Chobani Should Reconsider its Expansion Plans if it Wants to Survive in the Yoghurt Market

Agro Farma is in financial trouble. The company, known for its Greek yoghurt brand Chobani, has recently struck a deal for a US$750 million loan from private equity firm TPG. Its recently purchased Idaho plant has not generated the required revenue to cover its set-up costs, which has also been reflected in the company’s overall performance. In 2013, Chobani’s retail value sales grew by less than 20%, a 10th of the 200% CAGR registered over 2008-2012. This should come as no surprise given the saturating yoghurt market in North America, which is expected to stagnate in volume terms over the next five years. Given that the US accounts for 90% of Agro Farma’s global sales, the company must focus on expanding its product range in the short term and moving beyond the US in the medium term if it is to survive in the increasingly competitive yoghurt market.

Product Expansion in the Pipeline

Agro Farma has recently announced that it will roll out a number of new products in the US, including an organic version of its Greek yoghurt, snack packs for children and savoury dips. Of the three, organic yoghurt appears to offer the best opportunity. Organic yoghurt in the US is a lucrative market  due to the GMO scares in animal feed. In addition, moving into organic yoghurt might give Chobani re-entry into the outlets of Whole Foods, which delisted the brand earlier this year due to reported product contamination and the brand’s transition to the mass market. However, the problem with organic yoghurt is that it requires substantial and exclusive investment. Agro Farma should, therefore, consider launching a subbrand or make all of the Chobani range organic, which might be too risky a move.

Yoghurt for children is also a good idea. However, the trouble with children’s yoghurt is that the category is generally a niche and has the potential to become saturated very quickly. Danone has already capitalised on the children’s trend, launching Stonyfield YoKids Greek in 2012 and Danimals SuperStars in early 2014. Chobani would need to work very hard in order to overcome Danone’s first-mover advantage in the US.

Moving Across the Pacific Might be a Risky Bet

The company is also moving beyond the US. In 2012, Agro Farma opened a yoghurt factory in Australia one year after acquiring Bead Foods Pty Ltd and managed to become the second largest company in yoghurt within two years. However, both in the US and Australia, the company’s sales have reached a ceiling. With more than a 20% share in the US and close to a 17% share in Australia, there is limited room for growth for Chobani, if any. This is why Chobani has recently started exporting to Singapore and is planning more distribution deals in Asia Pacific. Although Asia Pacific looks like a good destination from a growth perspective, there are some notable challenges. Singapore has a very limited consumer base and per capita consumption of yoghurt is among the lowest globally. China, which seems like an obvious next choice, has recently implemented a food safety law which puts various restrictions on several dairy products. With the recent GMO and contamination cases reported in the US, Chobani might have a hard time overcoming these new legislative barriers. In addition, Asian dairy markets remain stubbornly localised. Despite continuous investment from leading global dairy players such as Danone and Nestlé, still no international company ranks among the top 10 dairy players in China.

Top 10 Growth Markets for Fortified/Functional Spoonable Yoghurt

Source: Euromonitor International

A better destination would be Brazil. With its population of 200 million, Brazil is one of the top three countries in terms of absolute forecast growth for fortified/functional spoonable yoghurt, where Chobani is positioned. Due to being geographically close to the US, many Brazilians are already familiar with the Chobani brand. Moreover, the country offers easy access to other fast growing Latin American markets such as Chile, Mexico and Colombia.

Although Chobani has realised that focusing on the US and Greek-style yoghurt alone will not take it very far, it appears to be missing out on potential products and markets in which to expand. Instead of squeezing growth from saturated geographies or niche products, Chobani could reap long-term gains by focusing on targeted product expansion and adding chilled dairy desserts and frozen yoghurt to its portfolio in the US and Australia and setting up a production facility in Brazil. Chobani should do this while the Greek yoghurt craze is still going strong. Next year might be too late.