Going Dairy-Free In 2019: Chobani Disrupting Yogurt Market With Plant-Based Product
Over the past decade, Chobani was focused primarily on innovating their own products including the Chobani Flip line. In 2019, the company is shepherding consumers toward their newest innovation. Chobani launched their first plant-based product to again disrupt the yogurt market they helped build: Non-Dairy Chobani.
Peter McGuinness, Chief Marketing Officer, Chobani said of the launch, "We’re trying to grow consumption and expand categories — through disruption, of course, and through better options and through innovation — but we’re trying to make the category bigger and broader."
Available nationwide in January 2019, Non-Dairy Chobani maintains the Chobani promise to be non-GMO and all-natural. Even as they climbed to be the number two overall yogurt leader, they took that future-oriented vision a huge step forward with the new coconut-based yogurt line-up offering probiotics and less sugar in every spoonful. Like the initial foray into Greek yogurt, Chobani made a bold, yet calculated move with the plant-based option.
In creating the new product, Chobani removed dairy, lactose and reduced the sugar content to 25 percent lower than other non-dairy options. Always innovating and thinking about consumer perception and habits, Chobani chose to keep familiar yogurt packaging but avoid dairy-based words like "milk" and "yogurt". While a 2018 Food and Drug Administration (FDA) notice on the use of dairy verbiage is at the forefront of plant-based product integration, Chobani's labeling approach was consumer-driven in advance of the FDA notice. With their continued food transparency focus, the launch of Non-Dairy Chobani was designed to provide high-quality ingredients and clear consumer messaging. Chobani's launch was aimed at not just introducing a new plant-based product; but also at highlighting the differences, similarities and benefits of traditional yogurts and the new non-dairy version.
Robert C. Post, Ph.D., MEd., MSc., Senior Director, CHOBANI Health and Wellness addressed the balance of health and labeling in July 2018, "We believe in transparency, we believe in choice and we believe in the responsibility of every food maker to offer better options to more people. It is our founding mission and much of that is expressed in simply what we make (not what we say). The importance of terminology reaches beyond standards of identity – the same attention should be given to definitions and claims, many of which are the first thing consumers are looking for when making nutritional decisions."
While traditional plant-based products are made of ingredients like nuts and soy that don't always create the right texture or taste, Chobani focused on a smoother coconut base. The new Non-Dairy Chobani didn't leave out taste or probiotic benefits in the 9 flavors of coconut-based yogurts including mango, peach, vanilla chai and slightly sweet plain. Chobani executives saw an under-served consumer in plant-based and dairy-free options but also an overall increase in the trend of plant-based products. Even though a Plant Based Foods Association report showed an increase of 9% in non-dairy milk sales and whopping 131% growth for plant-based creamers through the summer of 2019, sales of cow's milk fell 6%.
“We have dairy in our veins for sure,” continued McGuinness, “but there’s this emerging non-dairy part of the yogurt aisle that’s here to stay. If there is a small growing segment of the population that prefers this, why not try to make a great product for them?"
Vegetarians and lactose-intolerant yogurt buyers are the primary customer for Non-Dairy Chobani but 2018 also saw consumers looking to reduce dairy in their diet for other reasons. A recent Mintel report found 17% of yogurt buyers reporting they ate less dairy as one of the reasons overall U.S. retail sales of yogurt declined since 2015. Mintel predicted that market space would fall an additional 3.5% by 2020. Watching those trends meant Chobani saw the need for non-dairy options and answered with the same fervor they did in launching their Greek yogurt.
"We have a belief: if we can't make something better, we don't make it at all. And for some time, we've felt that people deserve better non-dairy options," said Hamdi Ulukaya, Founder and CEO of Chobani. "We've come up with something that's much better than what's out there – a new recipe that's absolutely delicious, but also meets our food philosophy of being nutritious, made with only natural ingredients and at a price that's accessible to all. Most importantly, this isn't a replacement to dairy, but it's a game-changer for plant-based products."
In addition to the new plant-based products, Chobani continued to innovate with an expansion to their lower-sugar Greek yogurt products and a yogurt line for kids. The Dairy-Free launch compliments the debut of Chobani's kid and parent-tested Chobani Gimmies featuring flavors like Choco Chunk Cookie Dunk, Bizzy Buzzy Strawberry and Best Birthday Ever.
"Options today are lousy or impractical. It's either junk food that parents don't want their kids to eat or food that's designed for adults that kids don't want to eat. We wanted to break that cycle and it's a challenge we took really seriously," Ulukaya said of the Gimmies launch. "As a parent, you know that food for kids has to be fun and it has to be delicious. Parents deserve nutritious options they can feel good about giving their kids."
Changing consumer mindsets to accept new products can be a long road. Chobani made sure their packaging and marketing put the plant-based background of their new Non-Dairy Chobani front and center. And yet, the company also kept their yogurt delivery system in place so consumers would recognize the product; Non-Dairy Chobani is available in familiar cups and bottles. While the coconut base was chosen for its accessibility, availability and familiarity with coconut milk, Chobani hasn't ruled out other plant-bases.
"There are a lot of different people out there that prefer different plant-based products and so we’re open to exploring that whole world. This is the beginning, not the end.” McGuinness said.
As Chobani shepherds consumers to again explore a new yogurt option, Non-Dairy Chobani is poised to take its' place on yogurt shelves, home and office refrigerators and as the newest Chobani product to fill a market gap.