As such, Lubetzky is investing $18m as a strategic partner in the Seattle-based Greek yogurt brand, which he described as a brand with “integrity in every respect,” and “obsessive about the craft of yogurt-making and sourcing the highest quality ingredients.”
He also will bring his first-hand expertise in brand building and a wealth of knowledge that he gathered while scaling what Ellenos’ other investor Monogram Capital Partners called “one of the most storied success with the KIND brand in our space.”
Amazed by Lubetzky’s success, Ellenos co-founder Con Apostolopoulos said he is thrilled to invite Lubetzky into “the family,” and is eager to learn from him because his goal with Ellenos is to disrupt the yogurt category like Lubetzky did the bar space.
“It’s amazing what he’s done with KIND and it is similar to what we’re trying to do. He created a product in a clear wrapper and told people how amazing the ingredients were and then he let people try it, and it became the number one bar in the category,” Apostolopoulos said.
He added that, like KIND, Ellenos is committed to using only premium ingredients and following its proprietary five-day process of blending those ingredients with its “signature” combination of culture and straining them to create a finished product that is “quite smooth and creamy but is not overly tart.”
Ellenos is more than premium yogurt though, he said. He called out the addition of toppings and purees that the brand makes and serves or packages with its yogurt in a way that allows consumers to experience each component individually and together at the same time.
“We are not trying to mask the flavor of our yogurt, but rather enhance it. So, you can taste the yogurt and the fruit separately, and you get to mix them both to create a much better experience,” he said.
Winning over consumers
The investment comes at a time when Ellenos is growing quickly in a segment that is starting to stagnate – which Apostolopoulos says is a testament to his yogurt’s high quality and ability to win over even yogurt-haters, which brings new consumers to the category.
“When people try it, they are instant fans. Some of our biggest customers are the ones who tell us that they didn’t like yogurt or didn’t buy yogurt before, but once they tried ours they said they didn’t know yogurt could be like this,” Apostolopoulos said.
That is why, he said, it is so important that as the brand continues to expand distribution across the country it can drive initial sales and repeat purchases by getting people to try their product first. As such, Apostolopouls said some of the funding from Lubetsky will go towards hiring additional staff and field teams that can support the brand as it enters new stores and new regions.
One way field teams will drum up interest is by pushing carts of yogurt that are similar to the gelato carts found in the streets of Italy, Apostolopoulos said. “The carts look amazing. And they let people try different flavors, and us share with the world.”
The brand began in Seattle’s famous Pike Place Market at a scoop shop. But it entered the CPG space in 2015 with help from Whole Foods Market. Since, then, Apostolopoulos claims that it “quickly became the number one yogurt in virtually every grocery store here in the Pacific Northwest.”
From there, it has slowly – but steadily – expanded into California and more recently Texas with plans to climb up the East Coast as brand awareness and velocities at new stores rise, Apostolopouls said.
In addition to expanding distribution, Apostolopouls said Ellenos will grow by helping Americans to understand that there is more to yogurt than breakfast. He hopes to show consumers that they can enjoy it as a snack, dessert, side dish or an ingredient in cooking.
To help meet the demand generated by the increased distribution, Apostolopous said some of the funding from Lubetsky will go towards upgrading and adding equipment to the company’s facility.
Slow and steady
While Apostolopoulos said he is excited to expand Ellenos, he says he doesn’t want to “fall in the trap of growing too quickly or too fast.”
He explained that the brand “tried to do that, and it was a big mistake, which is why we are in 29 states, not in 50 states. That is why we are not in every grocer. We are methodically and purposefully growing” at a rate that allows the brand to support retailers and drive velocity – not just doors, he said.
This approach not only avoids the risk of retail partnerships souring, but it allows the brand to maintain its passion and connection to people – both those who work for it and those who depend on it for yogurt, he said.