Archives For June 2013

Chobani Greek Yogurt is one of the most successful brand marketing stories in recent years. They built the Greek Yogurt Category in the United States. Turkish immigrant Handi Ulukaya introduced Chobani in 2007 because he disliked the taste of American yogurt. He thought the yogurt in America was, well horrible. He thought that if he made a better product people would purchase it. Ulukaya and his team spent two years perfecting the product prior to its introduction. Chobani has experienced rapid growth and sales are estimated to exceed $1 Billion Dollars annually. Ulukaya has won numerous innovation awards including the 2013 Ernst and Young World Entrepreneur of the Year and the Disruptive Innovator at the Tribeca Disruptive Innovation Awards.


Greek Yogurt has grown to 60% of the yogurt category. Demand for yogurt in the United States has jumped in recent years buoyed by interest in healthier products. Category dollar sales are growing nearly 9% a year. For many people, yogurt is an important part of their lifestyle.

However, 40% of Americans do not consume yogurt products and yogurt overall is perceived as a feminine product. Per capita consumption of yogurt is still below that seen in Europe or the UK. Some experts call the United States an “emerging market” for yogurt.

The Greek Yogurt Category is attracting a lot of interest from deep pocketed marketers. Dannon and Yoplait while slow to respond initially, now have Greek Yogurt products. Chobani, Dannon, Fage and Yoplait are the top four brands. Fage, the original Greek Yogurt Brand was introduced in the United States in 1998, nine years before Chobani. Muller, a Pepsi Co Brand and Ehrmann, the largest brand of Greek Yogurt in Europe are also entering the market. Let the spending begin.


Chobani was founded on the belief that people have great taste. They just need great options. Chobani was founded to make high-quality, great tasting yogurt made with only natural ingredients available to the masses.

Chobani, the category leader announced last week that it is conducting an advertising agency review. Its second agency shift this year. The brand is planning to significantly increase media expenditures. While I am aware of the product, I can’t think of a Chobani ad that I remember. With all the marketing spending planned for this category it is critical that Chobani tells their unique story in a creative and compelling way that builds an emotional connection with consumers.

What is your favorite brand of yogurt?


In the past couple of months, I have seen and written about a number of entrepreneurs who have developed and branded special and innovative products and services. Many of these products are locally inspired, high quality and target a very specific consumer segment. These brands tend to be small but they create a unique and personal customer experience. Their goal is not to be all things to all people. They leverage the heritage of a region and engage consumers on an emotional level. Their founders usually have a great story and are passionate about their business. In a world dominated by mega brands this is a refreshing trend.

I recently became aware of the Albany Distilling Company which was launched in October 2012. Albany Distilling is making the city’s first licensed whiskey since Prohibition ended in 1933. Albany Distilling was founded by Matt Jager and John Curtin. Albany Distilling opened in what was once the coal yard of the Albany Pump Station, a facility that was once used to pump water from the Hudson River to the Bleecker Reservoir.

Albany Distilling John and Matt

Their original plan was to open a bar but they were unable to obtain financing. Since both Jager and Curtin liked whiskey, they launched a plan to open a distillery. They visited other distilleries to learn about the operation and sample the product. They liked rye products and developed a commitment to use locally sourced ingredients. With the creation of the New York State’s Farm Distillery License, distillers who use New York State crops have a much easier time opening a distillery and self-distributing their craft products. Imagine the State of New York actually helping business development.

Albany Distilling has developed a number of products that celebrate Albany’s unique heritage. These products include “Ironweed Whiskey”, “Coal Yard New Make Whiskey” and “Quackenbush Still House Rum”.

John and Matthew also understood the importance of building a unique brand identity that would connect with consumers. They partnered with ID29 an innovative and creative Troy, New York based Brand and Communication Design Studio to develop their brand identity, logo, packaging and website. Albany Distilling has come to market with three key elements a unique creation story, great product and an appealing brand identity.

Albany Distilling is located at 78 Montgomery Street in downtown Albany.

Please let me know of any other small upstart locally inspired brands that I should write about.

On a recent trip through Minneapolis Airport, I had the opportunity to visit a Caribou Coffee store. I had heard a lot about Caribou but this was my first visit to one of their retail locations.


Caribou Coffee was founded in December of 1992 by Kimberly and John Puckett. The Caribou Coffee concept was created after the company’s founders backpacked through Alaska. On the summit of Sable Mountain in Denali Park, they decided they wanted to build a company to capture the spirit of accomplishment they felt during the climb. They began plans to build a special company that would bring the mountain experience into local neighborhoods where customers could find a place to “escape the daily grind” each and every day. On the descent, they saw a herd of wild caribou. The beauty and movement of these caribou seemed to be a fitting name for a company that aspired to both rapid growth and high quality. The company was founded with the intent of building a leading national specialty retailer in the high growth industry of gourmet coffee.

The pair moved to Minneapolis in the summer of 1992, following a six month analysis of potential markets. In addition to possessing positive demographics, the region was Kim’s home town. Her connections paved their way into the investment community and allowed the Pucketts to open their first coffeehouse that December in Edina.

The Pucketts opened their second shop in the Uptown area of Minneapolis. Site selection was critical to their success. A key ingredient for the success of the coffee shops was location, and the couple was determined to lock in good sites before Starbucks arrived on the scene.

Unlike other locally based competitors, Caribou Coffee purchased rather than roasted its own beans, choosing instead to concentrate on service and quality control. The mystery shopper was one technique they used to ensure good customer service.

While the Pucketts strived for product and customer service consistency from store to store, they also wanted each location to reflect the personality of the neighborhood. Their stores were staffed with people with a strong affinity to the local community. This helped create a unique feel and a strong customer fan base. The passion and spirit of a company’s founder is very powerful.

Caribou Coffee has expanded rapidly. Since opening, the chain has grown to over 500 locations in 22 states and the District of Columbia making it the second-largest operator of non-franchised coffeehouses in the United States, after Starbucks. This includes 24 licensed locations in the U.S. and two overseas markets. Caribou maintains its headquarters in the Minneapolis area. In 1998, the Pucketts sold their controlling interest in the company for $120 million to Atlanta-based Arcapita capital. In December, Caribou was purchased by the Joh A. Benckiser Group which also owns a majority stake in Peet’s Coffee and Tea.

Caribou recently announced the closure of 80 locations and the conversion of 88 stores to the Peet’s Brand. This elicited a very negative response from their fans in social media. This recent post on Facebook says it well:

“If you hadn’t shut down all Caribou locations within a 50 mile radius of Cincinnati I would be able to celebrate the hot weather. Now I’m just coffee-less and irritated and slightly sweaty”.  

Longer term it will be interesting to see how Benckiser, manages two brands in a category dominated by Starbucks. Will they be able to deliver a high quality customer experience that engages their fans?

Have you visited a Caribou Coffee’s location?

I am a passionate sports fan who enjoys rooting for the New York Yankees and New York Football Giants. Participation in team and individual sports has always been an important part of my life. I am impressed by the accomplishments of people who overcome obstacles to achieve their goals.

I want to bring to your attention a truly inspiring story of sports, belief, passion and overcoming obstacles that is being played out on the Erie Canal in upstate New York over the next two weeks. It is not a story that you will likely see on Sports Center, which will be focused on performance-enhancing drugs and the next athlete who will get in trouble with the law.


It is the story of John Robinson and his family and their 17-day bicycle journey along the Erie Canal. Their goal is to raise awareness of the ability inside all People with Disabilities and raise funds along the journey to support Adaptive Sports, Accessibility, Education and Employment for New Yorkers with Disabilities. John and his families’ bike ride began yesterday in Buffalo.

The event was conceived by John who is an entrepreneur, advocate, and motivational speaker. John’s personal story has inspired thousands. Through his organization, Our Ability, Robinson mentors, connects, and inspires people with disabilities toward education and employment.  At each stop along the way, John and others from Our Ability will share their inspirational stories.

As a congenital amputee born without full arms and legs, John Robinson overcame countless obstacles to become a successful businessman, family man and inspirational keynote speaker.

John chose The Erie Canal because it is a the symbol of inspiration and achievement His purpose is to help inspire all people touched by disability towards a new wave of economic development. Inspiring all people with disabilities toward education and employment through achievement can help re-build our economy.


I have known John for twelve years. He is an inspiration for all of us. He has overcome many obstacles that most of us can’t even imagine. John has always inspired me to not take for granted the gifts that I have but to continually developed new skills and abilities. I have had the opportunity to play golf with John on a number of occasions. John’s skill and determination on the golf course are an example of how he has led his life. I remember one moment on the tee with John a couple of years back that has stuck with me ever since. I was coming off a triple bogey on the previous hole and at the time I was frustrated by the great game of golf. John said to me, “Mark, just once I would like the opportunity to be able hit a shot with full arms and legs as you are able to.” That put it all in perspective. 

Please support John, the Robinson Family and Our Ability in their mission to raise awareness and funds to support People with Disabilities.

I enjoy stories about passionate entrepreneurs who followed a dream and started their own business and built a brand. I recently came across a great story about Adirondack Creamery. Adirondack Creamery produces all natural ice cream using simple ingredients and milk from local family farms.

Paul Nasrani is the founder and CEO of Adirondack Creamery. Paul’s passion for ice cream began on a small Pennsylvania farm where he spent summers as a youth. After a long work day on the farm, he could always find enough energy to help churn a batch of fresh homemade ice cream. The ice cream tasted great. Paul dreamed of creating a company to share it with the world. Paul’s passion for ice cream was also fueled by trips every year to Lake George where he ate ice cream at the Silver Bay Store.


Paul spent his years after college in accounting and finance in New York City and eventually became CFO of a mid-size corporation. However, Paul still had a strong passion for ice cream and did not give up on his dream. In 2002, he began producing homemade premium ice cream in his Manhattan apartment. He produced far more than he could eat himself and began to share it with co-workers and friends. The response was very positive. To learn more about ice cream production, Paul stopped into every ice cream shop he could find to speak with the proprietor. He also completed the Penn State University Ice Cream Short Course. 

On a cold winter Sunday while passing through Grand Central Station, he stopped at an ice cream/custard shop and found an auction was taking place. He walked (literally pushed) away with a batch freezer for ice cream production. It did not take long for the rest of the story to unfold and within a year Paul left his finance career to make ice cream in the North Country and pursue his dream of sharing his ice cream with the world.

In 2006, Adirondack Creamery began using the Boice Brothers dairy in Kingston, NY, as a base of production. Adirondack Creamery was now able to design and make their own ice cream based on an old-fashioned recipe of cream, milk, sugar and egg yolks. Today Adirondack Creamery operates directly inside the dairy and makes ice cream from the hormone free milk which arrives at the dairy each day from 8 family farms. They work closely with local suppliers on ingredients.  Adirondack Creamery is sold in over 200 stores within 150 miles of the dairy in Ulster County. They compete directly with Ben and Jerry’s and Haagen-Daz. They believe that locally made products taste better, are better for us and are better for the environment. Adirondack Creamery Ice Cream is sold in a variety of flavors including Chocolate, Barkeater, Kulfi-Pistachio Cardamom, and Whiteface Mint Chip to mention a few.


Have you tried Adirondack Creamery Ice Cream?

More and more consumers are embracing local food (farm to table) and sustainable business practices. This is a positive consumer trend that will continue to catch on in the future. However, there is one group in Albany, New York that has been a category leader for years.

Honest Weight Food Co-op has been promoting natural and local food for over 35 years. On Wednesday, Honest Weight moved into a new larger location at 100 Watervliet Avenue in Albany. The new location comes with 150 parking spaces which eliminates one of the major drawbacks of the previous location. Retail space has doubled and members and consumers are treated to a great shopping experience with spacious aisles and compelling food displays. Local, natural and sustainable food shopping has come of age. It is a pleasant upgrade from the typical grocery store experience. Many educational events are planned and a grand opening is scheduled for August 8th.


The Honest Weight Food Coop is an organization owned and operated by its members. Its main purpose is to supply high quality natural foods at low-cost to both members and non-members and to bring people together through cooperative action. Active members work three hours per month and receive additional discounts. Honest Weight has over 8,500 members.

Honest Weight offers produce, meat and other grocery products. Many of the products come from local farmers and producers. Honest Weight defines local as within 250 miles of the Co-op. Honest Weight spearheaded the natural and local food movement in the Capital District.

Honest Weight began in 1976 as a small buying club with about 20 people, working out of Sharon and Gary Goldberg’s basement. Its member-owners took turns collecting, collating, and processing monthly member orders. It was the first buying club in Albany, making healthy, nutritious foods accessible to all of its member-owners.

Honest Weight Food Co-op opened to the public in 1977 as a cooperatively owned and operated natural foods grocery store for New York’s greater Capital Region.

Since that time their mission has always been to provide high-quality, affordable, natural foods to our member-owners and to the regional community. Honest Weight promotes more equitable, participatory and ecologically sustainable ways of living. Their community embraces cooperative principles, shares resources and creates economic fairness in an atmosphere of cooperation and respect for humanity and the earth. Honest Weight is dedicated to a “triple bottom line:” People, Planet, Profit.

Have you ever shopped at a natural food coop?

Cabot Creamery is a 1,200+ farm family dairy cooperative with members in New England and upstate New York producing all natural, award-winning cheeses, including the “World’s Best Cheddar”, as well as a variety of flavored cheddars. Cabot Creamery Cooperative was founded in 1919. In 1919, the cost of farming was low and most farmers produced far more milk than they could market. Cabot area farmers figured if they joined forces, they could turn their excess milk into butter and market it through New England.


Ninety-four farmers joined the original cooperative at the cost of $5 per cow, plus a cord of wood to fuel the boiler. It turned out to be a great investment. The entrepreneurial 94 purchased the village creamery and began producing butter under the Rosedale brand name.  Over the next two decades, as the nation’s population flocked to urban areas, Cabot’s farmer-owners thrived by shipping their milk and butter south. While the national economy shifted away from agriculture, the Vermont economy was still largely based on dairy farming.

In fact, in 1930 cows outnumbered people in Vermont, 421,000 to 359,000. It was at this time that the company hired its first cheesemaker and cheddar cheese entered the product line for the first time. By 1960, Cabot’s membership reached 600 farm families, though the total number of operating farms around the nation was already in rapid decline.

The trend continued into the 1980s when the total number of farms in Vermont sank below 2,000, less than one fifth of what it had been just a few decades earlier. By this time, Cabot had dropped the Rosedale name and was marketing high-quality cheeses and butter under the Cabot brand.

The company also began entering its cheddar in national competitions and in 1989 took first place in the cheddar category at the U.S. Championship Cheese Contest held in Green Bay, Wisconsin. Wine Spectator magazine listed Cabot cloth-bound cheddar as one of “100 great cheeses” of the world in 2008. Also in 2008, Cabot Monterey Jack received an award from the American Cheese Society.


As a co-op, Cabot is owned and operated by the members, which are farmers and their families. As a cooperative, they honor the Rochdale Cooperative Principles which are the basis that cooperatives operate on. Cabot values community, quality, democracy and local ownership.

Cabot is a very strong regional brand that is well know in New England and upstate New York for their award winning cheeses. They are also, and have been since their inception in 1919, champions of all things Vermont. To this day, Cabot partners with and supports organizations like: Ski Vermont; Vermont Quality Wood Products; Vermont Department of Forests, Parks & Recreation; Official State Tourism of Vermont; The Best of Vermont Showcase and the Vermont Mountain Bike Association.

Cabot has learned that one of the best ways to win consumers is by encouraging trial and sampling. The cooperative has opened three retail stores in Vermont where visitors can sample about 25 flavors, including chipotle, chili and lime, horseradish, and Tuscan-rubbed cheddar.

Sustainability is an important strategy for Cabot. Cabot Creamery is the first dairy cooperative to achieve B Corporation Certification. Certified B Corporations are businesses that meet rigorous and independent standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency.

Today, Cabot’s future looks bright. The company blends state-of-the-art facilities and a savvy entrepreneurial spirit, with the timeless values and a personal commitment to quality that comes from being 100% owned by farm families.

I was not aware of Cabot until the story was shared with me by two fellow AMA Board Members. Thanks for the insight.

Have you tried Cabot’s Cheeses?