General Mills trying to gain ground in Greek yogurt market

by Keith Nunes
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BOCA RATON, FLA. — General Mills, Inc. got what may be described as a late start in the Greek yogurt category, but the company is looking to make up ground by putting some of its marketing muscle behind Yoplait Greek 100.

“Six varieties of our Greek 100 are all turning in the top third of the entire yogurt category and they are turning really well,” Ian Friendly, chief operating officer of U.S. Retail told Food Business News. “We are basically selling all that we can make with even more capacity coming on line. So, we think we have a real winner in our Yoplait Greek 100.”

Mr. Friendly made his comments at the annual Consumer Analyst Group of New York conference taking place this week. He noted that the Greek 100 product line is just getting started; that it currently is only in a select number of flavors and a single packaging format.

“We were starting from a smaller base and the category innovation was led by Chobani, initially, but there are a lot of battles in a war and I think we are very pleased with the progress we are making,” he said. “We think we will get our fair share of the Greek segment.”

Mr. Friendly said General Mills will continue to innovate under its core Yoplait Greek line, but that the company believes the Yoplait Greek 100 has a more substantial point of differentiation.

“There are a lot of people who like the taste and texture profile of Greek yogurt, but don’t want all of the calories,” he said. “Greek 100 brings a lot of meaningful benefit to a lot of consumers.”

The quick rise in the popularity of Greek yogurt was a surprise to General Mills, but it was a trend that had been on the company’s radar, Mr. Friendly said.

“It sort of incubated in a small territory for over 10 years,” he said. “In 2008 it started to take off. It certainly caught our attention and notice, but at the time it was hard to project. I don’t think anyone thought it was going to be as big or get as big as quickly as it actually did.

“So, do we wish we had got on a little bit earlier? Yes, but we are very excited about what we are seeing with our current offerings.”

While Greek yogurt has captured a lot of consumer and media attention, Mr. Friendly has not lost sight of the possibilities in the market for light yogurts and those targeting the children’s market.

“Greek is a sizeable niche, and I think it is a sizeable niche that’s here to stay,” he said. “But the light segment and the kids segments are every bit as big on purchase behavior as Greek. Greek is the latest, greatest thing and we think anything that grows the yogurt category is a good thing.

“Our immediate challenge is to get our fair share of it. Then there will be new innovation different from Greek that will continue to grow the yogurt category.”

As General Mills focuses on growing its share of the Greek segment, the company is facing additional competition in the market for children’s yogurts. Chobani, Inc. recently introduced Chobani Champions Tubes, a packaging format that lends itself as an on-the-go snack for children.

“Whether the benefits of Greek yogurt are meaningful to children remains to be seen,” he said. “I think there is a role, but if you think of the less sweet taste of Greek yogurt, the thicker texture; a lot of the attributes that might be deemed to be desirable to a certain segment of the adult population, may not transfer. I think there is a role, but I’m not sure it is analogous to the adult segment.”

Nevertheless, Mr. Friendly said General Mills will be adding a high protein product to its GoGurt line in the future.

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