- Started in 2005, Chobani’s Greek yogurt has soared in popularity.
- Experts laid out how the company, which just confidentially filed to IPO, soared on grassroots and cause-led marketing.
- As yogurt sales have slowed and competition has heated up, Chobani’s branched out into new products.
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
Jackie Solomon, a New Jersey-based consultant, had been a loyal Chobani customer for years when she received a promotional email about its new ready-to-drink coffee earlier this year. Trying it was a no-brainer.
“They are always listening to consumers and their feedback… and also hold contests to create new items or allow fans to vote for the next product,” she said. “This [is] how engaging Chobani is.”
Founded in 2005, Chobani has become synonymous with Greek yogurt in the US and has gained market share, getting incumbents to follow and branching out to multiple categories. It’s raking in nearly $2 billion in annual revenue, per The Wall Street Journal, and it just confidentially filed for an IPO.
Chobani’s rise has come despite a relatively small advertising budget. It spent just about $16 million on advertising in 2020 versus Danone’s $50.8 million, according to Kantar. Danone had a third of the share of the $10.1 billion yogurt category in the US in 2020 compared to Chobani’s 19.1%, according to Euromonitor International.
Experts attributed Chobani’s ascent to its taking its advertising in-house and its use of grassroots tactics, experiential marketing, and “purpose-driven” marketing. Chobani declined to comment for this story.
More companies have started handling their advertising in-house in recent years. But under former CMO and now president Peter McGuinness, Chobani was ahead of the curve. This approach helped the company move fast on its 2017 redesign and other campaigns and win accolades like a gold award at The One Club for its package redesign and Ad Age’s 2019 “In-House Agency of the Year.”
“They were early on in-housing, but more critically, they brought in creative and strategy,” said Keith Hernandez, founder of consultancy Launch Angle, which has worked with Chobani. “Many companies only end up bringing programmatic in-house or are doing simple banner ads. Chobani actually hired smart, strategic people who created the work we see on billboards, TV spots and on the products themselves.”
Chobani also got in on purpose-driven marketing early. It supported LGBTQIA+ rights with its opposition of Russia’s anti-gay laws and its 2015 “Love This Life” campaign. It’s also gotten positive press for its refugee advocacy and moves like giving employees 10% ownership in the company.
“Purpose has today become a corporate navel-gazing exercise, but Chobani is different because every aspect of the company has always laddered up to its mission,” said Erich Joachimsthaler, the founder and CEO at the branding firm Vivaldi Group.
Chobani also took a grassroots approach to its marketing. It put Ulukaya’s own number on its packaging for people to call in its early days and ran campaigns featuring videos, photos and comments submitted by fans. In another unusual stunt, it promised free yogurt to every American in a 2018 campaign “One For All” — increasing household penetration from 33.8% to 37.7% in three months.
It also led the charge on experiential marketing with initiatives like a retail store in New York City’s Soho in 2015, said Nick Drabicky, VP of client strategy at the ad agency PMG.
As yogurt sales have slowed in recent years, and competition has heated up from both giants like Nestlé and Danone and upstarts like Oatly, Chobani has expanded to products like oat milk, refrigerated coffees, and functional beverages like kombucha while pitching itself as committed to wellness.
“There has been a major push in these directions over the past four to five years, and Chobani’s forward-looking approach positioned them to not only time the market correctly but also execute on the plans,” said PMG’s Drabicky.
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