By Peter Meek

In what is a crowded dairy marketplace, Chobani Managing Director Peter Meek shares three important insights on how the dairy company has managed to go from strength to strength.

I believe Australia needs to break away from the notion that innovation is something that only happens while wearing a lab coat.

Innovation is a much more holistic concept, and as much a priority in a boardroom and on the factory floor, as it is in the laboratory. In my experience it is on the manufacturing floor where the vast majority of new ideas originate; ideas that can often be implemented quickly, save costs and increase productivity, and even improve product quality.

Because we disrupted the yoghurt category, Chobani Yogurt is sometimes seen as an innovative product, but this is not technically true. Our ‘innovative’ straining process that ensures every pot and pouch of Chobani is packed with protein is, in fact, more than 1,000 years old.

Instead, Chobani’s true innovation was to meet a new need. A need for nutritious, delicious yoghurt products that were missing on the shelves in the US, and then engage consumers through those products like no brand had done before.

We continue to innovate across all aspects of our business, including our product portfolio, by seeking out ways to engage consumers through new categories and occasions. So how does this help you and your business think innovatively? Keep these three things in mind.

1. Passion before profit

The goal is to think passionately like a ‘small’ entrepreneur, while striving to maintain the standards of a ‘big’ manufacturer. For example, Chobani is essentially a scaled-up craft process, and it is a process we are incredibly passionate about.

The important distinction for Chobani is that the integrity of that craft has been maintained at incredible scale, which makes the product more difficult and expensive to make. But it is a process that will never be compromised, as Chobani believes strongly it is the right way to make yoghurt.

2. Knowledge through experience

Regardless of any theory, recipe or instruction manual, it is only through first-hand experience that we can understand how ingredients will actually respond to each other and new processes.

There is simply no substitute for investing time throughout each developmental phase to achieve an intimate understanding of every product nuance. A self-confessed perfectionist, our founder Hamdi Ulukaya completed 156 iterations over 12 months before Chobani was ready to go to market.

3. Science with soul

The application of scientific method is critical to validate new processes that solve challenges throughout product development. However, as a scientific approach will almost always seek the most efficient path, it is an art in itself to ensure the correct balance with raw passion and hands-on experience. 

For example, understanding the impact of subtle seasonal variations in milk is key to standardising product quality – a crucial consideration for any dairy product entrepreneur with commercial ambitions. In such an instance, arguably the most readily available ‘science-based’ solution might be to add stabilisers. For Chobani, this was an unacceptable compromise and completely contrary to the brand values, so a processing solution was found that mitigated the seasonal variations, while ensuring the integrity of the natural product was maintained.

To stay in front of the curve, we must be passionate about what we do and strive to innovate without fear of failure. While that means we won’t be taking the easy road, we will be taking the right one.