Greek yogurt maker Chobani takes home 2012 SBA Entrepreneurship Award

Chobani has come a long way since the days of one buyer, five employees and the remains of a shuttered yogurt plant in New York.


Merely seven years old, Chobani now sells more yogurt than any other company in the United States. (Eric Risberg/AP Photo)

The Chobani story dates back to August 2005, when founder Hamdi Ulukaya purchased an old Kraft Foods plant in New Berlin, N.Y., using an SBA 504 loan secured through KeyBank and the Empire State Certified Development Corporation. More than two years later, after developing a yogurt product with a starkly different taste, Ulukaya sold his first batch of five flavors to a single grocery store in Long Island.

“We aimed at people who never liked yogurt,” Ulukaya said in a statement released by the SBA. “We couldn’t blame them because what was available was not what the rest of the world was eating.”

The Turkish immigrant’s bet on the Greek yogurt market was well timed and well executed, and company quickly found its products on the shelves of grocery stores across the country as consumers began demanding all-natural and more nutritional food products.

Chobani now ships 1.7 million cases of its distinctive tasting yogurt weekly to stores nationwide and employs more than 1,200 people. The company plans to hire an additional 400 workers when it opens its new facility later this year in Idaho, which at 900,000 square feet is slated to be the largest plant of its kind in the United States.

“Even though we make a lot of it, every batch has attention from us, meeting certain criteria to make sure it’s good,” Ulukaya said. “We want to make good yogurt.”

The SBA also applauded the firm’s “Nothing But Good” mantra, by which the company has expressed its commitment to supporting independent farmers in its local communities. Chobani also gives 10 percent of its annual profits to charities worldwide through its charitable arm called the Shepherd’s Gift Foundation.

Ulukaya will receive the Syracuse District and Regional awards in Albany on Wednesday, and he will accept the national award at SBA’s National Small Business Week celebration on May 22 in Washington.

Follow On Small Business and J.D. Harrison .

J.D. Harrison covers startups, small business and entrepreneurship, with a focus on public policy, and he runs the On Small Business blog.

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