Chobani made its name by establishing a dominating foothold in the popular Greek yogurt space — and attracting a number of competitors hoping to emulate its success.
Now, the New York dairy company is unveiling its latest yogurt variety by pairing its low-fat Greek yogurt with nut butters to create a nutrient-intense and energy-rich snack. The five varieties, which include options such as Honey Greek Yogurt with Almond Butter and Chocolate Greek Yogurt with Hazelnut Butter, will be rolled out nationwide this month.
"(Yogurt) needed some excitement, frankly," Niel Sandfort, vice president of new product development at Chobani, told Food Dive. "This is true innovation for us within yogurt. (Consumers) surely don't want another strawberry yogurt. If you look at the shelf, we think that is one of the big problems with the category. My gosh, how many strawberry yogurts need to be out there?"
The idea for the new variety came as Chobani observed the rapid growth in nut butter products. Its Chobani Cafe, which opened in 2012, added a nutter butter option to its menu not long after it opened, and it remains among the most popular items. Employees at Chobani also regularly added nut butter to their yogurt at the company's corporate office, Sandfort said.
The new line includes the same characteristics that have become synonymous with Chobani. The yogurts are made using only natural, non-GMO ingredients, and contain no artificial flavors, sweeteners or preservatives. Chobani found that nut butters, which have a thick texture, would harden, especially when subjected to cold temperatures like those found in a refrigerator. To compensate, it added natural ingredients like vanilla, sea salt and fruit pectin to bring the nut butter to an easily spoonable consistency.
Sandfort said the nut butter line was a more difficult and complicated product to create than some of its other recent launches. He noted the company had to take an ingredient like almonds and turn it into butter before adding it to the cup, a process that is harder and takes longer than simply adding a fruit compote to the bottom. In addition, the pairing creates new variables in terms of how the yogurt and nut butter react during the product's shelf life that Chobani had to address.
Chobani is the leader in Greek yogurt with 40% of the market. As sales across the industry decline, the company and other food manufacturers have started to look for new avenues of growth.
Chobani introduced Non-Dairy Chobani, its first offering in the plant-based space earlier this year, that is made from coconuts. And last December, Chobani introduced a new line of kids' yogurt products, called Chobani Gimmies, with a range of child-friendly flavors such as Poppin' Cotton Candy, Best Birthday Ever and Ooey Gooey S'More. The company also has been trying to keep up with consumer trends in other ways by introducing its Chobani Less Sugar Greek Yogurt line.
At the same time, its competitors have been bulking up their offerings, too.
Danone North America has introduced a Greek low fat yogurt with two grams of sugar called Two Good; a plant-based yogurt option made with almond milk named Good Plants that has 40% fewer calories and 70% less sugar than other options; and Oat Yeah, a new variety under the Silk line. In February it opened a multi-million dollar expansion of a facility in Pennsylvania focused only on making plant-based foods.
General Mills, which has a strong presence in yogurt with Yoplait, introduced a French-style variety in glass jars called Oui by Yoplait in 2017, and YQ by Yoplait, made with ultra-filtered milk and less sugar.
The once hot yogurt space has shown signs of struggling. The average U.S. grocery store has 306 different yogurt varieties, according to brand sales and marketing agency Acosta, an increase of 4% since 2015. At the same time, yogurt sales fell 6% by volume in the year through February, according to Nielsen data cited by The Wall Street Journal. Sales of Greek yogurt, which were responsible for much of the category's recent growth, slumped 11%.
In the four-week period ending June 22, Chobani's dollar sales were up 9.9%, Nielsen said, while the total yogurt category's dollar sales were roughly flat.
Sandfort said there is a "weeding out" in the yogurt industry. Retailers increasingly are displacing low-volume items with newer options. For its part, Sandfort said the company is working on non-yogurt products that "are heading to the store soon," though he declined to share more details.
Chobani is optimistic the nut butter varieties will not only attract regular consumers of yogurt — the company claims Chobani consumers are twice as likely to buy almond butter — but shoppers who have slowed their consumption of the dairy product or walked away entirely, Sandfort said.
"I think this is actually healthy from this point because there is way too much duplication" in yogurt, he said. "We have to perform at that level at this point to get on the shelf."