Peter McGuinness, chief marketing and commercial officer at Chobani, is feeling pretty good these days. The brand leader in the $3.6 billion dollar Greek yogurt business, Chobani this year hit its highest market share in the nine-year history of the company, broke three production records, will end 2017 with double-digit sales increases and is growing at four times the rate of the category. On top of that, Fast Company in 2017 named Chobani the ninth most innovative company in the world and the No. 1 most innovative in the food and social good categories. All this while, it spent one-third to one-half of what its competitors shell out. And though the company still has low awareness and low household penetration, McGuinness feels he has great products to tout and an authentic story to tell.
After all, this is a brand that donates a portion of its profits to charitable causes, pays its workers above-average wages and in 2016, gave employees a 10 percent equity share in the company. And that’s just part of the story—read on for more.
Event Marketer: You say you have a great, authentic story to tell. How are you doing that?
Peter McGuinness: We’re using our employees to do that, we’re using our founder to do that, we’re using our beliefs, whether it be equality, our refugee work, or our employee share program. Our Chobani Foundation is giving Harvey and Irma relief, and relief in Puerto Rico, and now California. We’re fueling the first responders, sending hundreds of thousands of cases and money. We also just launched our second incubator class of seven companies in which we help other natural food start-ups to accelerate. We give them access to our sales and marketing people, our food quality people and money to help boost them with no strings attached.
And so, it’s a tapestry of things that I’m using, communicating, telling authentic stories about, leveraging, exposing, and that equals a very modern brand, a very relevant, resonant, modern brand that people have an affinity with and look up to.
EM: How does experiential marketing fit into telling your story?
PM: Experiential is critical to our brand because we are a manufacturer. People interact with our brand at grocery stores and clubs and mass merchants. And so we really want people to experience our brand and our brand vision and the manifestation of our brand in our own channels as well.
EM: How do Chobani Cafes play into that, for example?
PM: The cafes are the ultimate Chobani experience. Comps are up and the traffic is up and transactions are up, and people love it. In NYC, one of the cafés is one of the 10 most Instagrammed in all of NYC, where there are 13,000 restaurants. So, it is an innovation center, it is an incubation center, some of our innovation comes out of there. People are immersed in our brand experience, and then they are more likely to buy us at the grocery store on a weekly basis.
EM: Do you have similar experiences in the works?
PM: We want to open up more cafes and we may look at smaller formats. We also have creation stations, which we are popping in companies that want better snacks. There are a bunch of companies in NYC that want their employees to eat better and be more productive. So we have creation stations where we sell our product and inclusions (honey, nuts, seeds and chocolate) and popping them in companies and by the way, the people that work at companies are consumers, too. So they are having this wonderful experience.
EM: How about your trade strategy?
PM: We do huge trade shows like Expo West. We are one of the top two booths every year. I obsess over our booth, probably spend too much money on our booth, but it is a beacon in a wasteland. There are 9,000 exhibitors, and we are always No. 1 or No. 2 in terms of the voting. We hand out 15,000 to 17,000 creations a day to people, and they are hanging out in our booth, and they are listening to music and people are like, ‘OMG, this is like your café.’ Now, those are expensive, but the amount of people you reach is enormous. And that is a consumer play. I was just at NACS (National Association of Chain Stores) in Chicago and NRA (National Restaurant Association) and we did a beautiful booth, and we have customers of ours coming, saying, ‘wow, I understand the brand more.’
EM: How do you define experiential marketing?
PM: It can be trade-focused/customer-focused to get more sell-in, and more shelf and share, or it can be consumer-focused and help you sell through and pull through. We do both. We’ve expanded the amount of trade events we do because we do them really well and people are blown away by it and we can see that there is an ROI in terms of sell-in and distribution gains.
EM: So, what’s in store for 2018?
PM: We are launching a lot of new products, which is really exciting. It is our 10-year anniversary, which is really exciting. So, for me, it is how do we capitalize on all of this momentum? Momentum begets momentum, but momentum needs to be constantly fueled. It is not a given. So how do we keep this going? We’re an entrepreneurial-led company so we’re restless. I can’t repeat 2017 in ‘18 because we are also a pioneering company. We’ve got to keep it fresh, we’ve got to keep it new and different, so how do we come up with new programs and new approaches, and new ideas in ‘18 so that we are constantly surprising and delighting and keeping things fresh while maintaining our momentum?