2012 Processor of the Year: Designing Greek Yogurt

Chobani's product development team balances simplicity with excitement.

By David Phillips, Technical Editor

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"We took well over a year to design the very first package of Chobani. That should give you a good indication for how much regard we have for packaging and design at Chobani," Heath says. "When it comes to marketing and merchandising, we try not to seem like we are shouting, selling too hard or comparing ourselves to our competitors. We'd rather connect with our consumers.

"That's also the reason we've focused so much attention on our social media efforts," he continues. "Social media lends itself so well to caring for and sharing with our consumers. People want to do business with people they like, and in the end, our goal is to be more likeable and form a deeper emotional connection and trust with our fans."

Team Chobani

Not surprisingly, a young company such as Chobani takes a fresh approach to the process of product development. It is also an inclusive process involving employees from throughout the company, Heath says.

"We have a dedicated innovation department at Chobani. But we see innovation as an extremely collaborative function that involves many departments – from R&D and marketing to manufacturing and including social media and sales," Heath says. "To us, it's extremely important that we are all thinking about great ideas and how to best bring them to market.

"We function more like a tech company than a traditional CPG company. It's just the way we think. And thankfully it's the way we work."

As an example, Chobani does not rely heavily on focus groups and other consumer testing when floating an idea for a new product.

"We don't really test product ideas at Chobani in a traditional sense," Heath notes. "When we have a new idea or a new product we simply ask ourselves: ‘Would we want to see that in our own refrigerators? Would we be proud to serve it to our kids or our families?' If the answer is yes, we do it. It's as simple as that."

They are the Champions

In 2010, Chobani rolled out the first Greek yogurt developed specifically for kids. Chobani Champions is made from real fruit and all natural ingredients, and comes in four flavors: Orange Vanilla, Banana Honey, Very Berry and Vanilla Chocolate Chunk. It is made from skim milk and cream, and is designed to meet the specific nutritional needs of children, but providing a bit more fat.

The 3.5-oz. cup of Very Berry flavor, for instance, provides 100 calories (15 from fat), plus 8g protein, which is 15 percent of the RDA for children, along with 20 percent of the RDA for Vitamin D. It has the same five active cultures as the adult version.

"We love the Champions brand and the current product platform," Heath says. "To us, the sky is the limit with kids. They have incredible imaginations, so it raises the bar on what we need to do on the innovation side to keep them both happy and healthy. Like the rest of the Chobani platform, we will aim to keep things pure, simple and nutritious."

With its amazing success and low bureaucracy, it might be expected that Chobani might be resistant to changing the product line, but Heath says they know better. Some changes have already been made to the Champions line, and new flavors are never far off, he says.

"We may not follow the typical category codes and flavor cues all the time, and we would never pursue flavors and products that we don't believe in. But we think you'll be surprised at what we can do with natural ingredients and a little ingenuity. And we're excited to bring new product innovations to market next year for both Chobani and Champions."

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