Brown spent three years at Procter & Gamble after graduating before moving to Nestlé Waters North America, where he steadily moved up the ranks until he became president in 2013.
“Tim and I clicked the moment we met,” said Ulukaya.
“He's an amazing leader with views and values I really respect and believe in. With his deep experience in consistently delivering quality growth, he's the perfect person to partner with me in continuing to lead the new wave of better food for more people. Chobani’s in a very strong position with greater potential than ever before and now with Tim joining we'll grab it.”
In the wake of press reports that the company had been looking for a new boss, Chobani told reporters in early 2015 that it was looking for an "operationally oriented" CEO to complement the skill-set of its more "brand and innovation oriented" founder, but later stressed that Ulukaya (founder, chairman and CEO) was remaining in charge.
Brown - who starts work at Chobani on March 20 - will oversee Chobani’s operations, sales, marketing, legal and finance teams, and will report directly to Ulukaya.
"Joining a company like Chobani to partner with someone like Hamdi and this great team is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I’ve been following Chobani for years as they have changed the food landscape in this country. I’m thrilled and honored to be coming aboard at a time of such momentum and incredible potential.”
While growth in the US yogurt category fell into negative territory in 2016, Chobani's US operation notched up double-digit sales and volume growth last year, driven by a strong performances from Flip and the core cups range and a successful move into yogurt drinks, chief marketing and brand officer Peter McGuinness told FoodNavigator-USA in January.
Speaking to us as Nielsen revealed that US retail yogurt category dollar sales dipped 0.9% to $7.679bn, and unit sales slumped 5.4% in the 52 weeks to December 31 (all outlets combined, plus c-stores), McGuinness said 2016 was “a huge year for us; we beat all of our targets, and have a lot of steam and momentum going into 2017. Last year, we hit our highest share; and we're still the #1 Greek yogurt brand with a distance."
Flip continued to go from strength to strength, with four new flavors (Peppermint Perfection, Carrot Cake Creation, Cinnabun Fun, and S'More S'mores) hitting stores this month, and a marketing campaign launching in three weeks spanning TV, digital, social media and point of sale, he added.
“Flip continues to go gangbusters with sales up close to 70% year on year [although rival Dannon pointed out that such rapid growth was “not surprising” given that Flip is still a relatively new product]. Flip is on fire and my vision of it being our next billion dollar platform for us has not changed.
“We’ve just launched four new nostalgic flavors and we’ll have new innovations in July.”
According to Nielsen data, dollar sales in the US yogurt market dipped 0.9% to $7.679bn, and unit sales slumped 5.4% in the 52 weeks to December 31 (grocery, drug, mass, select dollar, warehouse, military outlets combined, plus c-stores).
Dollar sales of Greek-style yogurt were down 1% to $3.559bn (units -3.1%), while non-Greek was down 0.8% to $4.119bn (units down 7.1%).
By format, dollar sales of spoonable yogurt were down 2.2% to $6.843bn (units -6.3%), while yogurt shakes and drinks were up 12% to $741,220,234 (units +13%).
Drink Chobani exceeded all of our estimates
Drink Chobani - a new protein-packed yogurt beverage featuring fruit and probiotics that hit shelves in July 2016 – had also been a hit, he claimed.
“They have exceeded all of our estimates in terms of volume and the feedback has been phenomenal. We’re just launching four new flavors (vanilla, peach, lemon lime, pina colada) going into retailers’ January resets, so we’ll have eight SKUs in national distribution, and more innovation on the way in July in non-traditional yogurt flavors. We want to do for yogurt drinks what Chobani did for Greek yogurt 10 years ago.”
The product, which is offering “portable protein with far less sugar than smoothies,” is smooth and not chalky-tasting and has strong potential to generate incremental sales growth for Chobani in an underdeveloped category, he claimed.
“There might be a bit of cannibalization [of the yogurt business] but it’s mostly incremental growth, as you’ve got people that buy juices, smoothies and protein shakes buying them. We think that yogurt drinks could ultimately account for 30-40% of the yogurt category.”
Meze dips a tougher sell
However, Chobani’s first move outside the dairy case with meze dips (now available at grocery deli counters next to hummus), has been a tougher sell, he acknowledged.
“Deli is very different to dairy, but we're not known in deli yet. We’re kind of where we expected to be with the dips, but we love them and we’re sticking with them; the products are phenomenal and the flavors are great.”