Q&A: The Yogurt Guru

Smari-iceland

Smári Ásmundsson is a native Icelander and the creator of Smári Organics, a brand of Icelandic-style yogurt made in the United States since 2013. Ásmundsson had a lucrative career as an advertising photographer but his love of food and his desire to feed his son a more nutritious snack eclipsed that obsession. Icelanders have long been skyr (yogurt) aficionados and now Americans are getting in on the act, making Smári one of the top boutique yogurt brands in the United States. Ásmundsson sat down with The Manual to talk about yogurt, advertising, fashion and travel.

Why yogurt and why now?

Smári has been on the shelves for just over a year, but I have been making skyr (Icelandic yogurt) for over a decade. It was the food that I missed the most from growing up in Iceland. It took me quite a while to master the process but eventually the yogurt was so tasty that I thought to myself “I should sell this stuff.” Our offices are in Petaluma, California, and the yogurt is made in Westby, Wisconsin.  There are six of us in the office now plus, one sales person.

There are a lot of organic yogurts in the market today. What makes your yogurt a cut above the rest?

We have more protein than any other yogurt that’s currently made in the United States. All our ingredients are organic, and we use less sugar than most yogurt on the market. I think we make the healthiest yogurt in the United States. I get emails almost every day from people saying our yogurt is the best they have ever tasted, so I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say we also make the tastiest yogurt in the country.

You started as an advertising photographer. How do those skills come into play as a yogurt maker/entrepreneur?

I love branding and marketing and worked in that industry for almost two decades. Many of my friends are some of the most brilliant people in advertising. This gives me an incredible advantage in getting a new product to market. I also don’t stop until I’ve reached perfection, which I think is evident in both our cups and what’s inside.

How is the yogurt marketed?

We are a start-up and, as such, our funds are very limited. Most of our growth comes from word of mouth. We’re lucky in that once people try our yogurt they tend to tell their friends how fantastic it is.

Your cows are special to you. What is special about them and why do you profile them on your site?

It all starts with the cows. Happy cows make happy milk, which we turn into happy yogurt for happy people. Our cows are grass fed and are on small family farms. I think the quality of life for our cows directly translates to the quality of our product.

How are you expanding in the United States and beyond?

We are constantly being approached by new stores and distributors and are expanding at a very rapid rate. The goal is for Smári to be available everywhere yogurt is sold.

Any new flavors we can expect in the future?

Yes, but I can’t talk it about it. Look for them on shelves soon.

What is your personal style?

My girlfriend says my style is clean, simple and straightforward. I have big glasses, am bearded and always wear red socks. Apart from that it’s most often jeans and (usually black) t-shirt. I’m almost always too hot to wear anything thick—I’m from Iceland, after all—and I like to be comfortable.

What items do you carry in your travel bag?

I travel quite a bit for work and have nailed it down to a science. Most of my travel is overnight, so I always have a fresh pair of socks, underwear and t-shirt plus my toiletry bag. I have a bag with my GPS and everything to charge my various electronics. A big pile of quarters is essential, as is a rain jacket or umbrella. I always have a battery alarm clock if I need to wake up early. By now I can pack in less than 5 minutes.