Dannon develops America's probiotics culture

Dannon, the US arm of French dairy giant Danone, has demonstrated its faith in the growing probiotics market in the US with a nationwide rollout of its internationally successful yoghurt brand Activia.

Dannon is confident its brand strength and scientific backing will give Activia the profile required to succeed in a market where many consumers do not understand, or are not interested, in probiotic concepts. But this is changing, and the US market is almost doubling annually, according to market researcher Information Resources Inc.

"In addition to cross-media advertising, we will be focused on educating consumers and sampling," Dannon's senior director of public relations, Michael J Neuwirth, told FF&N. He wouldn't reveal which sectors of the US population Activia would be targeting, but a broad consumer base is likely given the product will be available in both supermarket outlets and health stores. A partnership with retailer Wal-Mart has been established.

Danone has also been active in Canada, where it launched Cardivia, an omega-3 enriched, low-fat yoghurt in January.

These actions are in line with the direction being taken by its European parent toward healthier and more functional offerings. "Activia and added-value, health-oriented products like it are key to our continued growth plans in the short- and long-term," Neuwirth said.

In the one-shot probiotic yoghurt drink sector, a market far less developed in the US than in Europe, Australia and Japan, Dannon has been pleased with the reaction to its offering, relaunched as DanActive last year from its previous incarnation as Actimel. "The sales of DanActive have increased substantially; however, we attribute this to many factors, including increased availability and advertising.?The name change was not an issue," Neuwirth noted.

Jim Tonkin of Arizona-based Tonkin Consulting said Dannon's spending power was crucial to the brand's success. "There is a lot of educating that needs to take place and Dannon obviously has the clout to do that through advertising, distribution and other means," he said. "Having a big player like Dannon jump in like this will help validate the category."

The research firm Business Communications Co estimates that US probiotics sales will broach $1 billion by 2010 in all categories.

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