Julie Smolyansky has grown her $110-million-a-year family business by always innovating the packaging and marketing of kefir, a probiotic drink from Eastern Europe. She walked Fast Company through one particular dilemma.
Smolyansky is CEO of Lifeways Foods in Chicago, whose key product is a yogurt drink called kefir. Smolyanksy became CEO at 27, after her father’s death. To accelerate sales, she needed to market the product’s health benefits.
Early on, Smolyansky created an ad campaign that conventionally conveyed health with a photo of a young and superthin woman. There was a backlash when her customer base–predominantly women–complained about the image of the gaunt supermodel. Smolyansky swore she’d never rely on pictures
of people again.
Recently, after building a new factory, Smolyansky changed her mind. This time, however, she chose images that projected more varied and realistic body types. She started with a photo of herself–pregnant. “Putting my pregnancy photos out there was a big deal,” she says. “You don’t see pregnant CEOs. Marissa Mayer certainly didn’t put herself out there. But we wanted to start a conversation about body image, about what it means to be a mother, about what it means to be a CEO.”
By bringing this kind of creativity to the marketing of a traditional drink, Smolyansky has doubled Lifeways’ revenue over the last half-decade.