of global launches in 2016.
Nearly half of kefir launches use low-fat claims and the sector has also not been slow to exploit rising concerns over sugar intake in the diet. The number of global launches positioned on low-sugar/no-added-sugar and sugar-free positionings doubled in 2016 to feature in 20% of the total. Organic and lactose-free variants are also increasingly common among kefir launches.