Food

Thor’s Skyr aims to compete with Chobani, Danone with protein-packed yogurt

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Thor’s Skyr is betting its Icelandic dairy product will be able to rival yogurt giants like Chobani and Danone by capitalizing on protein’s growing popularity.

Skyr is a creamy yogurt variety that originated in Iceland, but has been gaining prominence in the U.S. with brands like French dairy giant Lactalis’s Siggi’s bringing it to American consumers.

Iceland native Unnar Beck Daníelsson, Thor’s CEO, told Food Dive he believes the company’s traditional Icelandic production method — and its better-for-you credentials like high protein and no added sugar — will help it stand out as Americans continue to familiarize themselves with the product.

Thor’s goal is to appeal to current consumers of yogurt — along with people who are keen on fitness and bodybuilding — through its high protein and nutritional benefits. The consistency of skyr is uniquely creamy, Daníelsson said, and is made from partly skimmed milk but at a different temperature than yogurt. Removing lactose from the equation allowed the product to retain more natural sweetness, removing the need for added sugar, he said. The company’s website said its skyr could be classified as a fresh cheese product.

Daníelsson said Americans’ current general unfamiliarity with skyr presents an opportunity to introduce them to the product by pitching it as an alternative to yogurt. The lactose-free segment is projected to be worth $32.3 billion by 2029, growing at a compound annual growth rate of 12.45%, according to Data Bridge Research.

“The product tastes better, it’s creamier and sweeter,” Daníelsson said, stating that he enjoyed it more than the skyr available in Iceland. “The lactose-free sector is a new segment in the U.S. market, but I believe it will be a major player in a couple of years’ time.”

Thor’s plain variety contains 21 grams of protein per six-ounce cup, while its flavored varieties — vanilla, bluberry and strawberry, as well as the newly launched coffee, key lime and coconut— contain 18 grams of protein.

Thor’s Skyr is currently available in over 1,600 stores nationally, including Giant and Stop & Shop locations. Last month, it debuted its new lactose-free formulation of the product at Natural Products Expo East in Philadelphia.

 

Thor’s Skyr co-founders Dylan Sprouse, Hafþór Björnsson, Terry Crews and Unnar Beck Daníelsson. 

Retrieved from Thor’s Skyr on October 20, 2023

 

How the pandemic and Hollywood played a role

The company was born out of the pandemic when Daníelsson found himself unable to operate the restaurants he owns, which served traditional Icelandic dishes like skyr. 

“I had to get into some sort of survival mode,” Daníelsson said. “It was mostly Americans who visited my restaurants because I was selling traditional, affordable Icelandic food.”

The involvement of prominent Hollywood names has helped Thor’s attract buzz. Through mutual friends, Daníelsson met former Disney Channel star Dylan Sprouse after he visited Iceland. He also reached out to Terry Crews after social media posts the actor made about his trip to Iceland.

Daníelsson said the two actors — along with Icelandic bodybuilder and actor Hafþór Björnsson, who appeared in HBO’s Game of Thrones — became interested in starting the new brand with him and bringing skyr to American consumers. Despite the famous names attached to Thor’s, Daníelsson said he rejects the idea that Thor’s is a celebrity-focused brand. “These guys are co-founders, it’s not like a celebrity endorsement.”

Thor’s goal is to stand out among other skyr brands through its traditional Icelandic production methods, which the CEO said it achieved by securing the right technology at its Pennslyvania production facility. This involves filtering the milk to extract more protein, according to Daníelsson.

Launching the business also involved research into why American consumers had low trust in the yogurt category to fulfill its desire for healthier options.

“Companies would play with the U.S. consumer, telling them they were eating healthy yogurt while it was full of sugar,” Daníelsson said. “Everybody today is all about high-protein, low sugar. That’s the way the younger generation wants to go.”

The CEO said the brand is aiming for wider retail availability in the coming years. Its strategy currently involves building up its presence in regional and independent stores, but there are already plans to expand in other big retailers in 2024. Daníelsson said the company has seen promising results on the market so far, with repeat consumers and continuous month-over-month growth.

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