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Dairy Foods has selected Chobani, based in Norwich, N.Y., as the 2012 Processor of the year for the following reasons:
• Market leadership position
• New product development
• Marketing initiatives
• Plant expansion
• Community involvement
Hamdi Ulukaya (photo) started the Chobani company (formerly known as Agro Farma) in 2005. With a Small Business Administration 504 loan, he bought a shuttered dairy processing facility from Kraft Foods in upstate New York and began making authentic strained Greek yogurt. ("Chobani" means "shepherd” in Mediterranean languages, a symbol of one who gives without expecting anything in return.)
A feature article about Chobani will be published in the December Dairy Foods, which will be available beginning Dec. 12.
Dairy Foods will present the award during the International Dairy Food Association's Dairy Forum, Jan. 27 to 30, 2013 in Orlando, Fla.
As the SBA noted when it honored Ulukaya with an Entrepreneurial Success award in May, he started with a 100-year-old plant and a staff of five. Feta cheese was the original product. In 2007, the company began producing Greek yogurt without artificial flavors or preservatives. By 2008 the company had grown to 83 employees, with sales of $22.9 million. Now, with over 1,700 employees, Chobani is shipping nearly 2 million cases every week.
Chobani wasn't the first processor to sell the high-protein yogurt, but it certainly owns the market. By 2011, the Chicago-based market research firm SymphonyIRI Group named Chobani the leading yogurt brand in the United States, with a reported 18.6% market share. The privately held company does not release annual sales, but they have been estimated to be close to $1 billion.
To accommodate demand and growth, the New Berlin, N.Y., facility is being expanded and a new plant in Idaho is under construction. Chobani broke ground in Twin Falls, Idaho, in December 2011. The nearly $450 million high-capacity facility on 200 acres is in the state's so-called "Magic Valley." The plant, expected to create up to 400 jobs, is scheduled to be operational by the end of this year.