Catch the latest round of yogurt adverts during your tea break and their surreal nature will have you wondering if someone's popped more than a sweetener in your cuppa.

Take formerly straight-laced health brand Activia. Previously fronted by fitness fanatic Nell McAndrew, the Danone brand is now being promoted by cuddly cockney Martine McCutcheon. And rather than giving consumers the lowdown on probiotics, she's telling them to give themselves some TLC (tummy loving care).

If you thought that was a little out of character, wait till you set eyes on the Müller Corner campaign, which is led by Mary a cow who dreams of being a horse. And perhaps more bizarre is Total Greek Yoghurt, which is now represented by a trio of cartoon characters comprising a cow, and somewhat less logically a zebra and spoonbill.

So just what is going on here? Have suppliers finally cracked, or is there method in their madness?

In actual fact, it seems consumers were getting a bit bored with tediously detailed messages. Take Fage's Total Greek yogurt, which used to pride itself on its unique straining process. Well, the boffins at Fage did some research, and it turns out that consumers couldn't give a Bifidus Actiregularis about the techie side of their yogurts. "Research has shown that even the most dedicated Total consumers are either unaware or uninterested in this key point of difference," says Fage marketing director Emma Wilson. "They recognise that Total is uniquely thick and creamy, but do not need to know why."

So instead of a starchy technical message, three fuzzy cartoon characters have been drafted in as part of a £2m rebranding project. "We hope using the new characters will bring the brand into the consciousness of a younger market and encourage them to try it."

Müller has also focused on a light-hearted, eye-catching message that hones in on the wholesomeness of its produce as part of a £9m relaunch. "We want Corner to be top of mind hence taking an entirely different approach with our new advertising," says interim marketing director Jonathan Dee. "There's no doubt that the vision of a cow galloping through the surf across a sandy beach is an attention-grabbing way of delivering our 'dairy goodness' message."

But while leading brands are pouring millions into marketing, it seems a number of convenience store retailers are not reaping the benefits they might.

The Chilled Yogurts & Pot Desserts (CYPD) category is worth £2.1bn in annual retail sales (Nielsen Scantrack 52 weeks ending June 12, 2010), but Müller claims that convenience stores currently account for only 7.7% of total sales due to an under-estimation of the category's importance.

"It's not unusual for c-stores with well-managed chillers to be selling about 330 pots of yogurts and desserts a week, while those which don't give the category the attention it deserves will be averaging just 30-40 pots a week," says Müller sales director Gary Miller. "There's a huge opportunity for them to increase their sales ten-fold and they could be generating incremental sales of as much as £9,000 a year."

So if you want to get pots more profit from CYPD what exactly should you be stocking? "As a whole, yogurt is pulling in two directions," says Dr Oetker marketing director for chilled Matthew Wilson. "It is getting healthier, especially with growth in active health, and 50% of all yogurt purchases are for health reasons, while 37% are for enjoyment."

The former shouldn't really come as a big shock, seeing as yogurt's heartland has always been health, and pretty much all big brands have an active health offering.

However, the latter has fuelled a notable shift towards richer, creamier yogurts, leading to a blurring of lines between yogurts and chilled desserts. "An increasing number of people are looking for enjoyment, which explains the explosion in indulgent yogurts such as Müller's Amore," claims Wilson. "There is an opportunity to unlock further growth by delivering more propositions which are relatively guilt free [compared with chocolate desserts], but which still deliver indulgence and encourage greater frequency of purchase."

The company is hoping to appeal to pleasure-seekers with its Fruit Deli desserts. "The market is getting very indulgent with the likes of Frü and Gü, but we recognise that there's room for an everyday treat using fruit as a base," claims Wilson.

Fruit Deli offers a combination of fruits on a layer of compote and is being supported by a £1.5m TV campaign, which is due to start it's second four-week run on September 6.

Equally quick to step up to the mark is Müller with its new 'Inspired by...' cheesecake Müllerlight range. "Our consumer research revealed that 'sweet break' is the biggest snacking occasion opportunity," says Miller. "There's a lot more that yogurt manufacturers could be doing to tap into this opportunity to encourage consumers to reach for a yogurt rather than biscuits, cake or a chocolate bar," he claims.

"Consumers want to indulge without feeling guilty and that's exactly where the 'Inspired by' range fits the bill. We've already tested the water with the Müllerlight Limited Edition Lemon Cheesecake and 53% of sales were incremental."

Another innocent but creamy treat that has been cropping up in the chiller is Greek yogurt. Yeo Valley offers a Greek style yogurt with Honey as part of its Pots range, while Müller has invested in three premium Greek Style Yogurt Corners. "Greek-style is yogurt 'nirvana', combining both health and indulgence," says Dee. "The products consist of rich Greek yogurt with complementary fruits, and are low in fat."

While its Greek offering may be nothing new, Fage is doing its utmost to ensure that Total Greek Yoghurt remains front of mind. "In the past, Total has been perceived to be a commodity and perhaps lacking in personality," says Emma Wilson. "With our new campaign, we are targeting consumers in a lively and engaging way. The products are aimed at consumers who want to live a healthy balanced lifestyle without compromising on their food choices."

Shopper missions defined

With so many different types of yogurt and chilled desserts available, having a clear layout is vital. "Consumers want to see each sector clearly differentiated by signage indicating Natural, Active Health and Healthy Options at one end of the spectrum, through to Everyday Treats and Truly Indulgent at the other," says Miller.

There are also opportunities to grow sales by acknowledging that different yogurts are suitable for different consumption occasions. "Currently, almost a fifth of CYPD products are consumed on 'complete my meal' occasions, with snacking, breakfast and lunchboxes all representing huge opportunities for growth," he states. "Müller Bio Yogurt Corner, for example, is aimed at breakfast-time consumption; while Fruit Corner and Müllerlight are often purchased along with lunchtime sandwiches."

However, he adds that the health trend also has to be balanced with the fact that convenience stores often over-index on treat products.

"C-store shoppers are less likely to be sticking to the regime of a shopping list," he says. "They are more open to impulse purchases such as adding a chilled pot dessert or yogurt to their basket as a treat. Therefore, encouraging impulse purchases is an area which provides c-stores with a significant growth opportunity."

People will be even more tempted to buy a yogurt on impulse if they have the means with which to eat it, Miller adds. "Installing spoon holders and providing spoons also helps stores to capitalise on lunchtime and 'snack on the go' opportunities."

Meanwhile, top-up shoppers are more likely to pick up a yogurt or chilled dessert if it's placed near everyday staples such as milk, cheese and bread.

Location, location

Clever product placement, such as positioning a yogurt next to complementary items, can also encourage pudding fiends to indulge. "By presenting a serving suggestion, by locating Total Greek yogurt next to strawberries in the chiller, you can drive incremental spend," says Fage's Wilson.

Limited-edition flavours can also encourage consumers to make an impulse purchase. Clearly, limited- editions are a low-risk way for suppliers to test the popularity of new flavours. However, it is also extremely beneficial to the retailer, adding interest to the category and encouraging extra sales. Onken's coconut variant delivered more than 67% incremental category sales as a limited edition and is now set to become a permanent flavour, explains the company, which has now launched a limited-edition Blueberry flavour.

Yeo Valley has also been using a similar tactic. It has just made its limited-edition Toffee Caramel big pot a full-time member of the portfolio and recently launched a limited-edition Lemon Curd big pot, as well as limited-edition cherry within its Pots range.

So whether you're brightening up your range with a limited-edition pot, or tempting customers to tap into yogurt for breakfast, it's clear that a 'one size fits all' approach won't suffice. "The multiple operators are already starting to segment their stores by shopping mission and adapt the ranges accordingly," says Miller.

"I believe we will see the progressive c-stores adopting a more bespoke approach to CYPD, which will enable retailers to capitalise on impulse purchase opportunities."
etailer’s view
"The category is doing pretty well for us sales of yogurts and chilled desserts are up 20% year on year, so it's growing ahead of our total dairy, which is up 8%. "Activia is selling well and so are the Onken big pots. Müller Light is still our best-selling line, but it's not monopolising the category like it has done in the past. That's probably better for customers as it means that there's more choice. "We try to get people to buy more yogurts by running various promotions. We recently had a six-pack of Müller Corners for £2, which did pretty well. We display them in a promotional bay to make sure they get as much exposure as possible, and that gets good results. "We work hard to ensure availability is strong and have a spoon dispenser to encourage impulse purchases." David Jones, Spar Hazel Grove, Stockport, Cheshire
top tips
l Add interest by including new products don't wait for these to become established in multiple grocers l Group products together and use signposting to make it easier for the customer to shop, for example, healthier options, everyday treats and children l Offer healthy option meal deals of a low-fat sandwich/yogurt/juice drink alongside the usual sandwich/crisps/fizzy drink combination l Install spoon holders and provide spoons More category advice is available from the 2010 'Grow Your Sales with Müller' programme, which aims to help retailers get their yogurt sales heading in the right direction by providing free range and merchandising advice and useful promotional POS material.
ones to watch...
Logo a-go-go Yeo Valley's packaging has been spruced up with softer typography to give it a 'friendlier feel', while the brand's logo has been redesigned as a milk droplet to represent its dairy roots. The firm has also become greener by making packaging of its new pots range from 80% recyclable plastic. tel: 01761 462793 Mighty mousse Making life easier for c-store retailers was a top priority for Dr Oetker when it launched its pricemarked mousses. "Because chiller space is much smaller in a c-store, we've created a tray solution which contains a mix of six vanilla and six chocolate mousses," it says. rrp: 59p tel: 01772 643300 Greece lightning Fage is hoping that its new marketing campaign will see Total Greek Yoghurt sales rocket by 20% year on year. "The campaign focuses on the Total 0% product, so will identify with slimmers, but also alert others to the fact that Total is a natural, healthy product," claims marketing director Emma Wilson. tel: 020 7824 9933 Rice and easy Mini Müller Rice will be on TV screens throughout August and September as part of a £4.5m support package for the brand. The activity includes a consumer press ad developed especially for the Mini pots range and a 10-second end tag for the TV advertising. rrp: £1.58 tel: 01630 692000 What's cooking? Bubbly chef Ainsley Harriot will continue to promote Onken Natural Set until November as part of a £1.7m campaign including sponsorship, a digital campaign and coupon offer. Onken hopes to steal share from cream and crème fraîche by showing the product's use as cooking ingredient. tel: 0113 823 1400