The Chobani brand is widely credited with starting the Greek yogurt craze in the U.S.
Consumers have gone nuts for it since the product hit shelves in 2007, and Chobani has grown into a massive force.
Turkish native Hamdi Ulukaya is the man behind Chobani. The 40-year-old ran a modest cheese company in New York state before getting into the yogurt business.
Now, the company is the No. 3 maker of non-frozen yogurt in the U.S., raking in about $750 million in sales, according to Symphony IRI. The only ones ahead of it are industry titans Yoplait (owned by General Mills) and Dannon (owned by Danone).
And it all started with one snap decision.
Ulukaya didn’t come to the U.S. from Turkey in 1995 to make yogurt — he had a very different plan.
“I came from a family of farmers who made cheese and yogurt, but that was the furthest thing from my mind at that time,” he told Forbes. “I came here for education, to learn English, to learn business.”
That changed once he saw the opportunity. Ulukaya had always thought that American yogurt brands were “horrible,” and thought if he made something better, people would flock to it.
In 2005, Ulukaya received a direct mail ad that said, “Fully equipped yogurt factory for sale.”
Ulukaya initially threw away the ad, but decided the next day that he wanted to buy the former Kraft Foods plant in Columbus, N.Y. It took him five months to come up with the funds to do it.
He bought it using less than $1 million in loans, including one from the U.S. government’s Small Business Administration, according to the Wall Street Journal.
“Everybody around me thought I was nuts,” he told the WSJ. “Here was this huge company, Kraft, getting out of this plant. If there was value in it, why would they close it? But you just have a gut feeling you can do something.”
It took 18 months to come up with the Chobani recipe.
“I wanted to make sure the product was perfect because I only had one shot and it had to work,” Ulukaya told the Wall Street Journal.
He worked with his sixth employee — a “master yogurt maker” and family friend from Turkey — to create it.
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Dr. Augustine Fou is Digital Consigliere to marketing executives, advising them on digital strategy and Unified Marketing(tm). Dr Fou has over 17 years of in-the-trenches, hands-on experience, which enables him to provide objective, in-depth assessments of their current marketing programs and recommendations for improving business impact and ROI using digital insights.
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