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Starbucks makes foray into yogurt amid growing demand

Chain partners with Danone to market new line

NEW YORK — Starbucks is taking on the thriving market for yogurt, teaming with French dairy powerhouse Danone to create a line of yogurts that will be sold in the coffee company’s shops and in grocery stores.

To be called Evolution Fresh, Inspired by Dannon, the new products will capitalize on Danone’s long history of making yogurt and the extensive reach of Starbucks, which has grown to more than 10,000 US stores.

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“Yes, it is a new business channel for us, but I wasn’t really looking at it because of business,” said Franck Riboud, chief executive of Danone Group. “I was really looking to Starbucks because I love their community, the 70 million customers who visit their stores each week, and the way they attract and talk and listen to that community.”

Yogurt is one of the hottest categories in food, introducing new brands, flavors, and permutations at mind-numbing speed and shaking up traditional players like Danone and Yoplait, which is owned by General Mills and the French dairy cooperative Sodiaal. Chobani, the company widely credited with awaking US interest in yogurt, didn’t even exist 10 years ago, and now its founder is a billionaire.

At a time when dairy companies are fighting over limited space on the refrigerated shelves in grocery stores, Danone’s expansion into Starbucks space offers the yogurt company a powerful new sales outlet.

Still, Americans consume far less yogurt than their European counterparts. The French, for example, eat a little more than 72 pounds (144 cups) of yogurt per capita in a year, Riboud said, while Americans each eat an average of roughly 13 pounds (or 24 cups).

That gap has convinced companies like Starbucks that as fast as yogurt sales have increased here, there is still plenty of room for the market to grow.

Harry Balzer, the chief food industry analyst at NPD Group, has been calling yogurt “the food of the decade” for more than a decade.

“Why yogurt is the food of the decade for that long is for this primary reason: You don’t need to prepare it,” Balzer said. “It can be breakfast, it can be lunch, and it is the fastest-growing dessert at dinner time, but what’s best about it is there is no cooking and no cleaning up involved, and that’s exactly what Americans want.”

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