Chobani’s Brand Purpose Is Centered Around Humanity

President Peter McGuinness discusses how the yogurt company puts its consumers first

headshot of a man standing in front of a tree
Chobani's president shares his thoughts on social media, humanity in branding and yogurt. Chobani

The last couple of months of 2019 will be a busy time for Peter McGuinness.

The Chobani president will be joining us in California for our Brandweek event Nov. 3-6. From there, he’ll hop over to Twin Falls, Idaho, where he’ll be visiting some of the yogurt company’s factories and plants as he oversees the production of about 38 new products coming to dairy coolers over the next year.

We got to chat with McGuinness about how the company looks at new products, but also how it operates its messaging in an always-on world.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Adweek: How do you navigate marketing and advertising in the always-on, social media instant feedback loop world we live in?
McGuinness: Restraint. Even brands that have a lot to say have less to say than you think. Similar to people’s personal social media, brands can fall into that same trap of oversharing. I think restraint is the way to operate in today’s always-on world. 

When you have something to say that’s very meaningful and relevant, say it. And when you don’t, don’t post things for the sake of posting or for the quantity or frequency. Quantity and frequency [are] not a strategy and won’t get to the results you need and can backfire. I mean, two-thirds of what I see out there is just not compelling; [it’s] irrelevant. 

So, who’s oversharing?
I’m not going call names out, but I think the vast majority of marketers today are oversharing. They’d be better served with more restraint and fewer posts and less frequency. [Posts] around more meaningful topics and themes would serve a brand better and would get better results and would drive more affinity with consumers. 

"[Posts] around more meaningful topics and themes would serve a brand better and would get better results and would drive more affinity with consumers."

Does that lead to you think that brands should use advertising and marketing through social around this idea of cause marketing or purpose-driven marketing?
Five, 10 years ago the buzzword was “integration.” Now the buzzword is “purpose.” That’s all everyone talks about. Brand purpose. And I think purpose is amazing, don’t get me wrong. We’ve been a purpose-based brand, a belief-based brand, from the beginning. So it’s part of our playbook for sure. 

But I think it’s a massive industry buzzword. And I think purpose needs some definition. One brand’s purpose is not another brand’s purpose, and one marketer’s view of what purpose means is not necessarily a consumer view of what purpose means. So I think you have to define purpose a little bit more. 

What’s Chobani’s purpose, then?
At the core, we’re a human company. Humanity is our purpose. And that is whether or not you’re an immigrant or a refugee or LGBTQ. … Humanity is at the essence of what our brand is about. 

We’re yogurt makers, but we really are about humanity. We do the right thing, and we have a million examples of that—not only in our hiring practices but just how we operate as a company day in and day out. We do things like pay off school lunch debt, and we’ll wade into disaster relief, whether it be forest fires or tornadoes or hurricanes. And we do food bank stuff all the time, and we did a hero batch to giver back to vets; we did a farmer batch to get back to dairy farmers. We try to help people in need.

Humanity is at the core of everything you do. Even our food philosophy: better food for more people, democratizing better food. Good food is a right, not a privilege, which is why we decided not to be bicoastal or in specialty stores and [instead] decided to put our product at a low price and high quality everywhere in the country. 

More seriously: What’s your favorite yogurt flavor?
Honey and cream. Actually, I’m going to take that back. That was my previous favorite, and I have the new favorite as of nine days ago. That is the farmer batch. The specific flavor, which is a brand new flavor: milk and cookies. It’s delicious.

"[Humanity is at the core of] our food philosophy: better food for more people, democratizing better food."

You had mentioned products. Are there other certain flavors that you are toying with as potential? New areas of interest?
We’re going to launch 38 products in the next month. We’re coming out with a lot of new yogurt varieties and flavors and formats. And then we’re launching into two new categories. So January, which is when the dairy aisle resets (January and July) is probably one of the most exciting resets we’ve had at the company so far.

When you are coming up with new products, what takes the driver’s seat? Is it nutrition or flavor?
Flavor first. I want to be very clear about that. And this is the difference, right? We’re never going to be like Soylent, where it’s like technically nutritious but freaking awful. Our food philosophy has never changed. This goes back to [company founder Hamdi Ulukaya] and DNNA. 

And I know it sounds a bit wonky: delicious, nutritious, natural, affordable. 

So delicious first, right? Because there is delicious, but then it’s gotta be nutritious and natural because there’s delicious if not nutritious. There’s nutritious that’s not natural. And then there’s nutritious and natural that’s not affordable. So we think that is the future of food, to hit all four of those. But [a flavor] doesn’t get greenlit if it doesn’t pass the delicious part. And we obsess over that because, you know, it’s a false choice to be affordable but shitty. 

@joshsternberg Josh Sternberg is the former media and tech editor at Adweek.