Sometimes good ideas happen not in the boardroom, but at the dinner table. Last summer, Julie Smolyansky, the CEO of kefir company Lifeway Foods, attended a dinner party with fashion designer Cynthia Rowley. During conversation, Rowley mentioned she was preparing to launch a new line of fashionable athletic wear, and Smolyansky’s ears perked up.
"Being a runner myself and a sports person, I was so thrilled to have some fashion in my athletic wear," Smolyansky told Fast Company. "I also thought, 'Hey, this could be an interesting collaboration where she could design our labels and use a pattern from her collection to kind of bring that design element and fashion and sexiness to our line of kefir products.'"
When inspiration hit, she didn’t hesitate. She pitched the idea to Rowley over dinner, and a partnership was born. From March through June of this year, Rowley’s designs will appear on bottles of Lifeway’s limited edition spring kefir flavor, Hibiscus Rhubarb Pie. It will certainly stand out in the dairy section—Lifeway’s traditional labels are playfully pastel-colored, but the new design is black with pops of pink and swirling blue.
The move is part of Smolyansky’s attempt to make kefir sexy, a tall order for a fermented dairy product. "You think dairy and you think of a boring old category," she says. "You think of your grandpa’s yogurt. But we are actively looking to push that boundary. We’ve created this new category of kefir and made it relevant and continue to make it relevant."
Indeed, Lifeway Foods, which is celebrating its 30th birthday this year, is pulling in roughly $150 million in annual revenue. That’s thanks in part to America’s growing interest in all things gut health, but also to Smolyansky’s creative marketing ideas. In 2014, she used her own pregnancy pictures, alongside the tagline "Mother Culture," in a round of new ads, and customers loved it.
Smolyansky hopes this new partnership will present the Lifeway brand as not only healthy, but also high end. "What is fashionable is a healthy, strong, empowered body," she says. "Anything you can do to inspire healthy living, and could get people excited to live a healthy lifestyle, is great."