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Why Chobani yogurt is being called ‘my election-night snack’

Founder and CEO of Chobani, Hamdi Ulukaya, speaks onstage at a Vanity Fair summit in San Francisco in October. The CEO and his brand of yogurt have seen an outpouring of support on social media this week after the New York Times wrote about it being a target of the extreme right for his practice of hiring refugees. (Photo by Mike Windle/Getty Images for Vanity Fair)

The grocery store aisles have become ground zero for this election's politicized brands on social media.

First Skittles found itself unwittingly pulled into the political crosshairs after Eric Trump tweeted a meme comparing the candy to refugees. Then Tic Tac found itself as Donald Trump's preferred breath freshener "just in case I start kissing her," as he said in that lewd hot mic video released in October. And last week, after Richard Yuengling Jr. said his beer company was behind Trump, a social media debate erupted between Trump supporters who said they'd be buying the 187-year-old beer and his critics who said they would boycott it.

Now, following a New York Times story Monday that detailed how Chobani founder Hamdi Ulukaya has come under fire from far right conservatives over his hiring of refugees and advocacy for them, the Greek yogurt brand has seen a wave of attention on social media. Ulukaya, an immigrant from Turkey who is of Kurdish descent, employs more than 300 refugees in his factories. He has started a foundation to get businesses involved in solving the crisis. And he has pledged to give away most of his wealth in support of migrants. In response, the Times reported, he has become the target of a series of articles on the conservative website Breitbart and a call for boycotts of his brand on social media. (The Daily Beast also wrote about the far right's campaign against Chobani in early September.)

[Skittles can't seem to escape political controversies]

In recent days a groundswell of support for Chobani has emerged on social media, all but drowning out the #boycott. An analysis by the analytics firm Brandwatch found that the yogurt brand was mentioned more than 9,300 times on Tuesday, the day after the Times' story posted, which was an 8,600 percent bump.

Eighty-five percent of the mentions about CEO Ulukaya and 55 percent of the social media mentions were positive, but that's a misleading number: The "negative" mentions weren't necessarily criticizing the company or CEO, according to Brandwatch. Instead, they were largely condemning the threats being made against the company for employing refugees. ​On Twitter, the hashtags #chobani and #refugees and #buychobani far outpaced #boycott, Brandwatch noted.

A quick search of the word "chobani" on Twitter confirms the largely positive response. Some praised Ulukaya himself. "I vote with my wallet and look forward to buying a lot more @chobani," wrote one fan. "This is what leadership looks like." Others said they'd be stocking their fridge with more of his yogurt instead. "I eat yogurt nearly every morning. Looks like I've got a new favorite brand," wrote another.

Some political voices weighed in: Republican strategist and Trump critic Ana Navarro called it the "insanity of the day," tweeting that she had two Chobani yogurts for breakfast, while former Obama National Security spokesman Tommy Vietor wrote to "please go buy @Chobani products to support them." Others made a clear connection between the brand and an election in which GOP nominee Donald Trump has proposed a ban on Syrian refugees. One supporter declared Chobani his "election-night snack."

Meanwhile, on the company's Facebook page, comments poured in with support for the CEO's actions, thanking him and the company. Some referred not only to Ulukaya's support of refugees, but his treatment of employees. Before the latest wave of attention, Chobani made headlines this year for giving all of his 2,000 full-time workers awards that could be worth up to 10 percent of the company's future value. And last month, Chobani added six weeks of paid parental leave for both new mothers and fathers at his company, many of whom are factory workers who often don't see such benefits.

A representative for the company declined to comment on what impact the wave of social media attention was having. Ulukaya himself, speaking at a Fast Company conference on Tuesday after the story hit, spoke broadly about the refugee issue, saying it was the right thing to do to help refugees get jobs. "We're looking at this landscape in the world today, and it doesn't matter where you are — in upstate New York, Turkey, Germany, whatever — you just cannot sit still," Ulukaya said, according to a Fast Company report.

[Chobani’s CEO is giving up to 10 percent of his company to employees]

He spoke about the role corporations can play in filling the gap where government actions haven't worked; corporate partners that have signed on to his Tent Alliance include big names such as Cisco, Deloitte, IBM and Johnson & Johnson, according to the foundation's website.

"It has never been this important in human history that business owners and innovators are not disconnected from human life, and definitely not disconnected from their own employees and communities," he said at the conference.

Ulukaya also talked about two workers at his yogurt plant who escaped Afghanistan after their father was killed and they left their mother behind, one of whom has become a manager at the factory.

"These are two stories," he said. "I have 600 stories. These are all human beings."

Read also:

What business leaders are doing about the refugee crisis

Howard Schultz wants you to try some civility with your coffee

CEOs are getting more political, but consumers aren't buying it

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