Dairy firms milk yogurt-drinking culture

Dairy product makers are starting to push yogurt drinks as the products slowly regain popularity due to a recent string of favorable comments about yogurt on television.

A number of TV shows that cover health topics recently took up yogurt, saying it is effective not only for regulating the functions of the intestines, a widely known benefit, but also for preventing hay fever and obesity.

Among various products, sales of yogurt drinks, which have long remained sluggish, have started to show signs of picking up.

Industry officials said it may be psychologically easier for health-conscious middle-aged men to consume yogurt drinks in public than eating solid yogurt out of small cups with small spoons — an act they may find embarrassing.

Tokyo-based Yakult Honsha Co. became a pioneer in the yogurt beverage business in Japan by launching the Joie drink in 1970.

The firm later expanded the lineup and now offers Joie in six different flavors, including orange, lemon and blueberry.

It also sells other lactic acid bacteria beverages under such brands as Mirumiru, Mirumiru E and Bifiru. Combined sales of Yakult’s drinks containing lactic acid bacteria amount to more than 900,000 bottles a day, according to the firm.

Meiji Dairies Corp., also based in Tokyo, is boosting its lineup of yogurt drinks.

In spring, it launched the beverage version of Probio LG21, which had been sold as a solid yogurt product claiming to improve gastric health.

In September, Meiji Dairies introduced the Calbank Nomu (drinkable) Yogurt, which the company says will help prevent osteoporosis as it promotes calcium absorption.

Meiji Dairies officials said that because the company believes the drink should be consumed every day, it made the product low in sugar.

Ohayo Dairy Products Co., based in Okayama, said yogurt drinks containing such fruits as strawberries and blueberries are among its most popular products.