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Yogurt Juggernaut Chobani Has Mold Problem

b_250_0_16777215_00_images_obgrabber_2013-09_2d5d87f384.jpgDaniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images (NEW YORK) -- Chobani has pulled some of its Greek-style yogurt from supermarket shelves, following the discovery of what the company calls a swelling or bloating of containers from mold found commonly in dairy products. The company said less than 5 percent of production was affected, and that at no time did the cartons pose a health hazard.

The voluntary, limited recall was a rare hiccup in what has been an otherwise smooth campaign by Chobani to become the nation's dominant, best-selling, most successful brand of Greek yogurt.

Asked what effect he thought the mold incident might have on Chobani's continued popularity, Harry Balzer, chief food industry analyst for consumer marketing research firm NPD Group, said it was hard to say. He added, though, that force of habit was on Chobani's side long-term.

"The most influential force, when it comes to dietary choice, is habit," Balzer tells ABC News. "Ordinarily such incidents, if they're resolved quickly, have a hard time changing our behavior."

Chobani, in a blog post, assured any consumers with affected containers that the company would replace their merchandise "within 24 hours or less" of notification. Potentially affected cartons have expiration dates of 9/11/2013 – 10/7/2013 and the code 16-012.

Balzer says that over the past 30 years eating yogurt has become habitual for about 32 percent of Americans. Consumption has increased steadily since 1985, when it stood at just 2 percent. People buy yogurt, he says, because they think it's good for them. It has what he calls "a halo of health."

Plus, it's convenient, does not require cooking, and can be used as "a delivery system for fruit." As the latter, he says, yogurt has become America's fastest growing desert. "It has increased," Balzer says, "like no other food product."

Why have consumers gone wild most recently for Greek yogurt? It's the latest novelty, says Balzer. But he also ascribes its success to Ghobani's shrewd marketing and good timing. "They were in the right place at the right time," he says, referring to the fact that Greek yogurt, having less sugar and more protein than its competition, appeals to health-conscious adults. Its relative tartness makes it less popular with kids.

According to the Wall Street Journal, over a third of the yogurt in a typical grocery store now is Greek-style. Other leading brands include Oikos and Fage. When Chobani first entered the market in 2007, Greek yogurt accounted for only 1 percent of yogurt overall, according to a Chobani spokesman. That share since has grown to 35 percent, with Chobani the dominant player.

The Greek advance, according to the Journal, literally has pushed sugary, old-style yogurts off the shelf. Likewise it has forced the relocation of other products usually shelved near yogurt--pudding cups, margarine and refrigerated dough, for example.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

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