How to Get Americans to Think of Yogurt Beyond Breakfast

A chat with Chobani’s chief marketing and brand officer


Who Peter McGuinness

Age 43

New gig Chief marketing and brand officer, Chobani

Old gig President, chief executive officer, DDB, Chicago

You spent 22 years working for agencies. Why did you move to the client side?

I wanted to do something different. Chobani went from zero to $1 billion in five years, and Chapter 1 was manufacturing-driven. Now we have Chapter 2, which is about marketing and the brand. All our competitors are Greekwashing their portfolios. Greek is now 50 percent of the market, and we think it will go to 75 percent. Yogurt consumption will double. So the yogurt wars have officially begun.

How challenging has it been to make the switch from the agency to the client side?

It’s more difficult than I thought. I went from being a CEO at an agency owned by a publicly traded company where it was about managing the bottom line, mitigating risk, working at a place not focused on explosive growth. So a lot of it was stealing share. Here, because the top line is growing exponentially, it’s about maximizing the potential.

How are you going to do that?

We’re evolving the Chobani SoHo café. It is going to double in size with an expanded menu. It will inspire people to eat yogurt in more, new ways and inspire them to use yogurt as an ingredient in cooking. We’ll expand dramatically with more cafés. Brand experience is very sticky and has a broad, cross-effect on our consumers and our philosophies at retail.

How do you get people to eat yogurt outside of breakfast and snacks?

In our café, yogurt [with smoked salmon] is big and seasonals like pumpkin cranberry are doing very well. We have an executive chef who comes up with these ideas. We also have Chobani Kitchen online, with videos and recipes where you use yogurt instead of sour cream. Next year, we’re publishing a cookbook.

What about the recent backlash to the recall of Chobani yogurt because of mold?

Mold can happen when you work with live, active cultures in an all-natural environment. But we took it very personally and seriously. We are not going to load yogurt up with preservatives, and we emerged from the recall stronger, with new people, procedures and processes to ensure quality issues don’t happen again.

You come from an advertising background and you now have a much broader communications area of operations. How do you like it?

I love it. I oversee crisis, PR, loyalty, café, social and digital, packaging, pricing. It’s all about, what is the reflection of the brand? I’ve been actively involved in selling to key customers like Walmart, Target and Safeway, which has been interesting because those customers are to us as clients are to agencies. Pricing has been fascinating. How do you price a product and make money, invest in brand building and innovation so you can bring more of it to more people? It’s a fine line, a delicate dance.

How has the transition been moving back to New York City from Chicago?

For quality of life, living in Chicago beats New York City. We lived in the Gold Coast one block from the lake on a tree-lined street next to a Frank Lloyd Wright house. I had a corner office on the 54th floor overlooking Millennium Park, Soldier Field and the harbor. Schools were great, restaurants were great. People were exceptionally nice. But New York’s No. 1, and there’s an energy and electricity here like no other city.