CMO Q&A: Inside Chobani's plan to get Americans to eat as much yogurt as Europeans

In a year, Europeans eat 40 pounds of yogurt. Americans eat 12. Peter McGuinness, Chobani's chief marketing and brand officer, tells Diana Bradley how the brand is making the product more enticing to Americans.

Peter McGuinness
Peter McGuinness

How are you breaking through the noise during the Olympics?
Chobani has a new creative campaign as part of our Olympics #NoBadStuff platform that depicts the personal stories of Team USA athletes. They each showcase the importance of only letting positivity and goodness into your life. "No bad stuff" is a philosophy shared by Chobani from the beginning. Team Chobani features in a mix of TV, digital, social, and in-store advertising, and runs through the duration of the games. Additionally, as official yogurt sponsor of the 2016 U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Teams, Chobani joined Team USA in Rio and is serving products at the USA House and High Performance Training Centers during the Summer Games.

Chobani is moving beyond the dairy aisle to yogurt-based dips and drinks. What are the opportunities and challenges?
The opportunity is to grow consumption of yogurt in America. To do that, we need more Americans eating yogurt, more regularly. In a year, Europeans eat 40 pounds, Americans 12, Canadians 25. Europeans eat it through the day as a sour cream, butter, or mayonnaise substitute. We launched dips two years ago at our SoHo café, so we know consumers like them and will consume them in the afternoon. We can use dips in addition to our Flip and drink products to increase consumption and grow the category.

How are you rolling out the new products?
We put our dips in supermarket delis, where there are fresh items and a lot of hummus. Our dips have 85% less fat and 60% fewer calories than hummus. The collective hummus dips and salsa market is worth over $1 billion and growing double digits on a yearly basis. In terms of dips, we are doing a lot of customer shopper tactics and promotional tactics to launch the platform and a consumer campaign in the fall involving heavy sampling.

You have one brick and mortar location in New York. What are your marketing tactics with this and what do you learn from having in-store consumers?
We test and learn a lot. If something sticks, we develop, scale it, and sell at grocery stores. A lot of our wildly popular Flips were invented there. We had dips there for two years, studied people’s behavior, and how they feel about them. It’s a physical manifestation of the brand, so you get a glimpse into the Chobani look and feel and what a Mediterranean yogurt bar is. Our SoHo café is up 40% year over year. We’re excited about our Tribeca café [which opens in the fall]. We’re looking at opening a few more locations in the next year outside New York.

How do you work with influencers?
We work via a lot of basic local influencer engagement. Nutrition is a huge component of our brand, so we work with a large Rolodex of registered dieticians on a rolling basis. In June, we hosted a Chobani nutrition summit with 20 dieticians from across the country and immersed them in who we are as a brand and how our products are made. We hired Dr. Robert Post [ex-adviser to Michelle Obama's anti-obesity initiative] to head up regulatory and nutrition. He brings a level of objectivity and knowledge that is extremely beneficial and he’s extremely integrated with Chobani marketing, advertising, product development, and sales.

Earlier this year, a misleading image macro claimed your founder and CEO Hamdi Ulukaya vowed to "drown the United States in Muslims" and was "importing them to Idaho 300 at a time to work in his factory." How did you respond to this?
Obviously it is patently false. That is the CEO’s personal foundation Tent, it is not Chobani. I’m not going to comment on that.

In January, Chobani was sued by General Mills for using
scare tactics in ads about its Yoplait Greek 100 product. How do you comment?
We can’t comment on that right now.

Companies such as Chipotle and Honest Company have long touted the fact they use all-natural, GMO-free ingredients, only to come under more scrutiny when things go wrong. What’s your take on this and what’s Chobani’s game plan if a similar situation befalls your brand?
We’ve always used only natural, non-GMO ingredients. We have been consistently clear for many years. We go to great lengths to certify and verify that. That’s our food philosophy and we are unwavering.

How many people on the Chobani comms team?
Within corporate comms, there is community relations, government relations, exec visibility, and consumer PR. Eight people sit on the team. We don’t need a massive team with tons of bureaucracy and layers.

What PR agencies do you work with?
Weber Shandwick is our AOR. We used Olson Engage on our Meze Home project [to promote the new dips]. We just recently, through a distribution deal, are now in Mexico. Boden PR is helping with communications there.

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