Chobani exec: Connectivity online allows for better innovation

By Hal Conick

- Last updated on GMT

Innovation of the Chobani Flip was helped along by social media connectivity, a Chobani exec said.
Innovation of the Chobani Flip was helped along by social media connectivity, a Chobani exec said.

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Connectivity is essential to innovation of new products in the modern age, according to Chobani Inc.’s chief customer officer Beau Mainous.

Mainous, who was speaking as part of a breakfast session at the 2016 IDFA Dairy Forum titled “Where is Dairy Positioned for Growth?” said social media has been a big part of the company’s innovation plans.

“You are connected, like it or not, to people who are using your products,” ​he said. “There’s information out there. You have this connectivity where you’re able to get real time feedback.”

An example Mainous gave was that of the Chobani Flip, a sidecar product that features graham crackers and other ingredients that can be “flipped” into the yogurt. The product was launched and was not getting the kind of traction Chobani wanted. Executives thought this was a $500m product; at the time it was only bringing in $75m.

Initially, this product was positioned in the breakfast category. Checking in with social media, consumers wanted more “indulgence, crunch and engaging products” later in the day. After re-positioning the product in the lunch category, Mainous said it started to take off over the last eight or nine months.

“As we launched we got real time feedback from social media,”​ he said. “We were [also] able to come out with seasonal products and we came out with two new savory products … We’re using those inputs to create those kinds of opportunities.”

Keeping up with innovation

There will be a lot of changes in business innovation in the next 18 months, Mainous said. Products are now faster to market and more readily mimicked than they have been previously. He believes the speed has greatly changed over the last two years and will continue to increase over the next two.

While Chobani keeps its grounding in traditional methods of innovation, such as facts and data, the company is also trying to think about innovation in new ways, he said. The culinary staff of the company is connected to the research and development team and new products are tested at a Chobani-branded café in New York City’s SoHo neighborhood.

The company has a “very clear roadmap”​ for innovation, Mainous said. However, they have to continue to strike a balance of evolutionary and revolutionary with regard to new products.

He reminded the crowd that even innovations that may not seem economically viable now could be the right move in 18 to 24 months. Encouraging conversations and exploration of new ideas could help dairy companies more readily innovate.

Transparency important for millennials

Although millennials have an “I want it now mentality​,” according to Mainous, they also have higher expectations than older age groups.

“If you aren’t meeting expectations they’re going to let you know a little more quickly,”​ he said.

This makes transparency a “hallmark in the future,”​ Mainous said. Organizations must have conversations with partners both upstream and downstream to ensure they are innovating the right way. While organizations can’t worry about activists until a product is downstream, being transparent across the whole process will make it easier to combat criticism. 

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