Published on: September 18, 2013by Kate McMahon
"Kate's Take" is brought to you by Wholesome Sweeteners, Making The World a Sweeter Place.
After a meteoric rise to the top of every hot product list, Chobani Greek yogurt has been brought down to earth - not by competitors Fage or Oikos, but rather its own bloated yogurt cups that hissed, fizzed and made consumers feel sick.
Chobani issued a voluntary product recall on Sept. 5 of approximately five percent of its product, manufactured in its Twin Falls, Idaho plant. Chobani said it traced the problem to a common dairy mold that can cause spoilage like bloating and swelling in yogurt but should not pose a health risk to consumers.
Judging by more than 200 reports filed with the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and plenty of belly-aching on Facebook, consumers disagree. There were scores of complaints that the tainted product caused nausea, cramps, headache, diarrhea and trips to the emergency room. One irate mother even started a Chobani Recall page, including a video of her banana yogurt “fizzing” and demanding action from the upstate New York manufacturer.
Initial indications of the problem started popping up on Facebook and Twitter as early as August 19, and Chobani has been criticized for not responding and contacting stores until August 30th.
The FDA told NBC News on Monday it was still investigating and noted that reports filed does not mean the product actually caused illnesses.
I’ve been following the story for two reasons:
1) It’s already becoming a classic case study on damage control, particularly in the dairy aisle.
2) I personally consume Chobani 0% Vanilla at least three times a week. I went straight to my fridge and then my smart phone to notify family when the lot number/expiration dates of the affected yogurt (91 flavors) were released. Happily, we were in the clear.
For Chobani, which prides itself on “delicious, nutritious yogurt made with only natural ingredients," and which quickly became the No. 1 seller of Greek yogurt in the U.S., the recall ended a run of record sales and favorable publicity we first took note of here in April 2011.
Company founder Hamid Ulukaya personally apologized on Facebook, and vowed to make it right. "Everybody in the company took this hard," he told the Associated Press. "It shook us up."
Once the product was recalled, Chobani’s challenge was responding to the thousands of consumer posts/questions/complaints on Facebook. This post was typical:
*“My #chobani yogurt just hissed at me.... And it's fizzy... And I ate some... :/”
Others complained that the bad batches remained on store shelves after the recall and expressed frustration that Chobani had not acted more quickly.
To its credit, Chobani admitted that its response time was backlogged due to calls and emails at five times the typical volume. And in a taste of what is to come in social media engagement, it publicly outlined steps and personnel reassignments to meet the consumer demand within a 24-hour time-frame.
What’s yet to be determined is whether this will threaten Chobani’s No. 1 hold on the Greek yogurt market, particularly with Dannon’s Oikos and a host of other competitors (Stonyfield Farms, the “original” Greek yogurt Fage, private label brands) on its heels.
Will I continue to buy Chobani? For now, yes. Am I a little gun-shy when I peel back the foil? You bet. First sign of fizzing or hissing and I’m a former customer.
Comments? Send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org .
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