Four to five years ago, PepsiCo and Müller partnered to take the US yogurt category by storm. Müller, the name in yogurt throughout much of Europe, was bringing their sidecar cup design across the pond and using PepsiCo’s US retail expertise to steal share from an already hostile and dynamically changing yogurt category. Fast forward to present day, and it’s clear that Müller yogurt never really took off; the yogurt lost much of its distribution, and the partnership with PepsiCo ultimately disbanded. This is fascinating to me because it represents what we are seeing all over the marketplace: consumers aren’t buying the products that are pushed on them but, rather, are pulling from the options that satisfy them.
In the past, one of the largest hurdles for a successful launch was being able to gain distribution and get products on the shelf. That has changed. As consumers become more open to, and at times prefer, smaller brands, retailers have started to stock those more on their shelves. They are seeking food that is perceived as “real” and more “natural” and, let’s be honest, Müller looked like a yogurt from a large company. It lacked the simplicity and health cues that yogurts such as Chobani, Noosa, and Fage have made both trendy and successful. It lacked the health equities to compete in such an on-trend and health-driven category.
Müller didn’t come up short in the US because it failed to introduce something new to the marketplace. It came up short because it didn’t understand the consumer desires in the category and failed to combine their features with the desired benefits. Chobani ran with the sidecar cup and introduced their Flips line, which more closely aligned with the “natural” equities consumers were seeking. Noosa offered a taste-first fruit option that better appealed to what shoppers were looking for. These companies took what Müller was offering and simply did a better job and are succeeding as a result.
What, now, is the implication for big businesses? Competitive intelligence isn’t as important as consumer intelligence in today’s climate. Instead of focusing just on the brands and companies next to you, it is critical to look at where demand is heading and to get there first. In trend-forward categories like yogurt, complacency will be costly.
-Luke Cahill, Managing Principal