Yoghurt: the centre in Chinese food innovation

Food and beverages form one of the most innovative industries worldwide. Consumers get easily bored with their daily bites and sips and feel a strong need for regular change of flavours, textures, colours, etc. The typical products with such regular changes are snacks or sodas, stuff that you eat or drink between meals, to kill part but not all of your hunger, or even purely for diversion.

When scanning the new launches in China of the past few months, another type of product clearly stands out, one that is usually regarded as a healthy food: yoghurt.

Dairy is regarded as the single most nutritious food group in China and therefore tops the current Chinese food pyramid. In particular, Chinese strongly believe that dairy products enhance the immune system, so the Covid-19 epidemic has triggered a tsunami of new dairy products during the latter half of 2020. As many Chinese still have a problem with the odour and flavour of regular milk, yoghurt is a more widely accepted dairy product among Chinese consumers. In this post, I want to introduce a number of the most noticeable newly launched yoghurts, each representing a subtype.

Yoghurt and tradition

The renewed interest in traditional culture in China is also reflected in the celebration of traditional holidays, like the Mid Autumn Festival. Although dairy is a mainly a foreign food group, several of the newly launched yoghurts in China are branded in connection with a traditional holiday. Yili has issued a limited edition of its Ambrosial yoghurt for the Mid Autumn Festival.

Beijing’s pastry maker Daoxiangcun, that does not a dairy company, has even launched a one-time Dragon Boat Festival yoghurt flavoured with mooncake, the traditional pastry eaten during that festival and of which Daoxiangcun is a main supplier.

Yoghurt and milk tea

Milk tea is a vogue that reached Mainland China from Taiwan and quickly became bigger than in its home market. Young Chinese are willing to line up for hours to get a cup of their favourite milk tea. Genki Forrest has cashed in that by launching a milk tea inspired yoghurt.

Black yoghurt

I posted an earlier introduction about various types of ‘black food’ in China. Black food is traditionally linked to health. Moreover, there is a small but stable group of young people interested in gothic music, including the black outfit that come with it. A number of black yoghurts have been launched in previous months. E.g., there is Yiming’s yoghurt coloured with inkfish ink and black sesame seeds.

Yili’s Ambrosial also has a range of black yoghurts with various funny flavours: chives, garlic, shrimp, rice vinegar, etc.

New raw materials

These are yoghurt not made from milk (or not only milk).

Tianyou has launched a Zero (zero sugar, zero additives) soybean-based yoghurt.

Beijing-based Marvelous Foods recently launched its flagship store on Tmall with its signature offering: Yeyo Coconut Yogurt with zero-added sugar, no sweeteners, or artificial flavours. The initial launch of the plant-based range includes a ‘pure’ sugar-free flavour, along with two yoghurt-granola cups with seasonal fruit and nut granola toppings and are priced at RMB 15 per 100 gr. Its latest product was developed after extensive formulation R&D by joining forces with leading ingredients company DSM.

High nutrition yoghurt

While yoghurt itself is already regarded a nutritious in China, some producers add extra nutrients. Yili has developed high protein yoghurt . . . 

. . . and one with several probiotics to enhance the functioning of the intestines.

Wahaha is selling a yoghurt drink with amino acids that promote a good night sleep.

For the opposite, to pick yourself up, you can use Mengniu’s yoghurt with arrowroot; also said to be good for curing hangovers.

Yoghurt and . . . noodles

China’s top dairy processor Yili has launched a combination pack of its Ambrosial yoghurt and Wuhan-style noodles (Cailinji brand) late 2020. It is a limited edition commerating the brave citizens of Wuhan who suffered most from the COVID-19 epidemic.

More have been launched and I expect even more will follow. I will regularly update this post with new products.

Peter Peverelli is active in and with China since 1975 and regularly travels to the remotest corners of that vast nation. He is a co-author of a major book introducing the cultural drivers behind China’s economic success.