A Brand History
Developed in France during the early 1960s, Yoplait yogurt was created by SODIMA (Societa de Diffusion de Marque), a dairy cooperative with headquarters near Paris. SODIMA invented the special process that makes Yoplait distinctive from other yogurts.
Yoplait quickly became a favorite with the French people, and SODIMA decided to expand into other countries. Plans were made for a six-week test run in the United States.
In January 1975, the first container of Yoplait rolled off the line of the Michigan Cottage Cheese Co. in Reed City, Mich. Test results exceeded the company’s wildest expectations. By the end of the month, the Reed City plant could not meet product demand.
As one of the fastest-growing items in the supermarket at the time, Yoplait attracted the attention of General Mills Inc. The food giant was interested in adding a high-quality yogurt to its product line and saw Yoplait as a new way to meet its requirements; Yoplait was a healthful product, delicious, distinctive and reasonably priced.
In October 1977, General Mills acquired the American Yoplait franchise and two Michigan Cottage Cheese plants. With the license from SODIMA and assets from Michigan Cottage Cheese, General Mills established a separate corporate, Yoplait USA Inc. Today, Yoplait’s 140 flavors are manufactured at four production plants across the country.
Robert Waldron is the current president of General Mills’ Yoplait-Colombo division. Waldron joined General Mills in 1990 and has held various marketing positions throughout the company, including the Meals, Baking and Big G cereal divisions. In 1997, he joined the International division as a vice president of marketing for International Dessert Partners, a joint venture with Bestfoods that focused on dessert mixes for Latin America. He then became marketing director in the Big G cereal and Meals divisions. He was named a corporate officer of General Mills in 2000.
1977: Introduction of Original Style Yoplait
1981: Introduction of Custard Style Yoplait (now known as Thick and Creamy)
1982: Introduction of Breakfast Style Yoplait (discontinued 1986)
1983: Introduction of Fruit on the Bottom (discontinued 1986)
1984: Reformulation of Original from full fat to lowfat
1986: Introduction of YoCreme (discontinued)
1992: Introduction of Trix yogurt
1998: Introduction of Go-Gurt, yogurt in a tube
1999: Introduction of Yumsters
2000: Introduction of Yoplait Expresse (discontinued)
2002: Introduction of Yoplait Whips and Nouriche Breakfast Smoothie
2005: Introduction of Go Gurt Smoothies, Yoplait Smoothie and Yoplait Healthy Heart; Yoplait Nouriche repositioned as a SuperSmoothie
Yoplait-Colombo USA: Processor of the Year 2005
For leadership in expanding and promoting the health, wellness and functional aspects of dairy foods, and its ongoing outreach to the community, Dairy Field has selected Yoplait-Colombo USA as its Processor of the Year for 2005.
Criteria for the honor include industry leadership, business initiatives, marketing achievements, technological advances and relations with employees, suppliers and the community.
A perpetual leader in the cultured category, Yoplait has made great strides in broadening the overall goodness of yogurt in ways that have inevitably boosted the dairy industry as a whole. The company’s involvement in the research that discovered the link between dairy calcium and weight management opened a new frontier for the future of dairy. Its development of yogurts and yogurt drinks fortified with plant sterols and other essential nutrients has opened the door to further innovations for dairy as a functional food. Other product developments have addressed demands for newer and better flavors, along with convenient packaging formats.
Yoplait also has raised awareness of dairy in the community through its efforts to benefit breast cancer research and other health issues important to its key demographic, one shared by most segments as the entry point for food products into American households. Outreach efforts by Yoplait and parent General Mills extend beyond this arena into its communities locally and nationally.
Stagnito Communications Inc. presented Yoplait with DF’s 2005 Processor of the Year award at its Top Gun Conference this month in Key Biscayne, Fla. A presentation also is scheduled for the 2006 Dairy Forum in La Quinta, Calif., in January. m
Key links in the chain
Yoplait-Colombo USA operates four manufacturing facilities across the United States to supply escalating consumer demand for its products and accommodate a growing line of innovative new products.
Due to proprietary concerns and corporate policy, Yoplait did not allow Dairy Field to visit a plant and was reluctant to share details about its manufacturing operations. However, the leadership team made it clear the company’s manufacturing network is an integral part of the overall product development and supply chain.
“The key to what we do is our linkage into the business unit and the team,” says Kevin Schoen, vice president of manufacturing. “If we’re not on the same page as the marketing division, which is in tune with the customers and consumers, then we pretty quickly get adrift from what we need to be focused on. We’ve got an operations team that works directly with [president] Bob [Waldron] and his organization. Our operations folks are very involved in the business unit. It’s important that we understand where Bob and his team are trying to take the business. That same collaboration has to go over to rest of our technical community.”
One of Yoplait’s core plants is its Reed City, Mich., facility, which was purchased from Michigan Cottage Cheese in the 1970s. It has gone through a number of changes and renovations over the years to meet the growing demand for Yoplait and is now a world-class modern dairy facility, Schoen says.
The company’s newest facility is in Murfreesboro, Tenn., strategically located to meet the growing southeast market. Other plants are located in Carson, Calif., and Methuen, Mass.
All plant managers gather for an annual meeting at the Minneapolis corporate headquarters, and yearly awards are given at the plant level. “We go to each plant and have a celebration around the accomplishments of the year,” Schoen explains. “The business unit gives all the plant employees across all the shifts a business update. It’s really a team effort. We’re not on an island by ourselves in manufacturing.”
As far as infrastructure, the constant focus is improvement, Schoen says. “There’s the core improvement focused on the business and the products, and the customers and consumers. That’s driven by the needs of the business unit,” he says. “Then there’s what I call the supply-chain agenda, which is to continuously improve the operations. So we spend a lot of time focused on how we can make our operations better, day in and day out.”
The manufacturing side leverages the broader General Mills infrastructure to make improvements, Schoen says. “There’s a lot of proprietary technology in the plants,” he says. “Some innovations that we think help the business, at least on the customer side —with the acquisition of Pillsbury, we combined our distribution network, so we now ship Yoplait yogurt on the same trucks in commingled shipments. With rising fuel costs, that’s been a good innovation.”
Meanwhile, safety is a priority throughout the General Mills family of companies. “GMI plants have top decile safety results for the food industry and industrial manufacturers, and have improved their safety record for lost-time accidents and recordable injuries for many years in a row,” Schoen says. “Employees are involved in behavior-based audits to identify and correct unsafe work conditions. Training is also key with core programs like lock-out/tag-out and proper utilization of plant-protective equipment (PPE) being reviewed regularly with all employees.”
Waldron applauds Yoplait’s supply chain. “We have a very cross-functional group, and we are in service for the consumer, absolutely,” he says. “That’s what’s going to be most important to us, that we don’t lose our focus on the consumer, and don’t lose our focus on making sure we can help the retailer keep up with growth.”
A part of Yoplait-Colombo USA since 1993, Colombo traces its roots to the kitchen of Rose and Sarkis Colombosian in Andover, Mass. In 1929, using yogurt cultures from her native Armenia, Rose made the first batch of Colombo yogurt on a wood-burning stove. Up until that time, almost no one had heard of yogurt except the small group of immigrants who had come to the United States from the Middle East. But the virtues of yogurt spread quickly by word of mouth, and soon Rose and Sarkis started a business, using a horse-drawn wagon to distribute their yogurt across northern Massachusetts.
The Colombosians’ yogurt business remained relatively small until the early 1960s, when the health benefits of yogurt gained a larger following. As a result, Colombo grew from a family business to a leader in the refrigerated yogurt industry.
While the Colombosian family sold their business to Bongrain SA in 1977, General Mills recruited Sarkis and Rose’s son, Bob Colombosian, in 2001 to be spokesman for the brand, along with his wife, Alice. The yearlong campaign was aimed at bringing consumers back to Colombo’s roots.$OMN_arttitle="Cover Story";?>