“We decided a month and a half ago that how you behave in a crisis is really important. We don’t want to be one of those companies that takes. We want to give and the country needs us – food banks need us, dairy farmers need us,” as do retail partners and shoppers, Chobani President Peter McGuinness told FoodNavigator-USA.
“When this is all over, I think companies will be judged on how they behaved and how much profit is too much profit. And I think companies are going to be judged on how they treat their employees, how they treat their customers and how they treat their partners,” and Chobani wants to be on right side, he added.
That is why the company is donating millions of cups of its yogurt to food banks as well as giving food directly to those in need through its SoHo Café. It also is helping retailers keep store shelves stocked and supporting farmers through the recently launched Nourish New York governmental program to redirect surplus agriculture products to people in need, McGuinness explained.
He added that when the time is right, the company also will leverage promotions to ensure that Americans who don’t qualify for donations but who have suffered economic duress because of the pandemic still can afford its products.
Giving to those need
Giving product to those in need through food banks has always been a “fundamental virtue” of Chobani, but since the pandemic began McGuinness said the manufacturer has “turbocharged” its donations, even as it manages additional demand and strain on its supply chain.
He explained that every day for more than a month Chobani has delivered a truck load of its products to food banks and intake centers across the country through Feeding America, for a total of more than 3 million cups of yogurt. And, unlike some companies that donate product near its expiration date, McGuinness said that Chobani donates only fresh product.
“This is incremental product that we are making” on top of the elevated production needed to meet retail demand, he explained. “This means we are buying more milk, helping out dairy farmers and then it also means that these folks who need food are getting fresh product, which is also an important distinction.”
He acknowledged that this is a big investment and “adds complexity to our supply chain as we try to deal with fluid demand that is up and down and all over the place,” but, he added, it is also “manageable."
He explained that while Feeding America and food banks are grateful for “a lot of monetary donors,” they need product because they are running out of food to give due to "surging demand at food banks."
In addition to giving through Feeding America, Chobani has converted its SoHo Café, which is momentarily closed because of the pandemic, into a temporary food pantry to serve the local community Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. At the café, Chobani volunteers and paid staff give away not just Chobani yogurts and oat drink, but also product from smaller startups that McGuinness says may not be able to donate product by the truckload but can offer “micro donations” of a pallet or two.
Among the startups working with Chobani at its pop-up food pantry are Noka, Remedy Organics, 88 Acres, Pescavore, Holmes Applesauce, Wildway, Ithaca Hummus, MeWe and Soñar.
Shoring up the supply chain
Chobani also is working closely with partners across the supply chain to ensure access to its products and provide additional relief.
For example, the company “jumped at the chance” to participate in the $25m Nourish New York program launched earlier this month by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, which redirects surplus agricultural products to those in need through food banks.
“That program not only helps fellow New Yorkers in need, but it helps farmers – specifically dairy farmers who are hurting,” McGuinness said. He explained that food service restrictions have left many farmers with no where to easily sell their product – resulting in some crops being tilled back into the earth and some dairy that cannot be processed before it spoils.
Chobani purchased its first round of milk through the program earlier this month and within days of processing it delivered yogurt and other fresh product to people visiting a food bank in Long Island.
The company also is helping to alleviate pressure at the retail level so that consumers who can afford to buy its products can still access it, McGuinness said.
He explained that “some of our customer supply chain has been challenged in taking product because their warehouses are full or they have labor issues or trucking issues.” In those cases, he said, Chobani is “out there in the stores packing, our retail execution team helping them because they have labor shortages and we want to make sure our product is on the shelf.”
Managing advertising and promotions
To ensure that Americans can continue to access Chobani products during a potential economic downturn following the pandemic, McGuinness said that in the back half of the year the company will invest in trade promotions to make its products more affordable for shoppers who need to tighten their purse strings for various reasons.
“There are so many people who can purchase products, but whose financial situations in life is different now than it was,” and Chobani wants to ensure they have access to delicious, nutritious, and natural food as mandated by the company’s D.N.N.A. philosophy, he said.
With that in mind, McGuinness said Chobani does not believe that now is the time to advertising its products when so many Americans are unemployed and hurting. “So,” he said, “we donated a lot of our advertising and TV at home and even on our website to Feeding America so that it can get key messages out.”
Ultimately, McGuinness said that like many companies, Chobani is trying to do the best it can to be a good corporate citizen that supports all those who support it during other times, including partners and consumers.