Icelandic Provisions CEO: Skyr could be as big as Greek

By Elaine Watson

- Last updated on GMT

Icelandic Provisions CEO: Skyr could be as big as Greek

Related tags Milk

Could skyr – which is higher in protein and lower in sugar – be as big as Greek yogurt, or is the ‘Icelandic’ segment of the dairy aisle likely to remain a quirky niche? Ten years ago, people were asking the same question about Greek yogurt, says the CEO of Icelandic Provisions, “and we all know what happened next."

“Skyr is new to the US, but people like the fact that it’s got a heritage and it’s been around in Iceland for centuries," ​Steve Platt told FoodNavigator-USA.

"I see similarities to what happened 10 years ago. The yogurt category had gotten a little stale, consumers were looking for something new, then Greek came along, which was thicker with more protein.

“And this is the case again where there is something better out there, and I think Icelandic skyr will be the next big boom for the category. People are fanatical about our products.”

It’s still early days for Icelandic Provisions – which has only been on the market for 18 months, and has already secured distribution in 5,000+ stores from Whole Foods to Safeway and ShopRite – but Platt, a former Dannon executive, has reason to be optimistic.

'A fantastic ride'

“It’s been a fantastic ride so far. We’re the fastest-growing brand in the category, and we’re already a top 10 brand in the majority of the retailers we sell in. We also drive a really high basket rate, so when people buy our products they are also spending more, so it’s good for our customers.

“And when it comes to the turn rate, units per store per week, we are outperforming the category average by 21%,” ​claimed Platt, who was speaking to us as the brand unveiled new packaging that will hit stores at the end of the year.

“The cup is a different shape than a Greek or a regular yogurt cup, so that instantly suggests something new.

“It’s a premium cup with a paper sleeve with new graphics inspired by traditional Scandinavian illustrations and it’s also easier for retailers to place on the shelf ​[the previous one was a rhombus shape],” added Platt, who joined the team in summer 2016.

Co-founded by Polaris Founders Capital​ and Mjólkursamsalan (MS) Iceland Dairies​,​ the largest farmer-owned cooperative in Iceland representing over 650 Icelandic family farms and milk producers, Icelandic Provisions is funded by Iceland and US investors.

The executive management team includes CPG veterans with experience at Chobani, Dannon and other innovative brands from barkThins to Quorn, and is led by CEO Steve Platt, formerly VP of marketing at Dannon.

Although MS started exporting skyr to Whole Foods stores in the US under the brand around 10 years ago, it was only available in limited quantities in the Northeast. The January 2016 launch of Icelandic Provisions skyr– which was originally manufactured in Iceland but has been made in Batavia New York since early 2017 – is bringing the product to a far wider audience.

Icelandic Provisions skyr comes in eight flavors: plain, vanilla, key lime, strawberry lingonberry, blueberry bilberry, peach cloudberry, coconut, and raspberry, with a cherry blackcurrant variant to follow shortly.  The line is sold in major US retailers including Whole Foods, Wegmans, and ShopRite with an SRP of $1.69 to $1.99 per 5.3-ounce (150g) cup.

The original skyr

So what's resonating about the brand with consumers?

“We’re the original skyr from Iceland," ​said Platt. "Our recipe has endured for centuries and we use the skyr cultures that were passed down from family to family, so we view ourselves as the only traditional and authentic skyr in the US.

“[Fellow Icelandic brand] Siggi’s has done an amazing job about raising awareness about the amount of sugar in regular Greek yogurt​ and we feel we can expand on the work they have done. We have the same nutritionals, but a smooth and mild taste profile we feel appeals to even more people, because of the cultures we use.”

Premium brands are growing

While “every week in every store, there’s a 10 for $10 offer on Greek that can make it hard for smaller brands to come in and compete​,” said Platt, the growth of Icelandic yogurt – driven by Siggi’s – is significantly outpacing the overall yogurt category, which has flattened after several years of growth.

“Premium brands are growing, whether its’s brands like ours or Siggi’s ​or [Aussie style brand] noosa or some plant-based products. People are willing to pay 50 cents more for brands that invest more in ingredients and less on flashy marketing… consumers are also looking for products that taste better and don’t have a lot of sugar, but have a clean label.”

More protein, less sugar

The story behind the product has a certain allure – skyr is a traditional strained dairy product that’s been consumed in Iceland for hundreds of years – and Icelandic Provisions’ version is made with Icelandic heirloom cultures and manufactured in partnership with Iceland’s oldest farmer-owned dairy.

icelandic provisions close up

However, the taste, texture and nutritionals also set it apart in the yogurt category, even compared with Greek, which has more protein and less sugar than regular yogurt, he claimed.

To put this in perspective, each 150g cup of Icelandic Provisions skyr – with 1.5% milk fat - typically contains c.30% less sugar than Greek yogurt and a couple of grams more protein (it takes four cups of milk to make one cup of skyr; whereas it typically takes three cups to make one cup of Greek yogurt).

So each blended 150g cup contains 15g protein, 10-11g sugar and 120-140 calories, while the plain variety has 17g protein, 5g sugar and 115 calories. By contrast, leading Greek yogurt brands typically contain around 12g protein and 12-17g sugar.

This is in part because the cultures deliver a less tart/tangy taste that is sometimes associated with Greek yogurt, so you don’t have to use as much sugar to mask it, he claimed.

“You don’t have that spunkiness or tartness and so you don’t have to cover it up with sugar. Even the plain one tastes amazing.”

Long-term ambitions

So what’s next for the brand? A move into yogurt drinks or other adjacent categories?

Right now, the company is laser focused on its core skyr range, he said: “We've got a new cherry and blackcurrant line coming out later this year and a larger size for people that want to make parfaits and smoothies and so on, but longer term there is a lot we could do as we are connected to our founders at Iceland Dairies who make all kinds of dairy products."

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All those flavours!

Posted by Mary Fisher,

They are not Icelandic. Plain Skyr, in Iceland, is delicious. The flavoured 'Skyr' cannot be described as traditional, it's just pandering to'western' tastes.

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definitions and differences

Posted by Prof. Judith Narvhus,

Greek yoghurt has no international official definition and in fact is a vastly varying product with relation to fat and protein content. It bears little similarity to traditional Greek yoghurt. The commercial manufacture of Skyr is very similar to that of Greek yoghurt in that some kind of separation equipment is used post-fermentation in order to increase the solids in the product and there is no distinction in these processes with regards to each product. Similarly, the cultures used are all yoghurt cultures.
All in all, the distinction between these products is fuzzy. The increased concentration of the dry matter in the products described make these products more in the region of a fresh cheese (quark) than a regular yoghurt but as there are no defining concentrations of protein content in CODEX standards, at present the manufacturers tend to call their products what they like, focusing on a particular product niche for the country and consumer segment. Skyr is classed as a fresh cheese in the EU.

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