Chobani upended the sleepy yogurt space a decade ago by introducing the now popular Greek variety to the American palate. Greek yogurt quickly turned the startup into a formidable competitor to well-established stalwarts like General Mills and Danone.
Today, the company is hoping its first major launch targeted at kids will bring the same level of disruption and turn more sometime consumers into long-term customers.
"Parents told us yogurt is a win. It's on my win list and it's better than the other five to 10 things my kids are asking me to eat, but the problem is my kids are not asking me to eat yogurt," Peter McGuinness, Chobani's chief marketing and commercial officer, told Food Dive. "[Our philosophy was] let's take the gloves off and let creativity prevail and let's have fun. That was really the strategy behind this and in doing so making kids ask for it."
The new line of kids' yogurt products, called Chobani Gimmies, will hit store shelves nationally in December with a range of child-friendly flavors such as Poppin’ Cotton Candy, Best Birthday Ever and Ooey Gooey S’More. Chobani has adorned the products with cartoon characters — like a strawberry being chased by a bee or a roller skating ice cream cone — to give the food more personality, helping kids relate to the yogurt by creating an emotional connection with them.
"(Our philosophy was) let's take the gloves off and let creativity prevail and let's have fun. That was really the strategy behind this."
Chief marketing and commercial officer, Chobani
With a range of products including drinkable yogurt shakes, tubes, pouches and crunch (essentially Chobani Flip, but for kids), Gimmies is making an effort to reach children ages 6 to 9 whether they are consuming the product for lunch, on the way to school or as an after-school snack.
Extending yogurt consumption
The U.S. yogurt market as a whole is valued at roughly $8.5 billion, according to Chobani. Only $1.5 billion of the sales go to kids, and growth among the younger crowd is increasing annually by the low-single digits. Nielsen estimated that 78% of adults consume yogurt, compared to about a quarter of all children.
Chobani, the leader in Greek yogurt with 40% of the market, is optimistic that its new approach could spur growth and boost the figure for kids closer to $2.5 billion. The company remains a dominant force in yogurt, but after years of growth, Greek-style sales are declining. The impetus is now on Chobani and other yogurt makers to find new ways to stoke sales. With 1% of the kids' yogurt market from its current offerings, Chobani is confident Gimmies will increase its share, while attracting more children to the category overall.
"I think our No. 1 goal is to bring more kids into the yogurt market with a better, more fun platform and offering. The more people we can get to consume (yogurt), the better" McGuinness said. "So, yeah, we're trying to extend yogurt consumption and we're trying to keep young kids in the yogurt category as long as possible. We think it's underserved, underpenetrated."
McGuinness said the current yogurt options for kids are in two categories: sugar-laden and less nutritious varieties on one side, and higher-end, more serious versions with flavors and product claims adults value, but often falling short with children on the other. While Gimmies touts on its label such attributes like the lower sugar content or lack of artificial ingredients, those were added merely to reassure parents, McGuinness noted.
'Parents told us, 'I need (kids) on board. I need them to ask for it and want it, because otherwise it's a negotiation and they'll end up picking something else,' " he said. "There really hasn't been (a creative, comprehensive approach) so we're very excited to disrupt a kids' yogurt category, if you will, and bring some excitement ... and increase consumption and sales."
If early tests of the yogurt and packaging with children across the country are any indication, Chobani may have a hit on its hands.
"What they repeatedly would say is 'Please give me one," and we said, 'Wow, that's exactly the response we wanted,' ... and we came up with the name [Gimmies]," McGuinness said.