Developed by childhood friends Drew Harrington and Amanda Klane, Quincy, MA-based Yasso is now in around 15,000 stores from Walmart to Whole Foods, and posted an 84% year-on-year rise in sales in the 24 weeks to March 20, in a category that is “pretty flat overall,” co-CEO Harrington told FoodNavigator-USA.
“We are a bright spot in the category if you look at IRI multi-outlet data. We’re driving more than our fair share of growth and we’ve shown that a start-up can disrupt a category dominated by industry giants – Unilever, Nestle, and Weight Watchers – although it still feels like a David vs Goliath situation.”
We’re bringing people back to the category
The overall frozen novelties category is “pretty close to flat, but better for you offerings are driving the growth,” added Harrington, who says consumers are becoming increasingly demanding, in that they want ‘everyday indulgence’ – via creamy textures and dessert-inspired flavor profiles – coupled with lower sugar, fewer calories, cleaner labels, higher quality ingredients, and some functional benefits (eg. protein).
Yasso bars, which deliver 80-100 calories and 5g protein, offer “a new spin on diet brands of old where consumers are looking for quality ingredients, Greek yogurt, natural ingredients, protein but still great taste,” said Harrington. “We’re bringing people back to the category.
“We started with fruit flavors and over time we’ve evolved over time with a strong set of what we call everyday indulgence flavors, ice cream centric flavors that have 100 calories and 5g of protein. Last year we doubled down on that effort when we launched chocolate chip cookie dough and coffee chocolate chip and those two skus have since become two of our top four skus.”
We appeal to a pretty broad demographic
While the heaviest buyers are 28-34 females with growing households – a group Yasso is targeting via Catalina with coupons - men like the protein call-outs and parents are buying them for their kids, he added. “We appeal to a pretty broad demographic.”
Retailers, meanwhile, have been upping their Yasso skus following a spring 2015 packaging overhaul that introduced a new color for each flavor and helped the brand stand out more on shelf, said Harrington, who got by with money from friends and family for the first two years, but has since raised more than $10m in equity investment according to SEC filings [the latest in August 2015 shows Yasso raised $6.1m and expected to raise 8.1m, while Raptor Consumer Partners also invested an undisclosed sum in late 2013 as part of a $4m financing round].
“In the past two years we have made significant gains in conventional retail,” said Harrington. “We’ve increased distribution in Walmart by about 100% and in Target by 40% and other retailers throughout the country have taken us on as they have seen the more indulgent flavors such as sea salt caramel, mint choc chip, and coffee choc chip really fly off the shelves. They have also really doubled down on our new launches: cookies ‘n cream, chocolate chip and cinnamon bun.”
Yasso’s initial challenge - having identified a gap in the market for a frozen Greek yogurt bar - was coming up with a zero fat, low sugar, low-calorie, but high protein formulation that tasted as good as refrigerated Greek yogurt, but could be produced on a commercial scale, co-founder Amanda Klane told FoodNavigator-USA in 2013.
If you don’t think this is particularly tough, just put a pot of Chobani in the freezer and see what you end up with, she observed (which explains why you’ll find milk protein concentrate and nonfat dry skim milk on the ingredients list for a velvety texture and extra protein; plus guar gum and locust bean gum as stabilizers to prevent ice crystal formation and for a smoother texture).
“Put a pot of Greek yogurt in your freezer, and it freezes like a rock”, said Klane, who worked with The Food Processing Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln to come up with the winning formula in 2009/10.
Yasso is very active on social media
On the marketing front, Yasso – a brand founded by two Millennials (Harrington and Klane were in their mid-20s when they launched the brand) – is very active on social media, but also has a “pretty robust sampling tour that launched on Memorial Day and will run through mid-September on the east coast,” said Harrington.
“We’ve got a fleet of Yasso-branded vehicles going to active lifestyle events such as triathlons, concerts, road races, and other events where we can really engage with consumers.”