"Whole Foods Market is committed to offering shoppers the widest variety of high quality products possible, including new items shoppers simply can’t find anywhere else,” the natural foods retailer said in a statement.
“As the national demand for Greek yogurt has grown, the number of conventional Greek yogurt options has multiplied. Whole Foods Market challenged its Greek yogurt suppliers to create unique options for shoppers to enjoy—including exclusive flavors, non-GMO options and organic choices. At this time, Chobani has chosen a different business model, so Whole Foods Market will be phasing Chobani Greek Yogurt out of its stores in early 2014 to make room for product choices that aren’t readily available on the market."
Several media outlets have attributed the decision to Chobani’s use of cows whose feed is derived from genetically engineered corn and soybeans, which a Whole Foods spokesperson told the New York Times is just one of several reasons cited in the statement—along with exclusive flavors and organic choices—that it is dropping the yogurt maker.
Whole Foods has said it will require labeling of all GMO foods in its stores by 2018, but it has not said it will ban products containing genetically engineered ingredients.
Chobani, the top-selling Greek yogurt brand, has faced criticism for using dairy products from cows fed with GMO feed. The firm admitted there is room for improvement, though it is struggling to find enough organic grain in marketplace to support a product on this scale.
In response to the Whole Foods announcement, Chobani issued a statement of its own Wednesday evening, noting that the company is proud of its “mass” distribution status, which it believes has helped “democratize” Greek yogurt.
“Our founding mission is to provide better food to more people,” founder Hamdi Ulukaya said. “We strongly believe that access to affordable, nutritious, delicious yogurt made with only natural ingredients is a right, not a privilege. We're mass and we're proud of it and consumers everywhere can find our Greek Yogurt at their local stores. These values are what made us the number one Greek Yogurt brand in America.
“Though we have very limited distribution within Whole Foods, they have been an important partner of ours over the years. As the number one Greek Yogurt brand in America using only natural ingredients, we share an affinity with Whole Foods and its shoppers. We know our fans love buying our products in their stores and we hope to continue our partnership moving forward."
Whole Foods doesn’t represent a big part of Chobani’s business. A spokesperson told FoodNavigator-USA that less than 0.5% of Chobani’s retail business comes from the Austin, Texas-based retailer.