Interview with Siggi Hilmarsson of Siggi’s Icelandic Skyr Yogurt

Interview with Siggi Hilmarsson of Siggi’s Icelandic Skyr Yogurt

A year ago, my good friend Lisa mentioned she met a guy named Siggi who made Icelandic yogurt. I brushed it off, not thinking much of it until 2 months ago when I saw the yogurt of the same name in Whole Foods.

I’d been eating Vanilla Greek yogurt for awhile since it tasted great and has good macro-nutrients. I figured I’d give Siggi’s yogurt a shot.

It was surprisingly creamier than Greek yogurt and had a better nutritional profile. More protein and less sugar = happy Noah.

Then while walking around NYC last month with Tyler, who helps write OkDork, I introduced him to Siggi’s yogurt which I’d become completely addicted too.

He loved it and mentioned their brand in a tweet.

Twitter Siggis

Siggi’s favorited the tweet and I realized there are many companies who I completely adore and I want to connect with.

I cold tweeted (that sounds weird to write) at Siggi the founder and he was cool enough to set aside some time to talk.

Note: A good lesson for the future, is to record the entire conversation to make it easier for you but it’s a work in progress.

Here’s what I learned from him about starting and growing his yogurt business, which is now in all of Whole Foods and stores nationwide:

How do you pronounce Skyr (the style of yogurt)?

SKEE – R

What’s a typical day in the life for you?

Mostly dealing with different types of contracts, interviews with people like today I have one with Noah, issues at the manufacturing plant, time with salesforce, variety of phone calls, lunch, working on improving our distribution. My tasks vary from day to day and now that I’m not traveling this week I’m catching up on a lot.

How long did it take for you to make your first dollar?

I made the yogurt in my apartment as a hobby around Christmas 2004. Then later in 2005 I  sold my first batches at the farmers market. The idea took about a year to really start making money from the first batches.

The growth of the business was happenstance. 

I kept making a lot of yogurt and gave it to a good friend who worked at Murray’s cheese store. She emailed later wanting more and it got stocked there.

In the beginning he had them as a customer and a business professor as a investor, so it was an easy decision to quit his Deloitte consulting cubicle job to start his own venture.

Did you prefer low sugar or jump on the trend of healthier yogurt products?

The product is this way from the beginning, from the first batch. Reason we’ve promoted it lately as “low sugar” is that the market is realizing sugar is really bad for you. Personally, I’m shocked by all the sugar in yogurts. Most yogurt is egregious, many have more sugar than a can of Coke! 39 grams of sugar for 12 ounces of coke. That’s 3.25 grams of sugar per ounce. Now let’s take a Chobani Black Cherry Yogurt, that has 3grams of sugar per ounce. Almost the same as a Coke!! But Coke is earnest but people are confused about yogurt and think that it’s really good for them. It is not something we tried to engineer just my personal preference. 

Has it been hard to educate consumers about the importance of lower sugar yogurt?

We have just highlighted what we believed was important. The movie Fed Up has definitely helped highlight the importance of  how much sugar people eat. It’s been a  slow awareness since I started this business in 2004.

The low sugar is a hallmark of the brand.

This yogurt is a traditional product where I grew up in Iceland. There it was simple with low sugar. I recreated that with my own kind of yogurt.

How have you gotten so much PR? How can another small business do the same?

The product has a point of view. 

People who agree with you, those people, have the strongest point of view on a topic. Help them talk more about it. 

We used a pr firm, wasn’t as helpful as doing internally. 

We came out with product about what was missing, a strong point of view and others who shared view wanted to cover it. 

I didn’t look at the market and see what people wanted to talk about. 

Just made a yummy yogurt from when I was growing up and overtime with more people trying it, started to resonate. 

If I had done market research: how many people want to eat low sugar?? Who knows how that would have turned out.

How did you pick which stores you want to be in?

Whole foods approached me. Ultimately, I looked at where similar products were being sold and where consumers would prefer lower sugar yogurt. 

What lesson would you tell Young Siggi just starting out?

Plan for success. Believe in yourself. Know it’ll work. Many people start out haphazardly and don’t truly believe in themselves. Believe you will get there. Also, get enough sleep! Not sleeping is a badge of honor but leads to poor decisions. 

Who do you go to for advice?

I’ve met friends in the food industry, added board members and ultimately surrounded myself  with smart people who understand where I am headed. They are not “yes” people. Instead, they are reasonably critical of the things I’m doing. Many times I’m too immersed with my own thing, fighting fires, etc. So it’s helpful to have people around you to help form long-term perspectives.

What do you need the most help with today?

Anyone who knows logistical chains really well or a way to get cheaper and more efficient fridgerators. 

Noah’s Notes:

It’s been nearly 10 years since he started this business. Don’t expect overnight miracles. Persistence and working on something you are truly interested in will pay off.

It’s interesting to note when you make something that people respond really well to. This can be a product, a service or a general action that you do that people always react positively towards.

Siggi was very clear he didn’t do market research to create the product but worked inwards from a solution he wanted for himself.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

4 responses to “Interview with Siggi Hilmarsson of Siggi’s Icelandic Skyr Yogurt”

Jerri
December 2, 2016 at 9:31 pm

Found Siggi’s at the store and was intrigued by the fact that it was creamier and not as sweet. The fact that it was made in Iceland intrigued me as probably closer to natural and organic. Love it and have been eating it since. Everyone I have introduced it to loves it as well. Thank you.

Reply
Nate Dalliard
July 14, 2014 at 8:55 am

Great interview. But why the hell all people are telling that sugar is bad. All fruits contain a lot, I mean A LOT of sugar and they are definitely not unhealthy.

Reply
robert liroff
October 5, 2015 at 9:15 pm

Would like to respond to Nate’s comment about sugar. First of all, not all fruit has so much sugar. Most have 10-20 grams in a serving, please see below for more details-

http://www.sugarstacks.com/fruits.htm

35 to 40 grams of sugar dumped into a serving of something by the manufacturers, PLUS all the other foods with added sugar in a typical diet, on top of any fruit itself, is a LOT of sugar.

Second, please see this-

http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/07/31/making-the-case-for-eating-fruit/?_r=0

Here’s an excerpt-
“Whole fruits, he explained, contain a bounty of antioxidants and healthful nutrients, and their cellular scaffolding, made of fiber, makes us feel full and provides other metabolic benefits. When you bite into an apple, for example, the fruit’s fiber helps slow your absorption of fructose, the main sugar in most fruits. But fiber is not the full story.

You can’t just take an 8-ounce glass of cola and add a serving of Metamucil and create a health food,” Dr. Ludwig said. “Even though the fructose-to-fiber ratio might be the same as an apple, the biological effects would be much different.”

Fruit is very different from colas and from yogurt with huge amounts of sugar- but even too much fruit could conceivably be bad for a person.

Reply
Steve
June 14, 2014 at 12:40 pm

39g sugar for 12oz of what? Lol

Reply