Once mundane, the suddenly sexy US yogurt business is attracting more big players that used to have nothing to do with the formerly sleepy category. The latest: Starbucks, which has formed a strategic partnership with Groupe Danone to market a new, exclusive line of Greek-style yogurt parfaits in Starbucks stores and grocery channels.
PepsiCo was the latest big non-yogurt brand to jump into a category that has become thorougly energized lately by the success of Greek yogurts, led by startup Chobani. PepsiCo hooked up with Germany's Muller brand to introduce a new US line this year.
For Starbucks, the leap into yogurt with the Paris-based parent of Dannon USA represents just the latest broadening of its product lines and distribution channels, which also have included picking up a baked-goods brand, Le Boulange, and tea-based interests such as the Teavana chain.
The yogurts will be marketed under another brand Starbucks acquired recently, Evolution Fresh. Evolution Fresh, Inspired by Dannon, will be co-created by the companies and begin to appear in US Starbucks stores next spring, then show up in supermarkets in 2015. Later, the brand will target foreign markets.
Starbucks sells existing yogurt brands in its stores but believes "a strategic agreement with Danone, the world leader in fresh dairy products, affords us the perfect opportunity to grow—and elevate—the Evolution Fresh brand both in our stores and in CPG channels," Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz said in a statement.
For its part, Danone highlighted the growing popularity of Greek yogurt and how the deal with Starbucks will give it "access to millions of consumers through distribution in Starbucks stores," as Danone CEO Franck Riboud put it in a statement.
Both brands also highlighted the connection they made on the vaguer platform of "brand values." "I was really looking to Starbucks because I love their community, the 70 million customers who visit their stores each week, and the way they attract and talk and listen to that community," Riboud told The New York Times.
Meanwhile, Schultz told the newspaper that lately he has been struck by "the ubiquity of yogurt brands" and figured that Starbucks needed more of that action. Yogurt sales have been accelerating quickly in Starbucks stores, he said.
With Starbucks also lately invading the retail single-serve home-coffee business, energy drinks with its Refreshers brand, and presumably other segments, the tether between the brand and purely imbibing coffee is growing slimmer and slimmer.
Starbucks has always represented itself as a lifestyle brand, so Greek yogurt is just the latest move to expand its relevance with key brand partnerships. It's also coming relatively late to the Greek yogurt craze, which prompted Unilever-owned Ben & Jerry's to relaunch its frozen yogurt line to go Greek — including a recent US campaign featuring Liz Lemon, the lead character in NBC's just-wrapped 30 Rock series starring Tina Fey.