Chobani burst onto the yogurt scene a decade ago by popularizing the trendy Greek variety — now the biggest subset is in the $7.2 billion category.
But the New York company, famously started by Turkish immigrant Hamdi Ulukaya in 2007, hasn't stopped there as part of its vision to become a modern food company.
During the last year, Chobani has accelerated its innovative prowess by expanding beyond the Greek space into yogurts blended with nut butters, introducing a variety made from plants, a line specifically geared toward children, offering products made with oats and making its first foray into milks and creamers.
"The industry needs a new playbook, and I feel like we have that playbook," Peter McGuinness, president of Chobani, told Food Dive. "We have a bit of an ax to grind. It's strange that there has been so much innovation in industries. There's been so much competition and breaking apart of industries that's fueling innovation and new frontiers, but [food has] been dominated by the big three food companies since World War II."
The yogurt space has watched as sales soured during the last several years after a decade of growth. Sales in traditional and Greek styles have each fallen roughly $400 million since 2015 to about $3 billion annually, according to Nielsen data.
General Mills said during its recent quarter that U.S. yogurt sales were flat, an improvement compared to steeper declines in the past, while Danone said in its earnings call in July that it posted a slump in U.S. sales due to competition. Chobani sales in 2019 have risen 9% through early November, according to Nielsen data supplied by the yogurt company.
"The industry needs a new playbook, and I feel like we have that playbook. We have a bit of an ax to grind."
Matt Gould with Dairy & Food Market Analyst told Food Dive that unlike its competitors, Chobani has been able to grow sales by adding trendy items and being first in the past with culturally relevant products like its flip yogurts or seasonal varieties.
"Chobani doesn't just respond to data trends," Gould said. "They appear to have an approach. They have a vision for what they want to make happen."
McGuinness said Chobani, which controls about 40% of the Greek yogurt market, has managed to withstand the pressure by entering into new categories where it previously didn't have a major presence to boost sales — all while carefully managing not to cannibalize sales of its existing products.
The new innovations are resonating with consumers. Shoppers are gravitating to multi-packs or large containers of Chobani rather than buying one or two yogurt cups at a time. When retailers reassess which products to carry and what shelf space to give them, Chobani has recently gotten more shelf space, McGuinness said.
"The one thing we will never do is move on and forget about yogurt. We want to get yogurt into a growing place," he said. "There is a lot of yogurt work to still be done."
In the last year, Chobani has paired its low-fat Greek yogurt with nut butters to create a nutrient-intense and energy-rich snack. Chobani introduced Non-Dairy Chobani, its first offering in the plant-based space made from coconuts. Plant-based products are among the fastest growing in food, with the yogurt category posting a compound annual growth rate of 44% during the last four years, according to data provided by Nielsen.
The company also introduced a new line of kids' yogurt products called Chobani Gimmies. And last month, it ventured into oats for the first time with yogurts and milks. It also rolled out a creamer made with leftover cream from its yogurt-making process.
"The brand is extremely strong and relevant and healthy. We're a purpose-based brand and we do a lot more than food," McGuinness said.
Chobani, he said, has focused as much attention on what goes into its yogurt cups as it has in the community and world around it. Its goal is to make food that not only tastes good, but is nutritious and affordable to all consumers — three attributes McGuinness said big and small companies alike have been unable to successfully combine.
In addition to its products, Chobani has done extensive work beyond its corporate walls by working in areas such as LGBTQ rights, championing the causes of refugees and immigrants, doing community service near its offices and factories and giving paid parental leave to new parents. It has been recognized for four years in a row by Great Place to Work.
"We'll continue to revel in [winning awards for our products] and continue to make great products and win those more tactile awards but company of the year is bigger," McGuinness said. "It's bigger and more beautiful and more reflective of how we operate day in and day out."