This year, The Dannon Co., White Plains, N.Y., is celebrating its 75th anniversary. To say that the company has accomplished a lot for the U.S. yogurt category in its seven-plus decades of existence would be a massive understatement.
Founded in 1942 by Daniel Carasso, who had moved from Europe to New York, the company initially was called Dannon Milk Products. Why? Because mainstream America had no idea what yogurt was, according to Michael Neuwirth, senior director, external communication at DanoneWave — the new business unit combining the North American business of Dannon’s parent company Danone with that of Denver-based WhiteWave Foods.
Dannon’s first product was plain whole-milk yogurt, an offering that was “not exactly a runaway hit,” Neuwirth admitted. But since that initial product launch, Dannon has been at the forefront of “basically every development” in the U.S. yogurt category.
The first of those developments came in 1947, when Dannon leadership took an existing European concept — fruit compote — and added it to the yogurt.
“That gave birth to ‘fruit on the bottom.’ And it gave the yogurt a sweeter taste, which was more palatable to the American public and led to an exponential increase in the business,” Neuwirth noted.
As more American consumers warmed up to yogurt, Dannon’s wave of innovation continued — much of it targeting specific subsets of consumers. Between 1986 and 1996, for example, Dannon introduced the Dannon Light & Fit brand, the Danimals brand and many other popular products. It also completed a successful makeover of fruit-on-the-bottom yogurts, including a new recipe and new, more protective packaging than the previous wax-coated paper carton, the company noted.
In 2006, Dannon debuted Activia, the first brand of probiotic yogurt. Activia also marked the first large-scale use of multi-packs in the United States, the company noted, offering an alternative to single-serve cups.
More recently, Dannon made the foray into the Greek yogurt market with Oikos (in 2010), followed by Light & Fit Greek in 2012 and Activia Greek in 2013.
“We still make that plain whole-milk yogurt that was produced in 1942,” Neuwirth noted, “but surrounding it is a family of different brands that serve different need states in the yogurt category. Those include products for kids, products for weight management, products for digestion and digestive regularity and products with protein.”
As Dannon and its “house of brands” look ahead to the next 75 years, don’t expect an ending to the impressive growth story.
“It took 65 years for Dannon to get to the $1 billion-a-year mark,” Neuwirth said, “and only 10 years to double that number. I expect continued growth for the brand, along with new forms and varieties, and new ways to incorporate yogurt into the diet.”