"Until now, Americans have been eating yogurt more because they ought to instead of because they want to," claims Barb Yehling, chief marketing officer at Muller Quaker Dairy (MQD) the joint venture between PepsiCo and Theo Müller Group. In Europe, she says, "consumers eat it for enjoyment."
This doesn't mean that MQD's products aren’t healthy, stresses Yehling, just that the focus is on fun, or in marketing-speak: "Providing irresistible products that satisfy consumer's desire for great tasting food that they can still feel good about eating”.
We are bringing a breath-of-fresh-air approach to American consumers
And the growth opportunity for manufacturers that can deliver on this this promise is huge, as while Americans eat more yogurt than they used to, they are still way behind their European counterparts, she says.
"As we’ve previously disclosed, Müller yogurt is on pace to achieve $100 million in annual retail sales in the U.S.
“Müller yogurt is a top-selling brand across Europe, where consumers eat for enjoyment. We are bringing that sensibility and a breath-of-fresh-air approach to American consumers who hear constant marketing message about what they should be eating and how they should eat it.
“Müller yogurt is playful and fun, and above all – it tastes delicious. Our focus is unwavering – deliver amazing taste and meet unmet needs. To do that, we are constantly providing new flavors and textures for Americans to try.”
Brogurt, Greek Light and promotional activity
According to rivals, the light Greek category is where much of the action is (Yoplait Greek 100, Chobani Simply 100) in the category right now. So is MQD planning to introduce a lighter addition to its Greek Corners range?
Yehling won’t say, but says we can expect new “category-leading products and packaging through ongoing innovations” .
As for 'brogurt' (yogurt targeting men, often with a high protein message), she says: "We recognize the trend; however, our approach to targeting is broader."
Asked if the rush to build new capacity in the US yogurt sector - largely driven by the Greek yogurt boom - is putting pressure on prices as firms seek to compete via ever more margin-crushing promotions, she said: "It’s a robust category, with many players vying for attention and shelf space.
"Promotions are playing a role. However, at the end of the day it’s product quality and taste that matter to consumers. Again, this is where Müller yogurt excels."
Consumers tell us we have brought them back to the category
The JV, which opened one of the largest yogurt plants in the US in Batavia, New York (click here ) last year, secured national distribution for Müller Corner, Müller Greek Corner, and Müller FrutUp (yogurt and fruit mousse) last summer, but is still gaining new accounts, she says.
The plant, which now employs 180 people and has three operational production lines, was also designed with expansion in mind, so has plenty of capacity for growth, she adds.
“Muller Quaker Dairy is poised for growth, coming off a successful consumer launch reaching national distribution less than a year ago. We continue to get additional distribution as the brand gains popularity nationwide.”
So which products are the most popular, and is MQD generating incremental sales for the category - as trend watchers predicted it might when it first launched - or just stealing market share off the top players?
Passionate fan base
Yehling won’t talk in detail about sales, incremental or otherwise, but says “Consumers tell us it [the MQD range] has brought them back to the category.
"Our fans are extremely passionate about our products. We are seeing a range of demographics – young and old, male and female, parents, etc, who have joined our social communities simply to declare their love for our products. They are highly engaged and want to know more about flavors, where to buy, and what is coming out next."
She adds: “Consumer response to the taste and product offerings has been tremendous. Müller yogurt is fun to eat, comes in unique flavors and tastes unlike anything US consumers have tried before.”
Fan-favorites are Müller Greek Corner Caramelized Almonds, Corner Choco Balls and FrütUp Luscious Lemon, she says, while new launches Müller Corner Dark Chocolate Cherry, Raspberry and Pecan Granola are just hitting shelves now.
Dairy an attractive growth opportunity for PepsiCo
MQD will not say what share of the US market it has captured yet. All Yehling will say is that “dairy is one of the fastest growing food and beverage categories in the U.S”, and as such is “an attractive growth opportunity”.
She adds: “MQD is advancing PepsiCo’s strategic intention to grow its ‘Good for You’ nutrition-based foods, snacks and beverages portfolio and it is meeting the Theo Müller Group’s goal of moving into the growing U.S. yogurt market.”