360° Coverage : Chobani's Mea Culpa To Scientists: 'We're A Human...

Chobani's Mea Culpa To Scientists: 'We're A Human Company; We Made A Mistake'

Jun 6 2014, 5:48pm CDT | by

You’ve probably already heard of this week’s backlash against the New York State-based Greek yogurt-maker, Chobani, and an aspect of their #howmatters advertising campaign.

The specific offense that brought the heat was found in a statement under the aluminum lid for Chobani Simply 100, their new 100-calorie product line: “Nature got us to 100 calories, not scientists. #howmatters.”

The outrage began with a tweet and photo of the message from Dr. Piper Klemm early Tuesday morning. She admits that she didn’t purchase the product herself but “was staying at my in-laws house and raided their fridge.”

As a scientist myself, albeit one who is now a freelance science writer, I was curious as to the wisdom behind this approach to marketing.

“We simply made a mistake. The intent of the line was less an indictment of science but more of a celebration of nature,” said Peter McGuinness, Chief of Marketing and Brand Officer at Chobani.

But in creating a product with only 100 calories in 150 grams (5.3 ounces), the company relied extensively on their own food scientists in using plant extracts from nature to sweeten a product without excessive sucrose or resorting to an artificial sweetener, such as aspartame, whose taste some find offensive and to which others are intolerant.

McGuinness certainly acknowledged that point in our discussion. The combination of extracts from monk fruit, Stevia rebaudiana, and evaporated cane juice was optimized by Chobani R&D scientists over two years to create pleasing but lower-calorie sweetening.

Chobani founder, Hamdi Ulukaya, first brought mass produced Greek-style yogurt to the U.S. in 2007 with his purchase of a defunct Kraft manufacturing plant in upstate New York. Now worth $1.5 billion personally, Ulukaya and his company have captured over a 50 percent market share. But they were last to the market with a “light” Greek yogurt product.

“Our innovation mantra is that if we can’t do it better, we won’t do it,” said McGuinness.

A small part of a larger campaign

In owning up to the statement that provoked the ire of scientists on social media, McGuiness admitted that they were being “a bit too cheeky” with that line.

McGuiness said that the overall #howmatters advertising campaign stresses Chobani’s craft and commitment to a high-quality Greek yogurt product. The underlid message was one of 12 that rotated on the inside of the product, such as:

“It’s 100 calories and you just burned 2 reading this.”

“Not only is it 100 calories, but it’s open and you’ve got a spoon…”

“Try to mentally prepare your taste buds for 100 calories of awesomeness.”

“Finally, calories you can count on, not just count. #howmatters”

“It’s how we got to 100 calories that matters. #howmatters”/>/>

“Finally, a 100 calorie yogurt worth counting. #howmatters”

“Welcome to preservative-free yogurt made with only natural ingredients.”

“Hard to believe, but there are three cups of milk packed into each cup of Chobani Greek Yogurt.”

In this context, said McGuiness, the messages, launched in January and completed last week, were not a targeted effort to impugn scientists and science.

But scientists certainly didn’t take it that way.

Dr. Karen James, a biologist and citizen science specialist at Maine’s MDI Research Laboratory, tweeted a sentiment that seemed to have struck a chord in being retweeted over 100 times:

“I figured out why that @Chobani lid bugs me: it portrays scientists as anti-nature, but my love for nature is WHY I DO SCIENCE.”

What also seemed to offend scientists the most was the seemingly misguided pandering to the nation’s anti-science mentality and the misconception that anything from nature is good. (Ask Socrates what he thought of hemlock.)

Dr. Derek Lowe wrote at his medicinal chemistry blog, In the Pipeline, “But at another level, there’s a really cynical outlook here, one that is somewhat at odds with the company’s gosh-we’re-so-natural image. Someone higher-up OKed this slogan, in full knowledge that the company’s yogurt is produced – has to be produced – on an industrial scale, in a factory with lots of stainless steel equipment. But what the hell – sounds good, and people will buy it.”

While criticizing Chobani’s message, Dr. John Coupland, a professor of food science at Penn State University, elegantly laid down the science behind each ingredient listed on a cup of Chobani’s Simply 100 product.

By midday yesterday, the company issued an apology on Twitter:

We were too clever for our own good – didn’t intend to put down science or scientists with our recent lid. We discontinued it. #WordsMatter

McGuinness said, “We didn’t want scientists to be mad at us. Listen, we employ many food scientists. In fact, we just gave Cornell over a million dollars to do research on food safety.”

Last October, Chobani officials announced a $1.5 million gift to the Department of Food Science at Cornell University for research and training in food science and dairy innovation. In addition to supporting graduate training, internships will be made available to students at Chobani’s facilities in nearby New Berlin, New York, and at a relatively new facility in Twin Falls, Idaho. These positions will be spread throughout R&D and quality assurance units.

About three-quarters of the responses in that message thread were at least mildly-appreciative to fully-accepting of the company’s apology. Earlier this afternoon, even Professor Coupland tweeted:

“#FF @Chobani – for apologizing and changing course, and for having some great food scientists!”

Of course, some are still critical of other aspects of the marketing campaign, such as this video of test tubes on a tree and white-coated scientists carrying plastic cows around./>/>

Others have criticized scientists for being arrogant and taking themselves too seriously.

But was this intended to get intentional backlash while still appealing to natural foods customers?

“No, it wasn’t intentional, said McGuiness. “We’re a pretty inclusive brand. Some companies might think any publicity is good publicity. But that’s not us. We’re a human company. We’re not perfect.”

When asked if he’d do anything differently in retrospect, McGuiness said, ”In the spirit of being human, we acted quickly – more quickly than a big bureaucratic organization. Sure, it could have been more quickly.”

He added, “But there wasn’t a single point of contact. It wasn’t as though [a large scientific organization] criticized us. I wish I could have called somebody and explain the situation and the context and intent.”

The company is now offering an olive branch to those offended by the underlid message. “We’re inviting all scientists to enjoy a Chobani on us:  www.chobani.com/care.” The link takes you to their Customer Loyalty contact page. Simply fill out the form with your name and address and indicate in the message box that you are a scientist who was miffed by their message. You’ll receive a coupon in the mail.

Don't miss ...


<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/30" rel="author">Forbes</a>
Forbes is among the most trusted resources for the world's business and investment leaders, providing them the uncompromising commentary, concise analysis, relevant tools and real-time reporting they need to succeed at work, profit from investing and have fun with the rewards of winning.


blog comments powered by Disqus

Latest stories

18th Saarc Summit concludes with one pact, several understandings
Kathmandu, Nov 27 (IANS) The 18th South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc) Summit concluded in Kathmandu Thursday with the adoption of a 36-point Kathmandu Declaration.
British supermarkets sold contaminated chicken
London, Nov 27 (IANS) Eight of the every 10 fresh chickens bought from British supermarkets this summer were contaminated with the potentially lethal food-poisoning bug campylobacter, the food watchdog has said.
SJVNL signs pact with Nepal for hydro-power plant
Kathmandu, Nov 27 (IANS) Indian public sector company Satluj Jal Vidyut Nigam Ltd. (SJVNL) has signed a project development agreement with the Nepal government for executing the 900 MW Arun-III Hydro Electric Project in eastern Nepal, officials said Thursday.
'I saw humans on Mars in 1979': Ex-NASA employee
New York, Nov 27 (IANS) A woman claiming to be a former NASA employee has stated that while watching some footage, she saw two humans walking on the Red Planet towards the Viking Mars lander in 1979.

Latest from the Network

Black Friday Store Maps Download
Black Friday 2014 Online Sales are underway since the early morning hours of Thanksgiving Day. If you are planning to also hit the mall for Black Friday 2014 deal hunting then we recommend to get the Black Friday store...
Read more on Black Friday Countdown
South African president to visit China in December
Pretoria, Nov 27 (IANS) South African President Jacob Zuma will pay a state visit to China next month to further strengthen strategic relationship, it was announced Thursday. The visit, scheduled for Dec 4 and 5, will...
Read more on Politics Balla
Target Black Friday 2014 Sale has launched Online
The Target Black Friday 2014 Sale will begin in stores at 6pm on Thanksgiving Day, but has already launched in full now online at Target.com.Do not miss the hottest iPad Air 2 Black Friday deal of the season. Target...
Read more on Black Friday Countdown
Caitlin Moran seeks sexy actress
Caitlin Moran needs an actress who can cope with an ''enormous penis''. The 39-year-old author has started hunting for an actress who can play the lead role in the film adaptation of her best-selling novel 'How To Build...
Read more on Movie Balla
Johnny Depp doesn't care about critics
Johnny Depp doesn't care about film critics. The 51-year-old actor no longer worries about proving his critics wrong and is now ''game for anything'' after coming to the realization that he was becoming too preoccupied...
Read more on Movie Balla
Idris Elba: Fame's made me paranoid
Idris Elba admits fame has made him ''paranoid'' about people. The 42-year-old actor is now one of the most recognizable faces in TV and film due to his roles in 'Luther', 'Thor', 'Prometheus' and 'Pacific Rim' but he...
Read more on Celebrity Balla
Khloe Kardashian cooking Thanksgiving dinner for family
Khloe Kardashian is cooking Thanksgiving dinner for the entire Kardashian family. The 30-year-old reality TV star is hosting her relatives for the annual US holiday today (11.27.14) for the first time ever because...
Read more on Celebrity Balla
Taylor Swift reveals Thanksgiving plans
Taylor Swift is looking forward to tucking into sweet potato casserole during her Thanksgiving meal. The 24-year-old singer said the delicious snack is her favourite side dish to enjoy while celebrating the American...
Read more on Celebrity Balla
Kourtney Kardashian nauseous pregnancy
Kourtney Kardashian has felt sick throughout her latest pregnancy. The 35-year-old reality star is currently expecting her third child with partner Scott Disick and she admits she starts to feel nauseous if she doesn't...
Read more on Celebrity Balla
Apple Continues to Depend on Samsung
Apple is still working with Samsung, even with more emphasize, as the tech giant reportedly engages the Korean company to provide different components for the iPhone 6 and the upcoming Apple Watch.According to Mac...
Read more on Apple Balla