‘The nation is going to need all of our help,’ Chobani president says unveiling new charity SKU

By Elizabeth Crawford

- Last updated on GMT

Source: Chobani
Source: Chobani

Related tags Chobani Feeding America school lunch coronavirus

With today’s launch of a limited-edition peanut butter and jelly low-fat Greek yogurt, Chobani expands its support for food banks nationwide while simultaneously offering a comforting new flavor that the company president says he hopes will recall ‘happy memories’ even as the coronavirus pandemic continues.

All profits from the new Food Bank Batch SKU will be donated to Feeding America, an organization of more than 200 food banks that provides meals to those in need – a number that the non-profit estimates could climb an additional 17.1 million this year due to the pandemic.

Even though some states are starting to reopen their economies, “we are still very much living with this virus … and the situation hasn’t changed fundamentally. If you look at the economy, if you look at the number of unemployed, the case rate – they are very similar to where they were a couple of months ago. And the way we see it, the nation is going to need all of our help,”​ to get through the pandemic and economic downturn, Chobani president Peter McGuinness told FoodNavigator-USA.

He explained that with the launch of this new charity SKU, Chobani “continues to do our part through food to help people who are unemployed, underemployed and hurting.”

Chobani’s Food Bank Batch allows Mississippi Food Network to feed more children this summer

When Chobani emailed Mississippi Food Network earlier this summer to share that it would be launching a limited-edition Greek yogurt to raise money for Feeding America food banks, program manager Catherine Montgomery said she was “so excited and felt so blessed”​ because the donation meant feeding more children who rely on school lunches during the summer.

She explained to FoodNavigator-USA that nearly a quarter of children in Mississippi suffer from food insecurity and many rely on schools and child feeding sites for what might be their only meal of the day. But when the coronavirus pandemic broke out, many schools discontinued their feeding programs to minimize risk of exposure to staff and families.

“When I learned that we had been blessed with $20,000”​ as part of Chobani’s donation, “we were able to think outside of the box a little bit and… purchase shelf stable summer meals for our summer feeding sites in Sharkey County and Issaquena County, which are two very rural, low-income counties in the state of Mississippi,”​ she said.

“We are gong to kick this program off on [July 6] and anticipate running hopefully until Aug. 7, through which the funding will allows us to give 8,000 meals for these two counties to share,”​ she said, adding, “We are so excited for this opportunity and very, very, very thankful for the funding to do so.”

While not all CPG players are able to give as much as Chobani, Montgomery said that Feeding America is appreciative of all donations – of any size and either as funds or in-kind donations.

“Funding is always appreciated. For every $1 donated to the Mississippi Food Network, we’re able to provide six meals, and 95 cents of every dollar goes directly to our programs,”​ she said. “We are also very thankful for anything and everything that does come through the warehouse as in-kind donations, because they allow us to provide more for these families. We don’t take any donation – big or small – for granted.”

Beyond food and funds, Montgomery said MFN was grateful to receive donations from others earlier this year to expand its fleet of delivery trucks and drivers to meet increased demand. She also said companies have helped by offering advertising that allows MFN and Feeding America to tell their story and educate communities about what is available.

While MFN continues to welcome help feeding communities now, Montgomery said that the organization – and likely other food banks nationwide – also need help planning for the future to ensure there is sufficient food for the coming months as well.

“Normally we’re gearing up for food drop season, but what we have done to be a little creative in the midst of our current season of life is we’ve begun doing virtual food drops … and we are planning to continue that through the fall,”​ she said.

She explained that this approach allows the food banks to stockpile for the lean winter months and holiday season, but without putting additional strain on the food chain and grocery stores now. It also reduces the risk of contaminants entering the warehouse.

“The virtual food drives are a great option for those who want to help but not be a hindrance and it is an easy way to assist us in meeting our goals and mission,”​ she said.

But, she emphasized again, MFN and Feeding America are grateful for any and all support.

In addition to financially benefiting Feeding America, McGuinness said Chobani hopes the SKU will help shoppers by offering them a new flavor that hasn’t been available before in yogurt and nutritional profile that will lift their spirits and support their health.

“The combination of peanut butter and jelly is delicious and super nostalgic. It is a comfort food and will put a smile on your face” – ​two things that many Americans need as they continue to navigate frustrations associated with social distancing, McGuinness said.

Likewise, each cup of yogurt is made with three cups of milk, which means they deliver “a lot of protein and lot of probiotics. Plus, the peanut butter adds healthy fats. So, it is great nutritionally, in addition to being a lot of fun in terms of the flavor,”​ he added.

Chobani’s support expands beyond new product

The charity SKU is the latest in a long string of donations that Chobani has made since the outbreak began to help feed Americans, many of whom have lost jobs during the pandemic due to restrictions designed to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

For example, when the company was forced to close temporarily its SoHo Café as part of a larger economic shut down to stem the coronavirus, it quickly converted the space to a food pantry to serve the local community by passing out bags of donated food from Chobani and several startups and other partners.

In addition, the company has supported Feeding America by donating every day a truck load of fresh product to food banks​ and intake centers nationwide, providing media support and labor.

“We have hit the majority of states at this point, and the donations go where the need is most and grievous, and that is determined by the amount of food, Feeding America and local and community banks,”​ McGuinness said. “We also encourage our employees [in the area] to go and meet the trucks and help unpack and donate it … because these foodbanks not only need the food, they also need the labor.”

A track record of success

The Food Bank Batch is not the first time that Chobani has created a charity SKU to raise funds and awareness for a social challenge.

In late 2018, Chobani created a “patriotic”​ Red, White and Blueberry vanilla Greek yogurt with mixed berries​ on the bottom called Hero Batch that asked consumers to “help us donate $1 million to Operation Homefront,”​ a national non-profit that serves America’s military families.

While the SKU was originally planned as a limited edition, consumers loved the flavor and supporting veterans so much that McGuinness said Chobani decided to continue the product.

The company also recently launched a Milk & Cookies SKU around the Milk Matters initiative that supported dairy farmers through the American Farmland Trust. The company donated 10 cents from every four-pack of the SKU to the American Farmland Trust, which focuses on protecting farmland, adopting environmentally-sound farming practices and keeping farmers on the land.

‘Greek yogurt is booming’

Chobani’s effort to support those in need and its community also come at a time when the business – like all CPG players – faces many challenges due to COVID-19, including uncertainties about whether retailers will review and bring in new products while simultaneously struggling to keep shelves stocked with basics.

McGuinness confirmed though that “the vast majority of our customers will have resets,”​ in July and January – allowing the company to unveil soon “big exciting”​ innovations in Greek yogurt.

“Greek is growing double-digits and I think yogurt is a growth category. It was a growth category before COVID at the end of last year, and it was really turbocharged in the first quarter and now is even higher with COVID because people want healthy snacks, they want probiotics for immunity and protein,”​ McGuinness said.

“So,”​ he added, “we have a large Greek yogurt innovation coming out and we continue to see yogurt as underpenetrated.”

This month, the company also plans to unveil a new beverage innovation and additional Flips, which McGuinness noted are “just really nice, fun and healthy snacks.” ​In January, he added, the company has a “huge pipeline that will get us in even more categories”​ outside of yogurt.

While McGuinness does not believe any company can take credit for surging sales during the pantry-loading days of the pandemic, he does believe that as consumers continue to eat at home more and buy yogurt that they are forming new habits, which he doesn’t anticipate will change any time soon.

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