Two months after issuing a recall of mold-tainted cups, Chobani is launching an aggressive campaign touting the quality of its Greek yogurt.
The campaign, which the company says is not a direct response to the recall, debuts Friday with a full-page ad in USA Today that reinforces the company's "manifesto" of using "100% natural ingredients," for example. Chobani near Thanksgiving will also deploy trucks packed with free yogurt samples, while encouraging consumers to lure the freebies by tweeting "#ChotallyAwesome." Digital homepage takeovers are also in the works as well as digital videos and full-page print ads in The New York Times and People magazine that the company describes as a "media blitz."
The campaign seems aimed at reinforcing the company's hard-won image of a pioneering maker of authentic, high-quality, thick-and-creamy Greek yogurt. That reputation took a hit beginning on Sept. 5 when Chobani issued a voluntary recall of a limited number of certain yogurt varieties due to reports of product bloating and swelling as well as claims of illness by some consumers. The defects, which the company says have been resolved, drew widespread media attention. It was blamed on mold contamination affecting yogurt distributed from a plant in Idaho.
But Chief Marketing Officer Peter McGuinness said the new campaign is not a reaction to the recall. Rather, he said Chobani had always planned to debut product-focused ads in the fourth quarter to "prime the pump" for a larger campaign slated for next year. The marketer's lead agencies are Droga5 for creative and Weber Shandwick for PR, which were both hired in September.
"We haven't been out there consistently articulating what we are all about and the superiority of our products," Mr. McGuinness said. "We have the best product and we really haven't told anyone about it," he added. Chobani is the top-selling Greek brand with 49.1% share of the fast-growing segment, but still has a relative low awareness score of 32%, according to the company.
One of the online video ads shows close-ups of blueberries falling into creamy yogurt with copy that says "No Preservatives. No Artificial Flavors."
But there is one aspect of the campaign that is a clear response to the recall: CEO and founder Hamdi Ulukaya plans to mail letters to some 150,000 people that the company says contacted Chobani during the recall. . "He wanted to write a personal letter to each of the 150,000 people that had an issue with our product because he takes it very personally and very seriously, and he wanted to thank them for ... sticking with us and standing by us," Mr. McGuinness said.
Early indications are that Chobani did not suffer much of a sales hit, if any, from the recall. Sales in the four-week period ending Sept. 28 grew by 15.7%, compared with the year-ago period, reaching $89.3 million, while the brand gained 1.3 share points, according to Nielsen data supplied by Sanford C. Bernstein. Yoplait Greek only gained 0.9 share points in that time.
"Food recalls usually have a very short shelf life with consumers and this one doesn't strike me as very damaging," said Rick Shea, a former packaged-food-industry exec and president of Shea Marketing.