Chobani LLC, Norwich, N.Y., unveiled its spring 2019 Chobani Incubator class. The class includes eight food and beverage startups that are disrupting and improving mainstay food and beverage categories in the United States, the yogurt manufacturer said.

Bringing a diverse mix of backgrounds, perspectives and culinary inspirations, the class covers product categories that include gluten-free empanadas, made-from-scratch natural biscuits, frozen locally sourced fruit and homemade Thai curries, with recipes based in a variety of cultural heritages ranging from Argentinian and Thai to Syrian. Notably, 63% of founders or co-founders within the class are female, while underrepresented minority founders make up 75% of the class. This class is the most diverse cohort in the program’s history, Chobani noted, across genders, geographies, race and ethnicity, and country-of-origin.

Chobani Incubator’s spring 2019 class includes:

  • Afia Foods. The mission at AFIA Foods is to “bring the Mediterranean home” by using authentic Syrian family recipes for frozen protein-forward falafel and kibbeh made with halal-certified meat. AFIA Foods was founded by British-born Syrian Farrah Moussallati Sibai, and employees at the Texas-based company include family members who fled the Syrian civil war.
  • Cocina 54.Founded by Argentinian immigrants Cecilia Panichelli and Federico Carrillo, Cocina 54’s mission is to “make delicious empanadas, bringing a convenient product that fits consumer’s busy lifestyles and the search for bold international flavors” sold in the frozen food aisle. Flavors include beef, chicken & peppers, and spinach & cheese, Chobani said.
  • The Meat Hook. The Meat Hook is a Brooklyn-based nose-to-tail butcher with a focus on local meat from small family-run farms in New York. All of the beef sold by The Meat Hook is 100% grass-fed and grass-finished, and the company’s pork and lamb are pasture raised. The Meat Hook was founded in 2009 by whole animal butchers Brent Young and Ben Turley.
  • Mason Dixie Biscuit Co. Founder Ayeshah Abuelhiga’s mission is to make “America’s best biscuit” — scratch-made, chef-created biscuits that are natural, preservative and additive-free, and the only biscuit at the grocery store made with real butter and dairy, Chobani said. Based in Washington D.C., Mason Dixie Biscuit Co. purposefully co-packs with a women-owned biscuit co-manufacturer.
  • Cannonborough Beverage Co. Founded in 2012 by Matt Fendley, Mick Matricciano and Brandon Wogamon, Cannonborough Beverage Co.’s mission is to “change the way people think about soda by creating a product that excites the senses and challenges the limits of the beverage industry.” Based in South Charleston, S.C., the company sells four core flavors and a dozen seasonal items based on farmers’ varieties.
  • Edesia Nutrition/MeWe. Founded by Navyn Salem as a Rhode Island-based nonprofit, Edesia currently employs about 100 people from 25 countries and provides nourishment to children in need globally, Chobani noted. Edesia’s ready-to-use therapeutic foods have reached more than 8 million malnourished children in over 50 countries since 2010, and the company’s goal is to reach 10 million by 2020. The company recently debuted its United States-facing line of nut butters for children in easy-to-squeeze packs.
  • Seal the Seasons. Founded in 2014 by Alex Piasecki and Patrick Mateer, the Chapel Hill, N.C.-based company has a mission to “bring delicious local food to your grocery store 12 months a year by sourcing the best of your community’s food, creating impact for both your community and your taste buds.” The company sells 37 frozen food items in a variety of flavors, including blueberries, strawberries and peaches, all of which it sources from local farmers pertinent to the regions in which they grow.
  • Thaifusions. Thaifusions was founded in 2008 by first-generation Thai American Max Borthwick and his parents, Toi and Tom, in Seattle, selling sauces and curries based on family recipes that reflect the family’s heritage, pride in the Thai culture and a lifelong craving for the fresh, potent flavors found only in authentic Thai cooking, Chobani said.

Since 2016, the Chobani Incubator program has helped entrepreneurs with big hearts and ideas break into food and beverage industries through equity-free investment and a strong focus on mentorship, the company noted. Chobani’s founder and CEO, Hamdi Ulukaya, dreamed up the program, selects all the final participants and spends time getting to know and mentor each company.

There is proof that this model is successful, Chobani said: Collectively, the first two classes to participate in the Chobani Incubator program achieved, on average, a 68% increase in distribution and a 67% increase in annual revenue in 2018 from the previous year-ago period. And overall, alumni have collectively raised more than $60 million since the program’s inception.