Over the last decade, Chobani helped make Greek yogurt ubiquitous. Now the company is rolling out a new line of plant-based, non-dairy yogurt in an attempt to also take over that category.
“We studied the aisle and we studied the options and we realized that it’s pretty small,” says Peter McGuinness, the company’s chief marketing officer. Plant-based yogurt now makes up around 2% of total yogurt sales, an $8.5 billion category. But it’s quickly growing; Nielsen data in September 2018 found that plant-based yogurt sales had grown 54% over the previous 12 months. Chobani thinks that it can grow faster. “What we were told–and this is directly from consumers–is that they would consume more non-dairy if it tasted better and it was better for you,” he says. “And so our view of this is maybe it’s only 2% because of the options out there.”
In the company’s R&D lab, a million-square-foot facility in Idaho that is the largest yogurt testing facility in the world, a team spent months developing hundreds of iterations of the product. The resulting new line, with five flavors of non-dairy cups and four flavors of non-dairy drinks, uses a coconut base. That choice came in part from the fact that the best-selling yogurt, the company’s “Almond Coco Loco,” also uses coconut, and Chobani knew that consumers liked the flavor.
Coconut cream gives the product a texture that’s close to traditional, non-Greek yogurt, though the food scientists weren’t aiming for an exact match. “We weren’t trying to perfectly replicate how these foods would taste when the base is dairy,” says Niel Sandfort, VP of product management and innovation at Chobani. “We were trying to make something delicious on its own and that celebrates pure coconut cream.”
With coconut as a base, the product clearly tastes like coconut, blended with flavors like blueberry, peach, or strawberry. I tried a sample, and the texture was smooth and very yogurt-like, the flavors were well-blended (and as someone who doesn’t like coconut, the coconut-y flavor didn’t appeal to me, but coconut fans might like it). Because of the coconut, it has more fat than regular yogurt, but the product also has less sugar than other vegan options.
The company calls it “Non-Dairy Chobani” rather than yogurt, saying that it wants to clearly distinguish between dairy and non-dairy products. (This is in contrast to other makers of plant-based foods who have battled for the right to use the word “milk” or “mayo.”) It has no plans to stop making traditional dairy products, and it’s aiming for vegans and lactose-intolerant customers, not trying to convert dairy-eaters. But the company’s clout could give plant-based dairy another jump in sales.