Danimals CrushCups, rolled out nationwide in early 2009, are thermoformed with pleated sidewalls that permit spoonless, squeezable consumption.

The Dannon Co. first introduced yogurt to the U.S. market in the 1940s. Today, Dannon produces and sells more than 6 million cups of yogurt daily from three U.S. plants, including the world’s largest yogurt plant, in Minster, Ohio, which manufactures 230,000 cups of yogurt an hour. The parent company, Danone, is a global leader in the manufacture and sale of fresh dairy products. Dannon’s Michael Neuwirth, senior director of public relations, discusses packaging in this exclusive interview.

F&BP: What trends does Dannon address through packaging?

Michael Neuwirth: Great-tasting foods that offer specific health and wellness benefits continue to be of interest to consumers, but importantly, they aren’t willing to compromise on convenience or value. To that end, we have developed diverse options to meet continued demand for delicious, high-quality foods. We’ve also seen that consumers want new ways to consume their favorite products outside of a traditional breakfast setting. Whether they’re looking to enjoy the benefits of Activia in a dessert, or the nutrient density of Dan-o-nino in a convenient on-the-go drink, we’re committed to bringing health through food to as many people as possible.

Innovative product formats and packaging options such as Danimals Coolision and Danimals Crush Cups, along with Activia Parfait Crunch, appeal to a wide variety of consumers looking for high-quality, nutritious and satisfying snacks.

F&BP: How important is packaging innovation for your products?

Neuwirth: Packaging innovation is extremely important to our business and has played a vital role in making our products more recognizable and attractive for our retail customers to display. Dairy products historically had been monochromatically packaged and displayed as a sea of white, which made it difficult for shoppers, so we sought to change that. This began about five years ago when we color-coded our various brands. Today, the Activia products are packaged in a distinctive green, DanActive in yellow, Light & Fit in purple, Danimals in red. By associating colors with certain types of Dannon products, we are able to help shoppers quickly and easily identify their favorite products as they browse the ever-expanding dairy aisle.

We look to packaging to innovate. Our Danimals CrushCup is an excellent example of this because it provides an entirely unique eating experience for kids. They are molded with kid-friendly, accordion-style pleats that enable to product to be squeezed upward and slurped. Another is Danimals Coollision, dual-chambered tubes of easy-to-squeeze yogurt. Both products are a fun alternative to traditional spoonable yogurt.

These innovative formats did present challenges to our manufacturing team as they were being developed due to their novelty. Feedback from our retail customers and consumers has been very positive since the products were introduced–kids love having fun with food, and that’s exactly what these novel designs deliver.

Packaging that encourages regular yogurt consumption is a priority for Dannon as we continue to pursue growth in the U.S. market.

Also in terms of different formats, multipacks and quart sizes reduce shipping costs as well as labor costs for our customers as stock shelves. Packaging innovation increases efficiency, reduces costs and ultimately drives sales.

Dannon’s Michael Neuwirth, senior director of public relations

F&BP:  What’s been the impact of sustainability?

Neuwirth: Our business is inextricably linked with the environment–and our approach to sustainable development is reflected in our corporate motto, “Today, for Tomorrow.”  We continually look to minimize our water usage, energy consumption, packaging ad waste. We’re working to reduce our impact on the environment by reducing or eliminating packaging materials, such as the paperboard overwrap of Activia 4-packs, and switching as much as possible our range of products to form-fill-sealed cups, thereby decreasing the amount of material needed to make and safely deliver a cup of yogurt. We set new packaging reduction goals each year and with our partners in packaging consistently improve how we make cups and bottles.

Since 2004, we have reduced the quantity of our primary packaging (on a per-ounce basis) by 15%. One of our first easy improvements was removing the overcaps for our six-ounce cups in 2005, which saved more than 3 million pounds of plastic each year. The transition from a preformed to form-fill-sealed cup allows us to reduce plastic usage by up to 30%. 

In addition to packaging, more than 85% of our products are carried by trucking companies participating in the EPA’s SmartWay Transportation partnership, a program aimed at improving mileage for trucks and reducing carbon emissions through improvements in truck design.

F&BP: What polymers does Dannon rely on for primary packaging? 

Neuwirth: We are continually testing and evaluating our options for packaging materials. Our primary packaging materials for 6-ounce cups as well as 24- and 32-ounce tubs are polypropylene. Our form-fill-sealed products use polystyrene. We also use high-density polyethylene for our drinkable product bottles. We have chosen these because they best match the need to protect the quality of our products. Our packaging also has to stand up to the rigors of our high-speed production.

F&BP:  Where do you see this market headed?

Neuwirth: Yogurt continues to rank as the fastest-growing category within fresh dairy. Through ongoing product innovation and consumer education about the benefits of yogurt, we see significant opportunities for continued category growth.

While yogurt is currently purchased by more than 80% of American households at least once per year, about 60% of Americans eat yogurt less than twice per month. Yogurt consumption rates in the U.S. are six times less than in some Western European markets, or about 11.5 pounds per capita, so by comparison, the U.S. is still an “emerging” market. We’re continuing to work to expand yogurt’s appeal to a wider consumer audience to achieve the status of a grocery-list staple food, like bread and milk. Innovations in packaging, whether they be to improve sustainability or create new usage occasions, are keys for the future. F&BP