Chobani president on why fat is back, the launch of Smooth, and why we haven’t seen the last of savory yogurt and oat/yogurt combos…

By Elaine Watson contact

- Last updated on GMT

Chobani quietly withdrew its Oats and savory meze dip lines amid lackluster sales… but both concepts have legs, and will return, in some form, to the US market, says president and COO Tim Brown.

Speaking to FoodNavigator-USA at the FOOD VISION USA​ conference in Chicago on November 14, Brown said that the company had learned a lot from both launches.

Chobani Oats – a protein-and fiber-packed product combining Greek yogurt, fruit, and whole grain steel-cut oats – attracted some loyal customers (if posts on Chobani’s facebook page are anything to go by) when it launched in 2014, but was withdrawn the following year.

“It was about focus, timing and communication,” ​explained Brown.

Oats: We’ll be back relatively soon

“Most people think about oats in America, and they think about oatmeal, the dry form, and our product was very different, it was more the texture and consistency of a rice pudding... So we have a job to do to communicate the benefits of grains mixed with yogurt; you are starting to see that with the emergence of overnight oats and things like that …

oats

“[But] we’ll be back with oats in our product portfolio relatively soon; we are successful with it in Australia, a more mature yogurt market… we just have to make sure that we translate it for people."

Drink Chobani: ‘Strong and consistent growth’

Drink Chobani - a protein-fueled yogurt beverage featuring fruit and probiotics that hit shelves in July 2016 – is performing “quite well,” ​meanwhile, said Brown.

“We’ve seen strong and consistent growth since launch; we’re expanding household penetration trial and repeat; drinkable yogurt is a big thing in many parts of the world, but we don’t think of it only competing for the yogurt dollar, it’s an alternative to plant-based milks, to flavored milks, to high protein and nutrition drinks, it can play many roles…”

Savory: ‘I am quite sure we’ll be back’

However, Chobani’s first move outside the dairy case with meze dips – launched in 2016 but later withdrawn - had been a tougher sell, he acknowledged.

“We learned that to be competing in all parts of the store, you have to have a very successful and strong enterprise to do that, so we’re building those capabilities. There are also some timing issues in terms of the perception of savory versus sweet, as most people still enjoy yogurt in the morning today in America. 

chobani-meze-dip

“As a company you want to focus, and if something is smaller and not performing that well, you want to put all your energy against things that are. But I am quite sure that we will be back in savory with our lessons learned and as a stronger entity when we do.”

chobani drink

He added: “We weren’t ready as a company. At the heart of it was sales, those products needed to be in another part of the store and not near yogurt, ​[they needed to be] in produce or by savory dips, and we struggled getting them where they needed to be, and therefore the volumes were low and they ended up being more of a distraction than a value-add.

But he added: “In Europe, yogurt is eaten at all times of the day, sweet and savory.”

“A lot of us look down at dollar stores, but I don’t think we can afford to do that. You see just as many BMWs and Mercedes at ALDI parking lots as you do Chevies and Fords…”

Smooth: ‘We’re evolving the product offering’

smooth

The company’s latest launch, and its first foray outside the Greek yogurt arena – Chobani Smooth​ – has had a strong start, he added, although like all new products, it’s evolving.

“It was the most successful initial launch in terms of distribution on shelf, and we’re learning and iteratively we’re evolving the product offering, the packaging, and the pricing, to zero in on the people that want traditional non-Greek yogurt.

“So it’s a work in progress, and we are already renovating in the early part of 2018. But we’re very committed to the​ [non-Greek] segment because we want to see a healthy ​[overall yogurt] category.”

“You have to adapt and go where the consumer is going and find a way to be relevant​…”

The indulgent trend

While Chobani’s ‘indulgent’ range – launched in 2014 – has been dropped, Chobani has recently expanded its whole milk range, and is looking at how to best play in this space, said Brown.

“When you think about a high fat high fruit yogurt like noosa​, we have a product called Gippsland in Australia that’s quite successful… and we see fat re-entering the American diet in all sorts of forms…"

Promotional dynamics in the yogurt category

Asked about the promotional dynamics in the yogurt category during a fireside chat on stage at FOOD VISION USA, Brown said: “A lot of it is due to short term issues with retailers. I don’t call it the virtuous circle, it’s more like the death spiral - you promote more, which weakens your brand and forces you to promote even more and so on…

Food Vision 17-Chobani-2

"It’s not good for anyone and it’s dilutive to the retailer, but it’s just the way it is and you have to find your way out.”

Channel strategies: Adapt or die

Asked about new channels to market, Brown said food brands needed to have a strategy for winning in ‘alternate’ channels from the European discounters to the club channel to foodservice to ecommerce, if they want to succeed, as traditional supermarkets continue to lose market share.

“A lot of us look down at dollar stores, but I don’t think we can afford to do that. You see just as many BMWs and Mercedes at ALDI parking lots as you do Chevies and Fords…

“You have to adapt and go where the consumer is going and find a way to be relevant. Now that gets more difficult in a limited store environment, it’s the ultimate meritocracy when there is just one brand and one private label – it’s not one size fits all.”

Read more about FOOD VISION USA HERE​.

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