Why innovations are critical to the future of the dairy category

In this Q&A, Yaar founder Andrei Garbuz talks about his award-winning hand-held quark concept and why the British consumer has fallen out of love with traditional snack options.

8 November 2019
supermarketschilleddairyNPDnutritionproteinsnacking

Yaar, the Nordic-style quark snack sensation, has been growing at quite a rate. Despite having only launched earlier this year, it is already a fixture in Whole Foods, Ocado and Sainsbury’s – with the hand-held dairy company securing new retail partnerships with Morrisons and Spinneys in Dubai this week, as well as releasing two new flavours of their coated quark bars.

Winners of the Best New Brand award at the World Dairy Innovation Awards in the summer, Yaar claims to have created a new sub-category all of its own, opening up the concept of dairy-on-the-go to the UK consumer.

Their entrepreneurial founder and CEO, Andrei Garbuz, created Yaar bars after spotting a gap in the market for a new snack concept. He says the dairy industry needs a revamp in the face of the plant-based movement and insists that continued innovation will see off competition from vegan and flexitarian trends, with what a consumer wants and what a consumer will pay for two very different things.

Here, Garbuz discusses the various trends in snacking and on-the-go, as well as sharing his views on the dairy and vegan industries.

Andrei Garbuz, founder and CEO of Yaar

How has consumer behaviour affected the dairy industry?

There’s been an evident decline in general sales of dairy categories, especially yoghurts. But while this can partly be attributed to the rise of vegan and flexi diets, I feel that the biggest contribution to that drop is a lack of innovation in dairy.

Consumer behaviour is cyclical. Consumers have fallen out of love with things like Muller Corner for an in-between the meal snack. This has coincided with a huge rise generally in snacking as a category in the UK.

Stats show that the UK is one of the biggest snacking nations in the world. There are so many products in ambient, chilled, frozen – anyone can pop out for a coffee or a tea and get an ambient snack bar, olives or a healthy dessert for in-between meals.

The yoghurt industry has traditionally been a large contributor for UK healthy snack options, but a lack of innovation has seen a decrease in total sales of yoghurts.

We have seen Greek yoghurts come in to revive the category, but we are now looking to go beyond the Greek yoghurt sub-category. That’s where we’ve seen success for kefir and quark. British consumers have been learning about quark and I saw that there was a gap in the market for a hand-held, fresh dairy snack – to take back market share from biscuits, ambient snacks, olives and light desserts.

British consumers are ready for innovation in on-the-go and snacking, for sure. Now, whether its quark or kefir or yoghurt – it’s all about product quality, positioning and innovation. I don’t think people pick up Yaar just because its quark. Quark becomes almost secondary. It’s about the taste, the format, the accessibility.

At the start, Yaar needed some explanation to convert and educate consumers because it’s a new concept. Importantly, we’re not pushing them towards radical limits. No crazy territories. Hand-held snacking has been around for a long time and there’s no reason not to do it with a chilled product.

How different was Yaar at the start and what changes did you have to make to enter Whole Foods?

Whole Foods have a prohibitive ingredient list. For example, we had to start using a certain type of vanilla flavouring instead of another. But it didn’t seriously affect taste. It helped to be able to say all the ingredients are natural and we had no synthetics. That little pivot repositioned the product to become better and more accessible.

It’s small margins and Whole Foods, especially in the US, are amazing at doing this. They change how people eat and it’s a good testing ground for innovative brands. If you use their platform, you must be high quality. And once it’s there, why would you change it for anyone else as you break into mass national retail?

We have a versatile product with a mainstream identity rather than niche. Age isn’t a factor – I have a two-year-old and he has a Yaar bar in the morning! A 60- to 70-year-old, meanwhile, might have Yaar instead of cheesecake which is just fat and sugar, for example.

Is Yaar a sweet treat? What are the benefits in terms of nutrition?

Yaar is reasonably sweet, the sugar content is the same is two digestive biscuits, but it’s not naughty enough to be a dessert. It’s a healthier indulgent snack. Its consistency and texture are similar to the cheesecake, which is the most popular dessert in this country.

We’ve just launched a double chocolate product which has 130 calories, 10g sugar and 4g protein. That’s compared to the 600 calories and 40g sugar you might find in a slice of mainstream cheesecake!

Anyone who understands the benefits of dairy will know it’s great for things like recovery, the calcium and certain probiotics cultures. Quark is a pure form of casein and anyone into fitness will know that casein is the best form of protein for recovery.

Down the road, once Yaar is established as a mainstream, household brand (at the rate of growth, hopefully in a year or two) – we’ll look at reduced sugar NPD for less indulgence and more functionality. And we’ll think about being appealing to plant-based/vegans so certain households can have it. We might have line extensions into sport nutrition, too, and the sleep-well space. There are loads of opportunities.

What do you make of the vegan movement as a mainstream trend? Is it a serious problem for the dairy industry?

I don’t think veganism is a huge threat to the dairy category as long as people keep innovating. It takes a lot of discipline to keep a proper nutritious vegan diet and I don’t think it’s a mainstream proposition in any way. Frankly speaking, if we have to grow more veg and adapt out agriculture supply chain to meet, say, a 5-10% more demand of the total vegan market, I don’t think it would be healthy to the environment. Think of all the damage that will be done with the re-cropping.

I don’t want to sound like a cynic or a non-believer, but, generally, the way we want to live and our habits are often different. I don’t think the vegan and flexitarian movements are radical enough to take out all the animal-based products. Sure, it’s a strong trend and we should respect it. People are learning about themselves and are deciding not to eat as much dairy. That’s why you have lactose-free versions of things – we have a lactose-free Yaar.

But humans have been eating dairy since the agricultural revolution. That was thousands of years ago. What happened!?

In reality, more people are deciding they shouldn’t be eating as much of dairy, and that’s fine. I don’t want to disrespect vegans. My wife is a flexitarian and she just makes more of a choice with what dairy products she wants to consume.

I don’t believe, 5-10 years down the road that we won’t have fresh dairy.

What are your views on free-from?

With increased tech and innovation, society has a better understanding of who should be gluten-free. Science has proven that there aren’t that many gluten-intolerant people, but there are more people who stick to that label for whatever reason. Whether they say it and whether they stick to it are different propositions.

I attended a lecture recently given by a high-tech entrepreneur and they said: “When your consumer says they want less of this and more of that, they might not vote with their wallets.”

This really struck me. And an example of this (without mentioning any names) is one of the food delivery companies – a company that delivers ingredients to make a meal. Their consumers said they wanted more healthy options, more quinoa vegan salad ingredients and things. So, the company invested heavily, and their sales dropped. They went through a liquidity crisis. And then, when asked consumers again, they said, “Please bring back your meat things, your chicken biriyani and the usual suspects!”

What’s the future for Yaar?

We have four flavours with two to three in NPD that I can’t talk about yet. None too peculiar or radical. The whole concept is still new and exotic, and so we need to take it slow with developing formats. But we do have a few ideas about new formats, shapes and flavours.

More niche markets are there but it is quite crowded. And I think mainstream is a much bigger problem to solve.

The British consumer is educated and picky. To appeal, and be a national household brand, you have to win hearts and the respect of consumers. We have the right recipe and we are in the right time too as consumers want snacking.

Now our lives are busier and more hectic, we don’t always have time to open our Greek-style yoghurt, grab a spoon and peacefully and slowly eat it. Now we want to have it on a train, or while typing an email, or pushing a pram.

I want consumers to say, “Yoghurt is so much better than all this other snacking stuff – I’ll take it in a different format!”

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