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Jan 29, 2019

There is some disagreement about the correct pronunciation of spelled kefir. Yet, whether you pronounce it KEE-fur or kuh-FEAR, there’s no question about how to say the name of the leading brand in the category: LIFEWAY.

Founded in 1986 by the Smolyansky family, Lifeway helped pave a path for mainstream consumption of kefir, a fermented dairy milk beverage that originated in Eastern Europe and is prized for its probiotic benefits. Since taking the helm as CEO of Lifeway in 2002, Julie Smolyansky has led the publicly traded company to a nearly 10-fold growth in sales and a significant expansion of Lifeway’s product offerings, which include a variety of kefir drinks, yogurts, kids’ foods and frozen desserts.

In an interview included in this episode, Smolyansky spoke about the origins of Lifeway, which was launched in Chicago eight years after her family fled the former Soviet Union. She also discussed taking on the role of CEO at a relatively young age and how she deals with persistent criticism, how the company’s innovation strategy and why Lifeway releases some new products as “a marketing expense.”

Show notes:

2:58: Interview: Julie Smolyansky, CEO, Lifeway Foods -- Recorded via weblink, Smolyansky spoke about a recent meeting with entrepreneur Richard Branson and offered her perspective on the current political climate for refugees based on her on experience coming to the U.S. in the 1970s. She also discussed the origins of Lifeway, which was launched from the basement of her family’s Russian deli in Chicago, and how it was initially marketed to Russian communities in U.S. cities before later finding resonance among health-focused consumers. She also explained why protecting the legal definition of kefir is critical, how she overcome personal tragedy and quieted the naysayers after taking the reins as CEO, and what the company learned about the launch of its kids’ line when it debuted  at the height of the recession.

Brands in this episode: Lifeway