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A Greek yogurt revival

5 min read

Food Retail

If anyone had been doubting that yogurt’s popularity is on the upswing, Starbucks recent announcement that it has partnered with Dannon to launch a new yogurt brand called Evolution Fresh, Inspired by Dannon, likely put those doubts to rest.

The fact that the line will launch with a Greek yogurt parfait in Starbucks stores next year isn’t surprising — many credit the thicker, stronger-flavored version of the cultured dairy product with reviving Americans’ taste for yogurt. When Dannon began selling its Oikos Greek yogurt, the product quickly won fans and, while sales of the company’s traditional products initially flattened out, they picked up again amid higher demand across the category, said Michael Neuwirth, Dannon’s senior public relations director. Last year, total U.S. yogurt sales hit $7.3 billion, up 6.6% from 2011, according to Packaged Facts, and Greek yogurt’s share of the market is 35%, up from 1% in 2007.

Dannon has since expanded its Greek yogurt offerings and launched an Oikos campaign featuring celebrity chef Michael Symon that includes recipes using the yogurt, and a separate print ad campaign in Men’s Health aimed at winning over more male fans. I spoke with Neuwirth recently to find out more.

Why is Greek yogurt suddenly everywhere?

The visibility is reflecting the market share gains. The Men’s Health ads, that’s a  first foray for us in marketing a Greek yogurt to men. We believe there’s an opportunity to carve out a special place in the diet of men who are trying to live more healthfully and looking for great sources of protein. The ads are entertaining but also a rational way to show the benefits of the product. You see a cup of Oikos on a barbecue grill or on a burger bun.

Then we also just launched a new campaign with Michael Symon, and that’s a new direction for us, at least as far as positioning the product as a very versatile cooking ingredient.

What are the benefits of tying a celebrity chef to the product?

Greek yogurt seems to be popping up in all kinds of places, and we were looking to connect the benefits of cooking with Greek yogurt with someone who spoke to the versatility and the kinds of foods he makes as a celebrity chef. The fact was that Michael Symon has eaten and cooked with Greek yogurt for a long, long time, and then when he found Oikos on his own, it was a very organic match for us. So his visibility is important when we think about the recognition we want to get for the campaign and he’s also been a wonderful partner for us to work with in the advertising and the development of recipes.

There are some of the more expected ways that he uses Oikos in recipes, in things like marinades and things like that, but then he also shows how it can be a replacement for other things like sour cream. He has also created some really interesting things like a sweet potato dish, that’s a lot of fun and absolutely delicious and it shows his creativity and the versatility of cooking with Greek yogurt, and Oikos in particular.

What makes yogurt “Greek”?

It’s made  using a traditional process. We make a traditional yogurt, then strain out the whey and it leaves a much thicker texture with a slightly different nutritional profile. It has more protein and less lactose. It’s a complete protein versus a denatured protein.  A plain Greek yogurt has a slightly more tangy or acidic taste to it. But most of the Greek yogurt consumed is not plain, it’s flavored with a nutritive or non-nutritive sweetener like fruit, puree, honey or sugar.

Yogurt has become increasingly popular over the years. Why Greek? Two things. First, it’s all about the taste. It has a much different taste profile than the traditional yogurt, so there’s thickness and creaminess that make it a different experience for people who try it.
The second reason is the high level of protein. We’re a global company, so we see the market all over. The phenomenal interest in Greek yogurt in the U.S. is. not being replicated in the rest of the world. Something particular in the U.S. is framing the shift. There’s an interest in protein, which is not a nutrient of concern. Americans get enough protein. The question is the kinds of proteins we’re getting. A non-fat Greek yogurt, can be an excellent source of protein, without the sat fat, sodium and other nutrients that should be limited.

What happened to traditional yogurt sales after Greek entered the scene?

Initially there was a shift in terms of people who had been buying traditional and started buying Greek, so we saw declines in some areas, for example the light areas and the proactive health brands. The core Dannon brands was either flat or in some cases declining as the Greek segment began to grow. Now, we’re beginning to see growth in all areas, at least across our business, as we see clearly the role Greek yogurt will play in the market, as well as the role traditional yogurts will play. Some people are going back to traditional yogurts, including some who are price sensitive. Greek is more expensive on an ounce-per-ounce basis. The cost of making it is higher, because it takes approximately three times as much milk to produce.