It all started with an advertisement.
In 2005, Turkey-native Hamdi Ulukaya jumped at the chance to purchase a former New York Kraft Food plant. Now, seven years later, Ulukaya dominates the Greek yogurt market and has now been named the nation’s top entrepreneur by the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA).
TimesUnion.com reports that Ulukaya , founder and CEO of Chobani yogurt, was honored by the SBA at a recent ceremony. He will receive the national award later this month at an event in Washington, D.C.
"A lot of exciting things are happening for the company. If you put your mind to something, put good people around you, and believe, anything is possible,” Ulukaya said in an SBA statement. “Chobani's story is, for me, if you really try hard, you can do anything.”
Things have changed a lot since Ulukaya purchased the aging Columbus plant in 2005 and began shipping the Chobani brand in 2007. Since then, his workforce has grown from 50 to 1,200 employees, with plants in Australia and California. They sell more than 1.7 million cases a week nationwide. Later this summer, the company also plans to open the world’s latest yogurt factory in Twin Falls, Idaho.
"We broke all the records along the way. We became the number one selling Greek yogurt, passing brands that had started six or seven years before us. We became the number one yogurt in the Northeast, and then we became the number one brand in the country," Ulukaya said. "Even though we make a lot of it, every batch has attention from us, meeting certain criteria to make sure it's good. We want to make good yogurt."
At a Dairy Farmers of America (DFA) annual meeting in March, Ulukaya shared with his success story. His drive for innovation, while keeping his product line simple, has helped keep his products popular. Read more about the amazing story of this cheese-maker turned yogurt-guru.
The upstate New York industry has seen first-hand the economic impact of the Greek yogurt boom. U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., introduced legislation earlier this year that would help give dairy darmers the financial tools to meet the growing milk demand necessary to produce Greek yogurt.
Chobani itself buys 25 million gallons of milk each week from local farmers, creating an annual economic impact of $300 million.
In addition to supporting local farmers and communities, the company also focuses on giving back to the community and helping many causes. They give 10 percent of their annual post-tax profits to Shepherd's Gift Foundation, Chobani’s charitable arm. Chobani also supports famine relief efforts in Somalia, cancer research, playgrounds for children and earthquake relief efforts in Turkey.