Dairy giant Chobani is best known for popularizing Greek yogurt after bursting onto the scene a decade ago. Founded by Turkish immigrant Hamdi Ulukaya in 2007, the New York-based company now controls about 40% of the Greek yogurt space, and is leveraging its brand equity to expand into plant-based products while still supporting its core line.
This week, Chobani is launching a fresh marketing blitz, entitled "Almost Milk," around a new line of oat-based products that debuted in November. As Chobani is far from the first food consumer packaged goods company to address consumers' growing demand for plant-based food, the campaign's goal is to illustrate the brand's versatility and how its products fit into all lifestyles and tastes.
"We don't necessarily see our role as trying to steal share from other oat-based competitors," Chief Creative Officer Leland Maschmeyer told Marketing Dive. "We see our role as trying to steal share from almond and growing the oat-based category as much as possible."
"The really easy move is to demonize dairy. It's classic advertising: set up the bad guy and contrast yourself against it. But how do you push the strengths and joys of plant-based in a way that still respects competing products like dairy and almond? Trying to tread that line and find a new narrative required much more finesse than if we were a pure plant-based category or company."
Pouring it on
Chobani's first campaign for oat milk includes 15-second video spots on YouTube, Hulu and programmatic video, along with paid media on Facebook, Instagram and NPR podcasts, the company told Marketing Dive. Out-of-home (OOH) elements spanning billboards and bus wraps will hit New York, San Francisco, Portland and Washington, D.C. — key markets where Chobani says it has high brand loyalty and consumer interest in plant-based foods. A national TV ad campaign will promote Flip, Chobani's snack pack that pairs yogurt with granola and other textured mix-ins. There is also potential for a second installment to the campaign later in 2020, depending on other marketing priorities and how well the oat products sell, Maschmeyer said.
The basis for the "Almost" initiative centers on the positioning that oat milk is the closest alternative to actual dairy. A common frustration among people who have dabbled in plant-based milk is that they aren't fully satisfactory, according to Maschmeyer. Consumers are dissatisfied by alternatives' lack of flavor, watery consistency or disappointing sustainability stories, he said.
"There is such a hunger among consumers for really great plant-based milk that just simply getting a great product out there is half the battle," he said. "With our oat milk, you get the taste experience, the versatility and the sensory experience that people love about milk, but you also don't have the dairy associated with it. The idea of 'almost' helps us deliver that line and the facts around all those notes."
Mixing up the market
The new "Almost" campaign kicks off Chobani's effort to strengthen its market dominance, especially amid Greek yogurt's slower growth as it becomes more commonplace in consumers' shopping carts and as a flurry of competitors establish themselves in the space. As a more mature category with high awareness, Greek yogurt's popularity has changed how brands market it, and differs from the strategy behind the more nascent oat alternative, according to Maschmeyer.
"People know intrinsically what Greek yogurt is, so with that we can focus more on value-based messaging or higher order ideals or what kind of lifestyle it fits into," he said. "Oat milk is young, and people are just starting to learn about it. It requires much more education and attention-grabbing, so we need to find a way to deliver intrinsic product attributes in a way that captivates people and makes them want to pay attention."
"What's big is really leveraging the master brand and establishing it as the dominant base for plant-based beverages."
Chobani, chief creative officer
Privately held Chobani maintains nearly one-fifth of the U.S. market share across yogurt types, per Nielsen data supplied by the company, and its sales were up 9% as of early November 2019. Dairy alternatives have stolen some of Chobani's and Greek products' shine in recent years. Protein-packed skyr (Icelandic yogurt) is on the rise; cashew dairy alternatives never really took off; and almond dairy is plateauing due to environmental concerns around its steep water requirements. These trends and consumer tastes shifting toward more plant-based foods have pushed Chobani to dabble with oat milk. Year-over-year sales in the category soared 636% as of October, per Nielsen.
Nascent categories require finesse
Chobani is far from the first to bring oat-based alternatives to market. Now, it's playing catch-up to competitors as it looks to carve out a slice of the growing space. According to Maschmeyer, Chobani is leaning on the high brand awareness it's worked to build in recent years to get ahead.
"One of the things we've focused on very hard over the last three years is ensuring we're building the master brand so that as we moved into these non-Greek categories, we were bringing with us equities that consumers desired," he said. "So in this category, it's the all-natural story. It's the delicious story. It's the high-quality product story. What's big is really leveraging the master brand and establishing it as the dominant base for plant-based beverages."
As Chobani sets its sights on surpassing competitors and dominating the space, a key consideration is around how a new line of dairy alternatives may eat into its own sales of Greek and almond items.
"The people who are migrating to plant-based products are going to migrate to plant-based products no matter what. If we do lose them to plant-based, at least we're keeping them in the Chobani portfolio as opposed to something outside of it," Maschmeyer said.