Lifeway CEO provides '2.0' update, talks moving into dairy alternative space

By Ryan Daily

- Last updated on GMT

Image Credit: Getty Images - 	Anna Puzatykh
Image Credit: Getty Images - Anna Puzatykh

Related tags Kefir Dairy

Kefir company Lifeway Foods is making progress towards its “2.0” strategy of expanding its distribution, releasing products for the on-the-go consumers, and enhancing the overall, company CEO Julie Smolyansky shared at the recent ICR investor’s conference.

After launching the plan in 2018, Lifeway has more recently been able to “start really monetizing this awareness that [it] created,​” Smolyansky said. Looking at the company’s most recent financials, Lifeway saw a 29.1% increase​ in net sales year-over-year, reaching $38.1 million for the third quarter of 2022, ending Sept. 30, 2022.

Expanding into non-dairy drinkable yogurts

As part of this overall 2.0 business strategy, Lifeway acquired GlenOaks Farms in 2021, which broadened “the portfolio and consumer reach of Lifeway,​” and allowed the brand to move into the non-dairy drinkable yogurt category​.

Last year, Lifeway made progress towards the innovating for on-the-go consumers part of its plan by releasing Lifeway Organic Oat, a fermented oat drink that is currently available in six flavors​: Plain, Blueberry Maple, Strawberry Vanilla, Peach, Mixed Berry, and Vanilla. This beverage can also be purchased from Whole Foods, Kroger, and Ralphs.

Capitalizing on probiotic awareness and pandemic shifts

Lifeway also continues to raise awareness for its products, while also tapping into larger awareness around probiotics.

For the broader market, more consumers today are familiar with probiotics than ever been before, which has helped Lifeway’s business, Smolyansky noted. For instance, she shared research from bioscience company Chr. Hansen​ that reported 75% of over 15,000 global consumers surveyed said that they were “very” or “somewhat familiar” with probiotics.

Lifeway further bolstered awareness for probiotics throughout the pandemic by shifting attention away from in-store demos to digital marketing, including “buying AdWords and space on Instacart and Amazon​,” Smolyansky said. And through its marketing and digital marketing efforts, Lifeway was able to achieve a high degree of brand loyalty, with 71% of Lifeway consumers being repeat customers, she added.

Another part of its digital brand awareness building is using influencer marketing, Smolyansky said. In addition to partnering with The Bachelor star Joe Amabile, Lifeway has partnered with “famous TikTok stars and other celebrity ambassadors​,” which “helped [it] reach over 12 million new users​,” she said.

But with the return of more in-person events, Lifeway has been able to do more traditional marketing activities, which include a pop-up smoothie bar in Miami that’ll run through the spring break seasons. Additionally, Lifeway has returned to support music events like Lollapalooza and Austin City Limits, she added.

Addressing challenges to the dairy market

The Lifeway brand and the larger dairy category have had their fair share of challenges, but show signs of improvement, Smolyansky pointed out. 

"While we did hit some challenges several years ago around the anti-dairy movement or plant-based, we've seen the pendulum swing back dramatically back to dairy, back to brands that consumers know.​"

And like many other food brands, Lifeway increased its price due to inflation and market conditions twice, Smolyansky said. However, “consumers did not turn away from Lifeway, despite the price increases​,” as the brand is seeing both revenue and sales growth, she explained.

In addition to these market challenges, Lifeway faced some internal challenges last year in the form of a family feud between key shareholders of the company, including Edward and Ludmila Smolyansky (brother and mother to Julie). While Julie Smolyansky ultimately retained the position of company CEO, the board committed to exploring “strategic alternatives”​ for the company moving forward.

Opportunity for consumers who buy multiple dairy products

Despite these business challenges and some fears that plant-based would eat into dairy, Smolyansky sees a bright future for Lifeway in dairy and non-dairy alike. 

Although I'm a dairy girl, I believe in dairy; I believe in the future of fermented dairy, and specifically, kefir, we see that most households are buying multiple types of dairy or dairy alternatives in their household. So, we know that plant-based foods are important, so we're thrilled to have an option for those consumers.​”

Related topics Dairy

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