Chobani Bets on Probiotics Trend to Revive U.S. Yogurt Sales

  • Chobani is launching more products focused on probiotics, a fast-growing category that could lift U.S. yogurt sales.
  • Chobani Probiotic products include yogurt cups and yogurt-based drinks that contain at least four strains of probiotics that claim to improve gut, digestive and immune health.
  • Probiotics is a $1.38 billion category, but supplements account for the majority of sales, according to Nielsen data.

Chobani is jumping on the probiotics trend with three new yogurt-focused product lines that claim to boost gut health and immunity.

The privately held company is the No. 1 maker of Greek yogurt, but it's been expanding its product offerings as yogurt consumption has stagnated, adding oat milk, yogurt and coffee creamers to its lineup last year. In 2019, U.S. yogurt sales had fallen about 1% since 2015, according to Euromonitor International data.

Chobani is trying to deepen its connection with probiotics, which are live bacteria and yeasts that can have health benefits when ingested. Chobani's Greek yogurt already contains some probiotics, but the living microorganisms are the focus of the company's newest items.

"For the last couple of years, we've added more probiotic language on our regular cups, and we wanted to more closely associate probiotics with our brand," President and Chief Operating Officer Peter McGuinness said.

Supplements account for the majority of probiotics sales, according to Nielsen data. Recent growth in fermented foods like kimchi and kombucha demonstrate a growing interest in eating and drinking probiotics. And big food conglomerates are hopping on the trend. Two years ago, General Mills' venture arm invested in the parent company of GoodBelly, which makes probiotic juices and shots.

Retail sales of probiotic yogurt have been growing since 2019, reaching $2.07 billion in the 52-week period ended Nov. 28, according to Nielsen. Segment sales rose 6.6% in that same time. Chobani's chief competitor in the probiotic yogurt market is Danone's Activia, which markets itself as a way to relieve digestive discomfort.

"We're not going to sit here and market against Activia," McGuiness said. "I think that's small ball and just shifting share. We happen to think it's a superior product to Activia ... but we're not going to market it that way."

According to him, Chobani's primary aim is long-term growth in the yogurt category and increasing per capita yogurt consumption. More consumers are eating at home due to the coronavirus pandemic, which has lifted yogurt sales this year. McGuinness said that Greek yogurt retail sales are up 6% to 7% in the last 13 weeks, and Euromonitor data projects the U.S. yogurt market will rise 11% this year to surpass $10 billion in retail sales.

The new Chobani Probiotic products include blended yogurts and yogurt-based drinks that are being shipped to retailers in December. The company has also created versions geared to children that come in drinks and pouches. At $1.49 per cup for a yogurt, the price points are similar to its Greek yogurt.

Chobani has already released fermented plant-based drinks under the probiotic line. The functional beverages — another fast-growing drink category — include trendy flavors like ginger and turmeric that have become more popular for their health benefits.

The probiotics used in Chobani's new products include LGG, Lactobacillus acidophilus, L. bifidus and L. casei.

Most research tied to probiotics is still in the early stages, but they are thought to improve gut and digestive health and even immunity when ingested. McGuinness said that the company is working with universities in the U.S. and abroad on clinical studies to better understand the full benefits of probiotics.

"You can count on us to be deep in probiotics not only now, but in the future," he said.

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