Leading yoghurt brand Yoplait introduced its Bioplait yoghurt to the French market, its first, during April and it is now available in most French multiples.
It came at the same time as Danone rolled out its Bio Soya, already available in Spain for two years, in its home market.
But the Yoplait product is the first in France to combine soy and dairy proteins, offering benefits to both sectors. The yoghurt brand can make additional health claims on the product - Bioplait markets the cholesterol-lowering effect of soy and overall benefit for the heart on product packaging and TV advertising - while the soy protein supplier Solae, whose brand also features on the product, reaches a wider consumer base than the dedicated health food buyer.
"In most cases when you ask consumers about soya they say they know it's good for them but that it tastes bad. To overcome the taste barrier, Yoplait decided to combine the soya with a dairy product and it has reduced the beany taste almost to zero," said Hubertus Devroye, European marketing director at Solae .
Danone first introduced a soya-based yoghurt in France in the late 1990s. Called Sevea, the 100 per cent soya and oat yoghurt, was marketed as a dairy alternative, free from cholesterol and gluten. However, the product was soon withdrawn following concerns over GM foods.
Its next attempt came in 2003 with the launch of Danone Bio Soja in Spain.
However Yoplait is looking to tap the increasing awareness of soy's health benfits through an established application that already has strong health associations.
"While yoghurt is already acknowledged as a healthy food, incorporating the additional health benefits of Solae soy protein will maximize consumer interest," said Lucien Fa, Yoplait's president.
France is one of the top four European markets for soyfoods, according to Devroye, with good growth.
Gerard Klein Essink, soy industry consultant, agrees. "The health benefits of soya are getting more and more awareness, so there is certainly a positive future for soya-based products in France," he told NutraIngredients.com.
"The fact that a company such as Triballat-Noyal is marketing its products under a soya name (Sojasun) and marketing a range of products in both the dairy- and meat-free sectors in a modern 'healthy lifestyle' way, certainly contributes to the perception of a healthy image of soya amongst French consumers," he added.
Soya is already added to bread, cereals, bars and fruit drinks but the combination with dairy comes as a surprise.
"However, consumers are open to new, healthy, dairy-based options and a dairy drink or dessert with soya is as logical as enrichment of dairy products with omega-3 or vitamins and minerals," said Klein Essink.
The Solae brand already features on more than 40 co-branded products from firms such as Campbells and General Mills. This is the first time it will be seen on the French market, giving it exposure for further similar deals.
Sales of soya-based drinks and desserts and meat-free and tofu products showed double figure growth in 2003, reaching a value of €1.5 billion, according to data from Prosoy.