The deal means the iconic Yakult one-shot yogurt drinks are available in 200 Safeway grocery stores in Northern California as well as 100 Safeway stores in Arizona and Hawaii.
It is the first foray into Hawaii for the Japanese company that has been manufacturing the little probiotic bottles since 1955. It is also present in Nevada.
Yakult said a 5-pack of the 2.7 fluid ounce bottles is retailing for $2.99.
Yakult is playing catch-up on the North America probiotic market that Danone’s US subsidiary Dannon has done so spectacularly well in since launching at the beginning of 2006 with Activia spoonable and DanActive drinkable probiotic yogurts.
Both brands have been highly successful and driven a rapid expansion of the US and Canadian probiotic foods market that has seen it grow to be worth $1.77bn according to Euromonitor figures.
The market researcher says pro- and prebiotic drinking yogurts have surged in the US from $24.9m in 2003 to $312.5 in 2008. In Canada there was no market until 2007 which grew from $28.5m that year to $42.9m in 2008.
Spoonable pro- and prebiotic yogurt has jumped from $218.2m in the US in 2003 to $1.04bn last year. The Canadian market has expanded from $11.2m to $188.2m over the same period.
Building its presence
Yakult USA freely admits it has struggled to develop its presence in this Dannon-dominated landscape and is yet to achieve a national roll-out of its products. But it says it is performing well in the southern California market it began in, acquiring 10 percent of the category in that part of the country, according to AC Nielsen data.
Yakult is available in more than 30 countries and outsells Danone in some Asian countries such as Japan. "Initially retailers were hesitant to bring on Yakult because it was an unknown brand name in the US," said Marjorie Yamat, Yakult USA’s national key account manager.
"Now our retailers tell us they can't keep up with the consumer demand of our product."
Euromonitor predicts the North American market for pro- and prebiotic spoonable and drinkable yogurts will grow to$2.78bn by 2013, and it will overtake the Asian market in value in 2012.
But Europe is still the strongest market. According to Mintel, there were 699 new food and beverage products targeting digestive health launched in Europe in 2007, some 52 percent higher than the year earlier.
In North America, the market researcher's Global New Products Database (GNPD) recorded 136 new products launched last year. However, the North American region recorded the highest growth rate of 131 percent between 2006 and 2007.
Despite the growth, a survey carried out by Opinion Research Corporation revealed only 15 percent of American adults were familiar with the healthy bacteria.
$2.3bn-rated Yakult sells about 25 million bottles globally per day.