Just because Chobani has opened up a huge lead in the Greek-style category it invented — and that is reshaping the U.S. yogurt business — doesn't mean that others can't try to chip away. Dannon has grabbed a significant share after sensing the opportunity with Chobani's rapid rise.
Other players, big and small, also are attempting to make more noise and get their stakes of a Greek-style market that has been calculated at about $1.5 billion a year now and still growing by strong double-digits — even coming up in discussions of Greece's Eurozone crisis. Yoplait, Hain Celestial and the Pinkberry chain are among the brands that are making their own plays. Ben & Jerry's just revamped its frozen yogurt line to make Greek Yogurt the basis of the line. Fage and Chobani have a friend in U.S. senator Chuck Schumer.
The most closely watched Greek yogurt brand is Yoplait. The General Mills line, which has shared the top of the U.S. yogurt market with Dannon for many years, got a particularly late start in the Greek segment. But now it's launching 40 new yogurt products, and Greek yogurt will be the centerpiece of that rollout this summer.
When Yoplait came onto the scene with Yoplait Greek in 2010, it wasn't a very convincing entry. Yoplait holds only a 6-percent share of the Greek segment, according to Sanford C. Bernstein research, and its share hasn't grown much lately.
Now, Yoplait hopes to catch up with new offerings including Greek 100, a 100-calorie version that will be launched in August with the blessing of Weight Watchers, and Greek Parfaits, made with General Mills' own Nature Valley Granola.
"This is an incredibly dynamic category, with significant changes in almost every year," Michael Harad, marketing director for Yoplait Greek, is quoted by MarketWatch, which added —
Executives declined to say how much they'll invest to prop up its yogurt business, which makes up 15% of its $10.2 billion U.S. retail division in fiscal 2011, but it will include a full lineup of television and other advertisements, plus coupons and promotions to generate trials.
Additionally, next month, General Mills will take over U.S. sales of Liberte Mediterranee, a rich, creamy yogurt popular in Canada. It plans to slowly build distribution for the brand, which has about $14 million in the U.S. Liberte is owned by Yoplait SAS, which General Mills bought a 51% stake of last year. General Mills will sell the brand, including its Greek version, under a licensing deal.
"There is no question that we have ground to make up in Greek yogurt, and we have a plan to become a much more meaningful player in the Greek segment," Steve Young, Yoplait's VP of marketing, told Ad Age.
Yet "for the long term," Young stressed, Yoplait sees growth elsewhere in yogurt. That is a significant strategic determination because lately Yoplait and other yogurt brands, even fellow innovators such as Dannon, haven't been able to generate much growth in areas such as kids' yogurts, and light yogurts, that propelled growth in the past.
Yoplait also is introducing non-Greek products such as Simplait, who touts "just 6 simple ingredients, and Fruplait, which has twice the fruit of regular Yoplait.
Meantime, Greek Gods, a startup that Hain Celestial acquired a few years ago, is battling with Yoplait for the No. 3 spot in the Greek segment behind Chobani and Dannon. "Our yogurts 'eat' exceptionally well," Basil Nassar, COO of the Hain division that handles Greek yogurt and founder of the brand, told brandchannel. "They have higher efficacy with respect to protein delivery and the thickness and creaminess of the product. We also spend a fair amount of time focusing on alternative sweeteners, such as honey and sugar. That has contributed spectacularly to Greek Gods' growth."
All of the action around Greek in the supermarket dairy case isn't lost on a brand that has become a giant in its own right, in its segment: Pinkberry. The fast-growing quick-serve frozen yogurt brand plans to introduce a non-frozen Greek-style yogurt for the chain's new breakfast hours as well as throughout the day.
"Our challenge is that we're offering an authentic Greek yogurt, not a frozen version," Pinkberry CEO Ron Graves told Nation's Restaurant News. Some competing chains have introduced frozen Greek yogurts, including TCBY. "We're still learning and getting feedback from customers about what they like. But the response so far has been great."