In 2014, the brand is getting booted from store shelves, Whole Foods officials said, because the chain wants to make room for more organic and GMO-free yogurts, particularly now that it's evident that the Greek yogurt craze is more than just a passing fad. "As the national demand for Greek yogurt has grown, the number of conventional Greek yogurt options has multiplied," the grocer said in its statement. "Whole Foods Market challenged its Greek yogurt suppliers to create unique options for shoppers to enjoy—including exclusive flavors, non-GMO options and organic choices. At this time, Chobani has chosen a different business model, so Whole Foods Market will be phasing Chobani Greek Yogurt out of its stores in early 2014 to make room for product choices that aren’t readily available on the market.
A consumer advocacy group called GMO Insider had aggressively targeted Chobani for using the words "natural" and "real" on its labels, all while using dairy from cattle fed diets consisting of genetically modified corn and soy. The group started its campaign against Chobani in the summer of 2013 and eventually spurred 20,000 consumers to sign a petition and make comments on the company's Facebook page asking them to buy dairy from non-GMO-fed cattle.
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Chobani has had more than its fair share of PR snafus this year. Before this recent announcement, the company came under fire from the Food and Drug Administration for using the term "evaporated cane juice," which the agency calls a misleading descriptor of sugar content; and in May, the niche mag Modern Farmer called attention to the yogurt maker's whey problem: An acidic by-product of straining out regular yogurt to make Greek yogurt, acid whey can pollute waterways and cause other environmental damage if not disposed of properly. In the piece, Chobani officials were somewhat cagey about how the whey is being disposed of. Then, a few months later, the yogurt maker's products were recalled due to mold contamination.
Still, Whole Foods, which announced earlier this year that it will require all its suppliers to label GMOs by 2017, didn't explicitly state that the GMO feed issue was why it was pulling the yogurt from its stores. And, according to the Wall Street Journal, it will continue to sell Fage Greek yogurt, one of Chobani's biggest competitors that also isn't certified organic or GMO free. The company made it sound as though its decision was meant to distinguish its selection from competitors and give more choices from among the growing number of certified-organic and GMO-free yogurts from smaller companies.
Regardless of Whole Foods' reasons, giving more shelf space to small producers of organic and GMO-free yogurt brands is a win-win for everyone.