“Everyone involved in the Lifeway innovation process is a consumer, and we know that you don’t consume kefir all day long, so we looked at different types of beverages,” explained Derek Miller, VP of Communications at Lifeway. “We looked at what we have already brought to retailers, what others are doing, and what we would like to do. We also have the probiotic aspect, and we didn’t want a product that was overly sweet and syrupy, and that informed our decision.”
The category-expanding non-dairy Elixir line of sparkling probiotic products are available in four flavors: Tangerine, hibiscus, ginger and elderberry. The products are positioned as a thirst-quenching alternative to sugary soda and traditionally creamy probiotic beverages. They could also be used as cocktail mixers.
The product was developed over nine months and the industry was given a first look at Natural Products Expo West in March. Early feedback from that community did result in some product changes, explained Miller. The product was initially sweetened with stevia, but that didn’t perform as well as expected, so the product that launched at the tail end of the third quarter is lightly sweetened with cane sugar. “We are open to feedback from our consumers but also from our friends in the industry,” he said.
Icelandic yogurt and plant-based beverages
More new Lifeway products will also hit store shelves early in 2018, with traditional Icelandic-style skyr and plant-based probiotic beverages in the pipeline. The products were showcased at the Natural Products Expo East in September.
Icelandic skyr has only entered the US market relatively recently, with some stakeholders predicting it could be as big as Greek yogurt. The product, which is higher in protein and lower in sugar than Greek yogurt, is made from whole milk and has a rich and creamy texture, explained Miller. Lifeway’s Organic Skyr will hit stores in January, and is formulated with 14 probiotic cultures, including two strains that are essential to authentic Icelandic Skyr.
The product boasts 18 grams of protein per serving, and will be available in five varieties: natural, blueberry, wildberry, ancient grains and honey.
Lifeway is also targeting the plant-based dairy alternative category with its Plantiful brand of vegan beverages made with five vegan kefir cultures and organic and non-GMO pea, hemp and rice protein. “We don’t see a lot of probiotics in plant-based dairy alternatives,” said Miller. It will be available in four flavors when it hits shelves at the end of Q1, beginning of Q2.
“New, on-trend solutions both inside and outside of dairy”
The new products are part of the “new, on-trend solutions both inside and outside of dairy” mentioned by Lifeway CEO Julie Smolyansky following the company’s recent third quarter announcements. The company announced that sales were down 4% year-on-year, or a 1.1% decrease over the first nine months of the year. This was linked to lower volumes of its branded drinkable kefir, which were partially offset by the incremental impact of its new cupped kefir product line.
“Overall, Lifeway performed well in what continues to be a challenging business climate,” said CEO Julie Smolyansky in a press release. “While sales declined 4% in the quarter, we continue to shape our product offering responsive to today's consumer and invest in organizational capabilities that enable our strategic framework.
“In addition to the changes we implemented in our sales organization earlier in the year, our innovation and commercialization teams have been delivering new, on-trend solutions both inside and outside of dairy.”
Given the lower sales of the kefir product, does that increase performance expectations for the new products? “We have high expectations for all of our products,” said Miller. “We want products that really impress the market, that provide great value, and are nutritionally beneficial.”