MINSTER — It’s all Greek to, well, just about everybody.
The consumer trend of switching to Greek yogurt meant a major transition for Dannon Yogurt, which runs the world’s largest yogurt plant in Minster. That transition resulted in Dannon losing its top-selling ranking, but only temporarily.
By the middle of 2013, the company was back on top, said Michael J. Neuwirth, spokesman for The Dannon Co.
“The year was a year of transition for us. Sales increased, and we achieved year-over-year growth,” Neuwirth said. “We also regained market leadership in the yogurt category, and that was a major milestone and great news for us.”
The Greek yogurt trend required substantial changes at the Minster plant, Neuwirth said, to increase flexibility and accommodate different types of yogurt manufacturing.
At a very basic level, one cup of regular yogurt requires one cup of milk. But one cup of Greek yogurt requires three cups of milk. That required changes to the storage system, heating system and transforming the milk receiving area of the plant. It’s a part of the facility that can’t be seen from the road, Neuwirth said, so many people can’t see how it’s changed.
“Suffice it to say, we’ve put in many more milk receiving bays,” Neuwirth said. “It’s been a challenging year, but in a good way. It’s in the context of growing, and those are good problems to have.”
Dannon’s headquarters is in White Plains, N.Y. In addition to Minster, the company also has locations in Texas and Utah. Dannon is the best-selling brand of yogurt worldwide. The Minster facility employs 400 people and produces 230,000 cups of yogurt an hour, or 3 million cups a day.
The Dannon Company, Inc., has its roots in Spain, where Danone was founded by Isaac Carasso in 1919. Having previously lived in the Balkans where yogurt was a dietary staple, Carasso decided to introduce this healthy product in Barcelona.
During World War II, Daniel Carasso immigrated to the United States. In 1942, he founded the first American yogurt company, Dannon Milk Products, Inc., in the Bronx, NY. He changed the name Danone to Dannon to make the brand sound more American.
Yogurt consumption in the United States has changed over time. When Dannon was beginning, even when production began in Minster in 1968, many Americans were not familiar with the product. Today, the average American consumes a cup of yogurt a week. While that’s substantial, there remains a big “upside” for yogurt consumption, Neuwirth said.
The industry is competitive, and Dannon stays on top by making an array of products for people’s tastes, including the Dannon, Light & Fit, Activia, Danimals and Oikos brands. The company also now makes Greek varieties of many of those brands because consumers want them.
“We’ve developed a portfolio of Greek yogurts that have broad appeal and are unmatched in our offerings,” Neuwirth said. “That and our consistent quality are the reasons we took the leadership back to the company.”
In 2011, Dannon announced $89 million in improvements for the plant. The plant, it seems, is always growing.
“It’s sort of the like the scale of the Golden Gate Bridge. When they get done painting it, they start all over again,” Neuwirth said. “It’s an ongoing process, and we’re forecasting growth and development.”