Ideas that power yogurt sales

February 17, 2019
Julie Myers, Freelance Writer
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I confess: I love milk products even though I am somewhat lactose-intolerant. That means I buy several brands of yogurt (usually whole milk and organic), which I gleefully eat like dessert for breakfast. Or, for lunch. Or, whenever. I also have real cream in my coffee and grass-fed whole milk with my cereal – but that's another story.

Today, we're talking about yogurt.

Based on per capita consumption, the U.S. yogurt market is still in its infancy. In other countries, people consume two to six times more yogurt.

Euromonitor, General Mills

But U.S. per capital consumption of yogurt has declined since it flatlined in 2013-2014. Both conventional and Greek-style yogurts have been affected.

The intellectual history of yogurt

Ever since I took a course from Dr. Harold Parker on intellectual history, I've been interested in the history of ideas – how ideas become part of our cultural consciousness and build on each other

Given the fragmented state of the yogurt market today, how can we make heads or tails of it? And how can we write about different brands in ways that will be meaningful and compelling for consumers?

Let's take it blow by blow, one idea at a time.

1977: "Yogurt is a mainstream health food."

Traditional yogurt (the "real" kind) is too sour for American tastes. Introduced in 1947, Dannon yogurt (Danone North America) with fruit on the bottom made yogurt palatable if not exactly popular.

By the 1970s, things had changed. Advertising linking yogurt to longevity positioned Dannon as a healthy choice. By the 1980s, total U.S. yogurt sales were growing 18% annually. This spurred a host of product innovations, including frozen yogurt and Go-Gurt.

With Dannon, the idea of yogurt as a healthful food became part the American mindset.

Dannon Yogurt

1979: "Yogurt is foreign (in a good way)."

This is the cornerstone idea yogurt is built on. In 1979, General Mills introduced "rich and creamy, all-natural" Yoplait to the U.S. with a television campaign emphasizing the brand's "French culture."

  • Siggi's (introduced in 2004) is thick Icelandic-style yogurt (skyr); it launched before Chobani but sales did not skyrocket until 2015, when it became the fastest-growing yogurt
  • Chobani (introduced in 2007) disrupted the yogurt category with a thicker, creamier Greek-style yogurt
  • Noosa (introduced in 2014) is generating $250 million in annual sales of its thick and creamy yogurt "made with the finest ingredients" and "Aussie culture"
  • Oui by Yoplait (General Mills, introduced in 2017) is French-style yogurt; it topped $100 million is sales in its first 12 months

Yoplait introduced the idea of yogurt as a creamy indulgence from another culture.

First Yoplait commercial 1979

1982: "Yogurt is a low-calorie, low-fat diet food."

U.S. Dietary Guidelines led to the 1980s low-fat movement. All three big players (Chobani, Danone, General Mills) offer fat-free and low-fat products.

  • General Mills purchased a controlling interest in French dairy cooperative Yoplait in 2011 after acting as its sole U.S. distributor since 1977
  • Yoplait's extensive product low-fat line made it the dominant market player for decades. In 2012, it was the leading U.S. yogurt with 24% market share but this dropped to 14% by 2016

1985: "Yogurt is a convenient and nutritious breakfast on-the-run."

Yoplait didn't invent yogurt for breakfast, but it latched onto the trend. Today, more than 90% of yogurt is eaten for breakfast. (Source: Cargill) Yet 40% of adults – notably millennials – skip breakfast altogether.

  • Between 1999 and 2012, consumption of yogurt for breakfast quadrupled. (Source: Nielsen Trends in Yogurt Consumption).
  • At the same time, eating cold cereal for breakfast dwindled, particularly among millennials.
1985 spot for Yoplait Breakfast Yogurt

1998: "Yogurt is cool for kids."

General Mills was first to launch yogurt for kids. In 1999, after tests in regional markets, Go-Gurt was rolled out across the U.S. It posted $100 million in retail sales within 12 months and helped General Mills hit the no. 1 spot in the yogurt category, ahead of Dannon. An article by AdAge pointed out the product won because it combined the first freezable yogurt with tube packaging, making it ideal for lunchboxes. Kid-centric flavors and a television campaign that positioned yogurt as cool also helped.

"It's remarkable how quickly Go-Gurt has permeated the whole kid environment and become a critical part of the fabric of kids' lives."

Ian Friendly, President Yoplait/Colombo Division, General Mills

2003: "Yogurt is good because it has probiotics."

Danone introduced probiotic yogurt to America in 2003 and its Activia and DanActive brands are synonymous with the category. It has added probiotic yogurt drinks (Dailies) and Greek versions.

  • Danone has had its problems, too. A class-action suit launched in 2009 alleged false advertising and wound up costing the company $56 million.
  • Commercials with Jamie Lee Curtis established Dannon Activia as the leader in digestive yogurt, but the message positioned the yogurt as being a remedy for older people with stomach problems.
  • The brand has struggled unsuccessfully to resonate with women between 30 and 40 years old, most recently in a 2017 television campaign.

2006: "Organic yogurt is healthier for everyone."

Stonyfield Field began making yogurt from its own cows in 1983, but realized they could grow faster if they used milk from nearby farms. Danone bought a 40% stake in 2001. Ultimately, Danone bought out Stonyfield in 2014 and then in 2017, it sold the company to Lactalis so it could acquire natural foods company WhiteWave.

  • In 2013, only 11% of shoppers bought organic yogurt on a frequent basis
  • By 2017, 34% of yogurt consumers bought organic yogurt at least once a week
  • Stonyfield Farm is the world's largest organic yogurt maker.
  • Organic Valley makes grass-fed yogurt and is also largest milk supplier to competitor Stonyfield Farm
  • WhiteWave (Danone) owns Wallaby organic yogurt brand and Horizon organic yogurt brand

[In 2003] Flavor, in fact, seems to have fallen fairly far down the list of what motivates consumers and producers of organic food: health concerns and simple market share are taking priority, not only over flavor but also over the environment. 

Corby Kummer, The Atlantic, 2003

[2006] What was once a cottage industry of family farms has become Big Business, with all that that implies, including pressure from Wall Street to scale up and boost profits. (Stonyfield founder and CEO) Gary Hirshberg himself is under the gun because he has sold an 85% stake in Stonyfield to the French food giant Groupe Danone. To retain management control, he has to keep Stonyfield growing at double-digit rates. Yet faced with a supply crunch, he has drastically cut the percentage of organic products in his line. He also has scaled back annual sales growth, from almost 40% to 20%. "They're all mad at me," he says.

Diane Brady, Bloomberg Businessweek
Progressive Grocer
Organic Valley company retrospective... 12+ million views

2007: "Greek yogurt is a creamy, high-protein snack."

Fage, the leading yogurt producer in Greece, has been on U.S. grocery shelves since 1998. In 2006, Greek-style (strained) yogurt was just 4% of the U.S. yogurt sales. Atlanta adman Al Ries explains how Fage lost the Greek yogurt wars to Chobani in an article for AdAge.

  • Chobani was launched in 2007 and disrupted the category.
  • From 2009 to 2010, sales of Chobani shot up 162%.
  • Dannon Oikos (Danone North America) was introduced in 2010 and rang up $283+ million in sales in 2012.
  • Unlike Danone North America, General Mills failed to see the writing on the wall. It did not launch a Greek-style yogurt (Yoplait Greek) until 2012, two years behind the introduction of Dannon Oikos.
  • By 2013, Greek yogurt comprised 40% of the $7 billion spoonable yogurt market. It was seeing year-over-year growth of 41% but by 2015 this had leveled off.
  • By 2015, sales of Yoplait peaked. In 2016 Yoplait sales plummeted 23% while the other leading brands gained ground. Yoplait's market share dropped to 19%, placing it behind Dannon and Chobani. General Mills acknowledged that competitors had better products and that they'd raised prices too much compared to rivals.
  • Chobani, the leading Greek yogurt brand, saw sales fall by almost 5% in 2016. By 2017, sales of Greek yogurt had declined by 4..4%. (Source: Nielsen, Winsight Grocery Business)
  • Greek yogurt now accounts almost a third of total U.S. yogurt volume sales, but Greek yogurt is beginning to weaken as other strained products enter the market, including Aussie and Icelandic yogurts, plus Yoplait's successful French-style yogurt, Oui. It also faces competition from non-category choices like snack bars.

Consumers of traditional light yogurts are pivoting away from this segment (conventional yogurts) to products that provide more satiety, like Greek yogurts.

Ken Powell, General Mills CEO
IRI Dec. 2017
General Mills
Bloomberg, IRI
Chobani's first TV campaign - 2011

2008: "Yogurt has simple ingredients and less sugar."

Yogurt with less sugar has been around for years, but those products used artificial sweeteners that modern consumers want to avoid. 76% of Americans say they want to avoid or limit sugar. Almost the same number say they check nutrition labels. (Study by the Hartman Group )

Siggi's (founded 2004) bills itself as having "simple ingredients and not a lot of sugar".

Whole Foods began carrying it in 2008 and nine years later it had annual sales of about $200 million.

Lactalis bought it in 2017.

  • The less sugar category has been slow to catch on, but is now exploding. According to market research firm Mintel, in 2017, 11.9% of yogurt product launches promised low, no or reduced sugar and 13.6% promised high or added protein, but by the first eight months of 2018, those figures spiked to 21.5% and 30.4%, respectively
  • Siggi's has 9 grams sugar per cup; General Mills introduced a low-sugar yogurt (YQ by Yoplait) in 2018 with 9 grams sugar per cup; Chobani's Less Sugar Greek yogurt came out in 2018 and Hint Of line in 2019 with 9 grams sugar per cup; Danone introduces Two Good Greek-style low-sugar yogurt as part of its Light & Fit line in 2019 with just 2 grams sugar per cup

One of the most persistent knocks on Yoplait, and other conventional yogurts, is that it contains too much sugar. Chobani and Noosa are plenty sweet, but customers are willing to indulge some flaws if they feel the brand is authentic.

Craig Giamonna, Bloomberg News

2015: "Vegan yogurt is the choice for a sustainable planet."

In 2017, a Nielsen survey found that 39% of American households are trying to eat more plant-based foods. This includes plant-based yogurt, which saw 56% growth in 2017.

  • Veganism is here to stay. The trend has increased 600% in the U.S since 2014 and 12% of millennials self-identify as vegan. Gen Z is even more committed to plant-based foods.
  • Non-dairy yogurt is not really a new idea. The first commercial soy yogurt was made and sold in 1911 by a French firm. Dr. John Harvey Kellogg patented a soy formulation in the U.S. in the 1930s. Soyogurt was developed and launched in Miami, Florida in 1977; it was followed by other American non-dairy yogurts focused on the health food market.
  • Leading plant-based yogurt brands include So Delicious, Silk, Good Karma, Forager, and Ripple.
  • So Delicious made by WhiteWave has sold non-dairy yogurts since 1993 made from soy, coconut, almond, and cashew milks. WhiteWave also owns the well-known vegan brand Silk as well as the organic dairy products brand Wallaby. Danone S.A. acquired WhiteWave in 2016.
  • Chobani launched coconut milk vegan spoonable and drinkable yogurts in 2019

The shift toward plant-based foods is being driven by millennials, who are most likely to consider the food source, animal welfare issues, and environmental impacts when making their purchasing decisions.

Fiona Dyer, Analyst with Global Data

For the yogurt industry specifically, the trend has brought to store shelves dairy-free, plant-based yogurt featuring ingredients such as soy, coconut, almonds and cashews, as well as pea-based yogurt.

Daniel Granderson, Packaged Facts
Millennial taste testing of vegan yogurts

2015: "Full-fat yogurt is good for you...think avocado toast."

For decades, Americans chose low-fat dairy products based on U.S. Dietary Guidelines that cautioned against the consumption of saturated fats.

Younger demographics get nutrition information from their own sources. They recognize the dietary value of fat and have driven Instagrammable crazes like avocado on toast, which tripled avocado consumption by 2015. Likewise, millennials are buying full-fat dairy products, 

  • Full-fat yogurts, including Noosa and Siggi's, have shot up in popularity. Liberté Méditerranée yogurt (General Mills) and Siggi's Triple Cream have twice as much fat (9%) as most full-fat yogurts. Peak has 17% fat content.
  • According to Nielsen research, Icelandic-style and full-fat dairy yogurts were "pockets of growth" in 2018, which saw a continued decline in sales of Greek yogurt (-8.2%) and non-fat dairy yogurts (-12.9%).
  • Millennials are suspicious of foods that have been highly processed, like low-fat yogurts, and higher fat content allows yogurt makers to create flavorful yogurt with lower added sugar.
  • In 2018, full-fat yogurt sales increased by 11.6% – but they still make up slightly more than 15% of total yogurt sales
IRI 2018, 2015
U.S. Dept. of Agriculture

2016: "Drinkable yogurt is easy to enjoy on the go."

Spoonable yogurt makes up 90% of yogurt sales but drinkable yogurt is beginning to gain traction. Sales of yogurt drinks rose 62% between 2011 and 2016 and continue to rise. Even so, it faces challenges – including competition from smoothies and other drinkables.

  • More than 80% of adults don't consume yogurt drinks and only two in five adults is interested in trying them
  • Brands making headway in the category include Lala, Lifeway, Stonyfield Farms, Yakult, Marquez Brothers, Yoplait, Dannon and Chobani

Most people only think about eating their yogurt and not drinking it. People also told us that they’re not fans of the thicker texture of drinkable yogurt, which is odd because they appreciate that with cup yogurts—and they often demand a thick texture with fruit smoothies and shakes.

Beth Bloom, food and drink analyst for Mintel

2017: "What a great little jar... and the yogurt is good too."

In 2017, General Mills introduced Oui by Yoplait. It is creamy French-style yogurt made from "simple ingredients" poured and set in a glass cup. Retail sales topped $100 million within 12 months of its launch.

  • Oui has 15 grams of sugar per cup while Chobani has 16, but sugar does not explain its appeal.
  • Look on Oui's website and you will see crafts devoted to making use of the glass jar the yogurt comes in. The yogurt is aimed squarely at female millennials, who enjoy repurposing objects. Drinks Business called glass "the perfect packaging for millennials."
  • There are even Pinterest boards devoted to Oui jars.
  • Forbes described how Oui's transparent glass jar has taken the yogurt world by storm and is part of a cultural shift in packaging.

Oui by Yoplait introduces an entirely new category of yogurt to the U.S. using a recipe that has been enjoyed for decades in France. It is a subtly sweet yogurt inspired by Yoplait’s traditional French recipe, made with simple non-GMO ingredients, poured and set in a glass pot.

David Clark, President U.S. Yogurt General Mills

2019: "What's next?"

The research firm Packaged Facts suggests U.S. yogurt sales have the potential to increase to $9.8 billion in 2022.

But the truth is, yogurt sales are sagging. Per capita consumption in the U.S. peaked in 2013-2014 and has stagnated ever since. Total dollar sales tracked by IRI show yogurt sales dropped 0.8% in 2016, 1.6% in 2017, and 2.7% in 2018. (Source: Nielsen)

  • According to Research and Markets, growth of the U.S. yogurt category overall has stalled due to disappointing sales of traditional light yogurt. In 2015 alone, sales of light yogurt fell 8.5% or $200 million.
  • But Greek yogurt sales are also dropping as market share is diverted by similar thick and creamy products. Greek yogurt sales declined 4.4% in 2018.
  • Yogurt not only faces in-category competition, it has to deal with alternatives like snack bars, jerky and protein smoothies.
U.S. Dept. of Agriculture

Several trends seem solid: consumer preference for thick and creamy strained yogurt, the desire for on-the-go convenience, and consumption patterns that make yogurt a meal. All-natural yogurts without GMOs or artificial ingredients are probably perceived as "near-healthy" to more costly organic yogurts (Both Siggi and Oui call this "simple ingredients"). Glass packaging fits in with millennial sustainability values – but only if you eat it near a recycling bin.

Let's package whole-milk, high-protein yogurt with "simple ingredients" in transparent, biodegradable disposable meal-size 8 oz. cups with disposable spoons. Danone has already taken the first steps toward biodegradable plastic.

Yogurt visual rebranding

Words and visual elements work together to create a message. In fact, packaging has very little wording (usually) and leans heavily on visual branding. As yogurt makers scrambled to plug leaky sales, they also reinvented their visual brands.

Chobani

Packaging redesign

In 2017, Chobani's in-house team led by Leland Mashmeyer (who joined the company as Chief Creative Officer in 2016) redesigned its logo and packaging to attract more consumers and stand out from competitors:

  • Matte finish instead of glossy look
  • Fruit look like paintings not photos
  • Curvy lowercase font instead of straight, capitalized style
  • Chobani's Smooth (non-Greek) and Flip (yogurt with add-ins) lines kept more colorful packaging
The old look
The new look (notice the typeface and painterly fruit)
Chobani Flip video

General Mills

Brand positioning strategies

General Mills' new CEO, Jeffrey L. Harmening, said the company would revitalize yogurt sales using the same strategies that pulled cereals out of a five-year slump. This entailed launching new products to fit consumer preferences.

Oui packaging design

Our design took inspiration from French-style cursive handwriting, the rounded strokes of the Oui mark evoke a carefree and approachable aesthetic, while the handmade nature of the product is further mirrored in the watercolor texture in the letterforms. Reflecting the French countryside and French kitchens, the blue palette has become a key equity against new glass pot structure which reflects the brand's premium nature in a sustainable way.

(Pearlfisher, London Design Team (CORE 77 Design Awards Runner Up 2018)

Liberté packaging design

Pearlfisher, the design agency that also created Oui packaging, stated the goal of Liberté yogurt's packaging design was to "move from a dairy brand to a premium lifestyle brand."

Founded by a group of explorers, today Liberté attracts a community of like-minded, curious consumers who want and expect more from their food. We dialed up this notion, identifying this contemporary group as “Kindred Seekers” 

Pearlfisher

Translating the above into earthier language, the packaging is designed to appeal to millennials, who expect food to connect with them in unique ways. Liberté includes cheeky little factoids on its foil lids. Noosa does the same thing.

YQ packaging design

Billed as "smarter not sweeter" the packaging for this lower-sugar entry presents "just the facts" in a gender-neutral color scheme.

The dark-grey color palette stands as an impactful presence in the yogurt aisle, stepping away from convention and cueing a more gender-neutral product. Differentiation between each of the eight flavors is established by a distinct, yet subtle color to mirror the lightness of each recipe. The simplicity of the typography on the face of each yogurt cup illustrates the brand's desire to offer consumers more of what they need and less of what they don't. In fact, the nutritional value of each flavor is framed by the letter "Q", like a magnifying glass bringing the protein and sugar intake into direct view.

Pearlfisher

Dannon Company

Activia packaging

We revisited the entire ACTIVIA ecosystem including a refreshed brand mark, a revised tone of their proprietary green color and new packaging structure and photographic style. The design visually recounts a story at the heart of the new ACTIVIA positioning: the synthesis of science and nature, mind and core, health and pleasure. One of the key elements we created is the new brand icon: a symbol of synergy and balance, key drivers of the new brand storyline.

Futurebrand 2016
Old look
New look

Want to see more yogurt packaging? Check out this Pinterest board.

P.S. Cheat sheet of the leading yogurt brands

Just three powerhouses –Danone-North America, General Mills, and Chobani – control 75% of the U.S. yogurt market.

  • Siggi's, launched in 2004, is the number one Icelandic-style brand. It is also the best-selling yogurt at Whole Foods as well as the fastest-growing national brand. In 2017, it was acquired by the French dairy firm for approximately $300 million.
  • Lactalis also purchased the world's largest organic yogurt producer, Stonyfield Farms, from Danone in 2017. Danone sold Stonyfield in order to purchase Denver-based WhiteWave Foods.
  • Danone North America is the American branch of the French conglomerate Group Danone. Danone has the largest U.S. market share (37%) when all its brands are included. Its Dannon yogurts include whole-milk yogurt ("deliciousness in a cup"), fruit on the bottom yogurts (sold since 1947), low-fat yogurts, plain all-natural yogurt, Creamy no-fat yogurt. Danimals yogurts and smoothies for kids include tubes and squeezables. Dannon Activia is the leading probiotic yogurt. Danone's Oikos Greek-style yogurts include Oh! double-cream yogurt, non-fat, drinkable, and yogurt with add-ins. It bought WhiteWave in 2017. Danone-WhiteWave brands include Horizon organic dairy, So Delicious nut-based yogurt, Silk plant-based yogurt and beverages, and Wallaby organic yogurts.
  • Yoplait was founded in the 1960s by a French dairy farmers' cooperative. General Mills acquired a controlling interest in Yoplait in 2011 after operating its U.S. franchise since 1977. Yoplait brands includes Greek, Light, YoPlus (pobiotic), Dippers (with add-ins), Oui, and a new brand YQ. Liberté originally began in 1936 in Montreal as a cheese producer, but began to make artisanal organic yogurt in 1964. It was sold to Yoplait in 2010. The same year, General Mills acquired the Mountain High yogurt brand from Dean Foods after Dean Foods announced a 51% corporate-wide drop in profits compared to 2009. Annie's organic food has been in production since 1980, when Annie Withey co-founded the company based on the idea of providing a healthy mac 'n cheese. General Mills acquired Annie's in 2014. In 2016, General Mills began reworking its yogurt portfolio. One change was to boost protein and decrease sugar in its light Greek 100 line. Another was to roll out its organic brands (Annie's and Liberté) across the U.S. Oui French-style yogurt was introduced in July 2017.
  • Chobani was founded by Hamdi Ulakaya in 2005, but the brand did not launch until two years later. Chobani quickly became the top-selling Greek-style yogurt in the U.S. with annual revenues of $1 billion in 2012. Chobani also has a traditional yogurt (Smooth), an add-in product (Flip), a kid's line (Gimmies), low-sugar products, a drinkable yogurt, and a vegan product,
  • Noosa Australian-style yogurt (introduced in 2008) was bought by a private equity firm, Advent International, in 2014.
  • Fage, the leading yogurt in Greece, was introduced to the U.S. in the 1990s. It is America's second biggest Greek yogurt brand after Chobani.
2018 Simmons Research

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ABOUT BRAND STAMPEDE
Brand Stampede LLC is the rebranded identity of MiamiWriter, a copywriting consultancy founded in 2000 by Julie Myers.
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Briefly...

I am a Florida-based freelance copywriter who works with clients across the U.S. and globally. My specialty is creating voices for experiential brands and using them consistently across digital and traditional channels. I have been a copywriter for 30 years and have loved (almost) every minute of it.

To solve a problem, begin by looking at it in new ways. Asking new questions will result in new answers.

If you have questions, drop me an email. If you are in a panic give me a call (but email is usually a better way to go.)
Julie Myers | Copywriter
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