Chobani was speaking to FoodNavigator-USA after Yoplait published results from blind taste tests* with 300 consumers in which 65% claimed to prefer Yoplait's blended blueberry Greek yogurt to Chobani’s blueberry fruit-on-the-bottom Greek product.
‘Absolutely terrific’ taste profile…
Yoplait’s new blended Greek range - launched last summer as “many consumers were not fully satisfied with the fruit on the bottom and aftertaste” of its previous offerings, has “an absolutely terrific taste profile”, General Mills CEO Ken Powell told investors on the firm’s latest earnings call,
Although comparing a blended yogurt with a fruit at the bottom product is not really comparing apples with apples according to some observers, Yoplait Greek marketing director Carla Vernón said it was a fair test.
She added: "We are focused on one thing – making Greek yogurt taste as good as it can be – so we asked yogurt fans if we had succeeded. They overwhelmingly said 'yes'.”
The marketing campaign - which spans social media, TV, PR and 100s of taste tests in stores - kicks off with a TV ad showing consumers trying both brands (click here ), while shoppers are also invited to get involved via Twitter (#TasteOff ), Facebook and Instagram or visit GreekTasteOff.com to share their opinions..
Chobani: ‘We still lead the category, despite being outspent dramatically by competitors in advertising…’
But the ads are not causing any sleepless nights at Chobani,said Peter McGuinness, chief marketing and brand officer: "At Chobani, we've always made delicious, nutritious, natural and accessible yogurt, which we're proud and honored to say has made us America's No. 1 Greek Yogurt brand.”
A spokesman told FoodNavigator-USA: “According to market data, Chobani was the only major Greek Yogurt brand to increase dollar share in the most recent four weeks vs. the previous four weeks (Nielsen, data ending 12/21/13).”
Simply 100 is expected to erode share from others who’ve been selling 100 calorie yogurts
Chobani has had a busy year, expanding its Bite range, launching new Flip Greek yogurt products and unveiling a new 100-calorie Simply 100 range sweetened with monk fruit and stevia. It also launched a print and digital advertising campaign last fall highlighting its natural credentials and focus on quality after a high-profile recall of selected products owing to a mold outbreak.
It is too early to provide sales data on Simply 100 - which is being rolled out nationally now and will be promoted later in Q1 - but Chobani is “very pleased with how it’s being received both by retailers and customers in feedback”, added the spokesman.
“Simply 100, the only 100 calorie Greek Yogurt made with all natural ingredients, is expected to erode share from others who’ve been selling 100 calorie yogurts.”
According to Chobani, Greek light is the fastest-growing segment in the Greek category, with sales up more than 300% year-on-year in the 24 weeks to mid-December 2013.
Greek yogurt accounted for 44% of US yogurt sales in 2013 vs 4% in 2008
The Greek yogurt category - which is driving most of the growth in the $7bn+ US yogurt market - remains a hotbed of activity, as consumers buy into its low-fat credentials, high protein content and thicker texture.
Indeed, Greek now accounts for 44% of dollar sales in the yogurt category compared with just 4% in 2008, and all the key players in the segment have been expanding and refreshing their portfolios in the past 12 months.
Yoplait Greek 100
Yoplait has launched several new products recently including Yoplait Pro-Force and Go-Gurt Protein, along with its new blended Greek range.
However, its biggest hit to date has been the 100-calorie Yoplait Greek 100 range, which generated retail sales of $150m in its first year, “making this the single largest new product launch in Yoplait in the last two decades”, according to Gen Mills CEO Ken Powell.
Dannon Oikos Greek brand still growing in double digits
Meanwhile, Dannon’s Oikos Greek yogurt range - sales of which topped $400m in 2012 - is "still growing in the double digits", Michael Neuwirth, senior director of public relations at Dannon, told FoodNavigator-USA.
Dannon - which is tying up with Starbucks to launch Greek yogurt parfait products under the ‘Evolution Fresh, inspired by Dannon’ brand in US Starbucks stores this year - has also launched 80 calorie Greek yogurts under the Light & Fit brand and a new line of Greek products under the Activia brand.
And given that Americans still eat on average far less yogurt than their European counterparts, there is still enormous growth potential, he said.
“In 2013 total per capita yogurt consumption in the US had gone up to 16.7lbs and has been growing at a compound annual growth rate of around 5% in the past five years.”
But as the Greek market matures, and more new production capacity comes online, are margins going to come under greater pressure as the category’s big guns try to steal share through heavy promotional activity?
“We did see more promotional activity in the category in 2013, but we built our business to be sustainable for the long term and that includes promoting reasonably,” said Neuwirth.
Savory yogurt: ‘Very tasty with some intriguing flavors…’
So what does he make of the savory yogurts developed by Blue Hill (click here ) and distributed in three Whole Foods regions?
“They are very tasty with some intriguing flavors - and a terrific way to experience the delight of yogurt, but they are super premium and might be a bit niche for mainstream American tastes,” said Neuwirth.
“We’ve experimented with savory, but it’s not a priority for us right now as we see a bigger opportunity in the more traditional, broader market.”
*The taste claim is "based on a national blind taste test study conducted in eight cities across the U.S. by a third-party research firm", said Gen Mills. Blueberry was chosen as it is "one of the most popular flavors in Greek yogurt".
Click here to read about all the latest developments in Greek yogurt.