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Chobani wants to disrupt the yogurt category again

  • Chobani redesigned its packaging to stand out among its competitors and bring new consumers to the category.
  • The brand is also debuting a line of Greek yogurt that uses less fruit to cater to the growing number of consumers trying to cut back on sugar.
  • Growth in the once-sizzling Greek yogurt category has dwindled. Chobani debuted a non-Greek option earlier this year.
Chobani introduces new packaging.
Source: Chobani
Chobani introduces new packaging.

Chobani is trying to protect its place in the yogurt case.

The brand sparked the Greek yogurt craze and rattled the category, leaving stalwarts Dannon and Yoplait scrambling to create their own versions. Chobani's now trying to disrupt the space again, this time with a new design, a big marketing push and a reduced-sugar line.

Growth in the once sizzling Greek yogurt category has dwindled. Dollar sales fell nearly 5 percent in the 52 weeks ended Oct. 28, compared with a nearly 15 percent increase in the 52 weeks ended Nov. 1 in 2014, according to Nielsen.

Chobani insists the slowdown reflects struggles among its peers, but shelves have become crowded with brands like Siggi's and Noosa that introduce new styles of yogurt and are resonating with millennials. And Chobani itself debuted a non-Greek option earlier this year.

The brand has freshened its logo and packaging. The new design distinguishes itself from established brands and mimics the more artistic approaches upstart brands have taken.

The brand is also debuting a line of Greek yogurt that uses less fruit to cater to the growing number of consumers trying to cut back on sugar.

To support these efforts, Chobani plans to spend 35 percent more on marketing next year, with the bulk of spending occurring in the first half of the year, said Chobani's chief marketing and commercial officer, Peter McGuinness. He didn't provide a specific dollar amount.

The efforts are part of a broader plan to spark interest in yogurt again and "bring the magic back to the yogurt shelf," said McGuinness. Dollar sales of yogurt dropped nearly 2 percent for the 52 weeks ended Nov. 5 in total multi-outlet with convenience stores, according to IRI, a Chicago-based market research firm.

"And oh, by the way, we're not going to do this for nothing," he said. "We're the leader, so we'll disproportionately benefit, so the more the category grows, we're going to grow. So it's not all like we're out to grow the category. We're fierce competitors, too, and we want to maintain our No. 1 standing."

Chobani now uses a curvy and lowercase font, a dramatic departure from the straight and capitalized style that marked founder Hamdi Ulukaya's brand since it hit shelves nearly 10 years ago. Fruits on the packages look like they're painted rather than photographed, and containers have a matte finish instead of a glossy look.

The redesign will help Chobani expand into new foods outside of yogurt, McGuinness said, though he declined to elaborate on what those possibilities could include.

Tubs of plain yogurt now list possibilities to use it in addition to eating it straight. Smooth, Chobani's non-Greek line, and Flip, packages of yogurt and mix-ins, are noticeably more colorful than their peers to try to grab casual shoppers.

All three products align with yogurt makers' efforts to bring their products beyond breakfast and lure more consumers into the category. They see opportunity in mix-ins and drinkables because they're snackable and portable. They're convinced there's room to boost the amount of yogurt Americans eat because consumption levels are still below those of other countries.

While Chobani is the top brand, Danone is the market leader when all of its brands are combined, with a 37 percent of share, according to Euromonitor International. Its goals for the category are aligned with Chobani's.

"Overall we believe that yogurt is a product that's still under-consumed compared to other countries, and we're looking to identify ways to bring incremental usage opportunities (i.e., snacking)," Dannon spokesman Michael Neuwirth said in an email.

Dannon, the American unit of French conglomerate Danone, and rival General Mills released their own Greek yogurts in 2010. They haven't gained quite the following that Chobani has cultivated.

Both have continued tinkering with variations of Greek, rolling out new products as recently as this year. However, they say there's opportunity elsewhere.

Danone sees potential for yogurt made from plants, as shown through its acquisition of nut milk brands So Delicious and Silk parent WhiteWave earlier this year. Neuwirth said almond-based and soy-based yogurts represent "a bright and growing spot" in the category.

General Mills thinks consumers will want to try French yogurt next. It tried to get ahead rather than play from behind this summer with the release of Oui. The new line helped offset some losses from Yoplait Greek and Yoplait Light last quarter, the company said, though it still posted a double-digit net sales decline.

"Oui is doing well, because it's fundamentally unique and it's giving consumers what they want," CEO Jeff Harmening said at the Morgan Stanley Global Consumer & Retail Conference earlier this month.

Chobani's McGuinness pointed to too many products, too much duplication and imitation, as well as a lack of innovation in yogurt for declines in the category.

"I'm hoping if they all redesign, they do it originally and they come up with a unique idea and it's not redesigned in a duplicative way," he said. "And I hope they do redesign ... I have a healthy amount of respect for competition, but we should all do the right thing, right?"