Stuart Kronauge took over plant-based dairy milk maker Miyoko’s Creamery as CEO earlier this month. The newly minted executive has her hands full, between the aftermath of legal turmoil — with founder and former CEO Miyoko Schinner being dismissed from her role, lawsuits ensuing — headwinds in the plant-based category, and revamping the brand’s messaging, all within her first few days.
With a resume heavy in marketing, Kronauge is focusing on simplifying the brand’s message to reach a broader consumer base, and educating consumers on the simple ingredients that Miyoko’s Creamery uses.
“We love flexitarians and we love vegans and there's a role for each one,” she told Food Dive, “the brand grew fast, and like anything you do fast, sometimes things just don’t happen,”
Kronauge’s main priority is to cut through some of the confusion within the plant-based space by educating consumers through simple messaging.
The plant-based dairy space has seen major growth in recent years, with 41% of U.S. households purchasing plant-based milk in 2022, with a repeat purchase rate of 76%, according to the National Consumer Panel.
On her second official week, the first thing she is setting out to do is “getting to know everybody,” Kronauge told Food Dive. “They are very much a team here, and I don’t want to disrupt that.”
Kronauge spent a couple decades at the Coca-Cola Company, where she says she “learned the ropes” of the industry and focused on branding. From there, she made her way into the plant-based nutrition space, spending some time at Beyond Meat as chief marketing officer, and most recently, at a plant-based supplements company headquartered in Tennessee known as Juice Plus.
Kronauge first stumbled on Miyoko’s Creamery products as a consumer of its products.
“I'm from Atlanta, and in Atlanta, we love our butter, and there was this huge void,” she said. “I was out there hunting for a good vegan butter and cheese, and the only one that I found that even came close was Miyoko’s.”
Even though the newly minted executive is a vegan, her family members are not, but “they still love the product anyway,” she said.
Kronauge said she plans to bring Miyoko’s Creamery into its next phase of growth by going back to the basics, focusing on enhancing the consumer experience.
Taking the complicated out of plant-based
Kronauge noted confusion around products in the space among consumers. “Are they healthy? Are they not? Are they processed? Are they not?”.
One of the ways that she is planning to overcome this confusion, along with other headwinds in the space — like skepticism around taste and texture — is by keeping things easy to understand.
“I think we need to let consumers know that we have very simple recognizable ingredients, high functioning products, very impressive taste and texture and that they don't have to compromise with our products in plant based nutrition,” the CEO said. “But that is a message that doesn’t have very high awareness.”
In a grocery store, you have about five seconds to capture someone’s attention on a shelf, according to Kronauge. Once you get that attention, you don’t want to scare anyone away with confusing and intimidating ingredients, she said. “Everyone knows what a cashew is,” for example.
Miyoko’s Creamery’s European Style Plant Butter, for example, is made from ingredients like organic coconut oil, organic cultured cashew milk, filtered water and organic sunflower oil.
“My goal is to remind the team that not everybody knows who we are,” said Kronauge. “We need to get out there and represent ourselves in a way that's as simple as our products are.”
One way Kronauge plans to do this is by putting the brand’s products into strategically placed restaurants. The executive gave the example of having Miyoko’s mozzarella cheese as an option in a popular college town pizza joint. “That would be a perfect place to get in and offer our products, and talk about them to drive trial and get more penetration into those occasions,” she said.
Leading forward positively
Prior to Kronauge being slated to take over the company, the brand’s founder and former CEO Miyoko Schinner was in a legal battle with the brand.
The turmoil was settled in May as both parties shared a joint statement on each of their LinkedIn pages stating they have resolved all legal disputes and withdrawn all legal claims.
When asked how she felt coming into her new role on the heels of the drama, Kronauge said she wasn’t involved, so she didn’t experience any of it.
“I want to make sure that we move forward in a positive way, in terms of growing the brand, having people on the team feel like they're contributing, and that they're being seen and heard,” she said.
With her consumer focused background, Kronauge believes that she has an advantage from her marketing background as she is always thinking about the “why” behind consumers making decisions.
“Miyoko is an amazingly creative individual, she did an amazing job, but now it's time to stop for a second and think about the broader stage that we can take the brand, and how we can reach the broader consumer.