Brand New World Preview: Meet Michael Gonda, Chobani’s VP of Corporate Communications

chobani yogurt

On Wednesday, April 20, 2016, Vivaldi will host a panel discussion at our New York office you won’t want to miss. Moderated by our own Larry Lucas, “Brand New World: The Speed, Scale, & Scope for Winning the USA” will include perspectives from panelists Michael Gonda (Chobani), Jesse Bull (Tough Mudder), Philippe von Borries (Refinery29), Rob Candelino (Unilever),  and Ashley Berman (Birchbox).

To give you an idea of what’s to come, we talked with Michael Gonda about the upcoming panel and his experience as VP of Corporate Communications at Chobani, the top-selling Greek yogurt brand in the United States.

Chobani has achieved the impossible by reinventing the yogurt category in the US. Now, the major dairy players are moving in. How has the need for speed (scale, or scope) evolved since Chobani was the lone leader? What has changed about the team’s approach to growth now that the position is under attack?

The truth is, big food started moving in very quickly — as soon as Chobani began taking share — and we’ve remained the leader with distance because of our commitment to our mission, our values as a modern food company and a strict adherence to our food philosophy: using only natural, non-GMO ingredients and ensuring our products remain affordable to all. As our founder and CEO, Hamdi, often says, we don’t “innovate.” We draw inspiration from traditions and cultures to inspire new products, and you can see that in some of the new products we’ve just announced, like Chobani Meze Dips and our new drinks, which we’re launching this summer.  We’ve always been quick and nimble with product development, and careful to only launch products when they’re perfect — deeply adhering to the idea that if we can’t do it better, we won’t do it at all. It’s an approach that Hamdi’s infused in every level of the company and has earned the loyalty of our fans.

Crisis management is incredibly relevant in the fast and fickle consumer market that we see today. Companies rise, and then suddenly fall every day. Given your experience in this field, are there any patterns you have seen emerge as fast-growing businesses try to scale up? Where do these businesses fall down, and are there signs or red flags along the way?

I think the term and even the concept of “crisis” is often misused, misunderstood and even unrealistic. The reality is that great brands and great companies don’t suddenly fall everyday. There are bumps in the road, there are issues with executives, real-time platforms have increased the level of transparency expected and scrutiny administered — but I don’t feel we’re in an age of daily crisis. These, inherently, aren’t crises. At best they’re issues, and you can approach them productively or unproductively.

That’s not to say “crises” don’t exist — and when they do occur responding is all the more challenging for the landscape just described. The businesses and brands that do fall down — or are hurt the most, and take the longest to recover — haven’t quickly found the most direct way to communicate an emotional response. Saying “sorry” is powerful, and the window for doing so is ever shortening while the audience expecting it, ever growing. The most important part of getting through it is establishing trust and confidence internally. That’s the most significant barrier to action — and often times you don’t have to be perfect. You have to be good and you have to be quick.

Do you have a favorite Chobani product? What flavor is it?

I think Plain Whole Milk Chobani is, without a doubt, the best yogurt in the world.