WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. — The Dannon Co.’s partnership with Starbucks has begun to bear fruit in the grocery channel. The companies are introducing Evolution Fresh Greek Yogurt, Inspired by Dannon nationwide with four fruit-on-the-bottom varieties, including black cherry, blueberry, pineapple passion fruit, and raspberry blackberry. Earlier this year, Starbucks began serving parfaits and smoothies featuring its Evolution Fresh premium juice brand and a proprietary Greek yogurt developed by Dannon.
Made with no added colors or flavors, artificial sweeteners or preservatives, the yogurt has a mild taste and creamy texture, said Jeff Rothman, vice-president of innovation and marketing at Dannon, in an interview with Food Business News.
“It’s the mildest Greek yogurt we make, and in our testing the mildest Greek yogurt we have found in the marketplace,” Mr. Rothman said. “It also has the most fruit that we put in any yogurt product as well as any we have seen in the marketplace, and it comes in a clear cup because the idea is we have nothing to hide and want to show consumers exactly what’s in there.”
The product launch marks Dannon’s entry into the premium yogurt segment, which represents 5% to 10% of the category, Mr. Rothman said. In addition to its eponymous flagship brand, the company makes Activia, Light & Fit, Oikos, Creamery and Danimals yogurts.
“Right now we don’t have a brand that competes in that segment of the category, so this is what we believe to be a very incremental addition to our business as well as to the category,” Mr. Rothman said.
In 2013, Seattle-based Starbucks Corp. and Paris-based Danone S.A. entered into an agreement to develop Greek yogurt-based products to be sold in the coffee chain’s stores and in the grocery channel. Financial terms were not disclosed.
“Right after the partnership began is when we conceived of this product and the format, and that’s when we started the development of the yogurt,” Mr. Rothman said. “It was a multiyear development process because it was not a simple thing to do. It has to do with the fermentation process as well as the cultures that we use.
“All yogurts have two standard cultures in them, but there are very different kinds that you can select. So we spent a lot of time finding the perfect yogurt cultures to put in them that worked together to create a very mild yogurt taste.”
The development team selected strong fruit flavors to complement the yogurt’s subdued taste.
“With pineapple and passion fruit, we found that by combining those two fruits together, we got a fantastic multiplication of the flavor; it wasn’t just additive but multiplicative,” Mr. Rothman said. “Same with raspberry and blackberry. We were able to find blueberries and black cherries through special selection that were really flavorful, so those did not need a counterpart in flavor.”
The collaboration, originally conceived and agreed upon by Danone’s chairman Franck Riboud and Starbucks’ chairman and chief executive officer Howard Schultz, benefits both companies, Mr. Rothman said.
“My experience in the partnership is both sides have seen fantastic opportunity,” he said. “Starbucks has upwards of 11,000 to 12,000 retail locations throughout the country, and they have 60 million consumers who go through a Starbucks in any given week. Expanding the footprint of yogurt and the Dannon brand into that environment so more people could have access to yogurt, and great-tasting Greek yogurt products specifically, anywhere they are is a huge opportunity for the category and certainly our business.
“From their perspective, teaming up with the world’s leading yogurt maker and the leading yogurt company in the U.S. to create something that was all new and help them expand the footprint of Evolution Fresh was (another reason for the partnership).”
Mr. Rothman said the United States is still behind certain Europe markets in terms of yogurt consumption.“The average American consumer consumes one cup of yogurt a week versus up to five in some European countries,” he said. “And so getting distribution and being where people are shopping and eating and making healthy food choices is going to be a major enabler for the category and our business.”