Ernst & Young Entrepreneur Of The Year®
Retail and Consumer Products
Founder, President, CEO
When Hamdi Ulukaya, founder, President and CEO of Chobani, Inc., first saw a flyer seeking buyers for an about-to-be abandoned yogurt factory in upstate New York, he followed his first inclination and tossed it in the trash.
But something intrigued him enough to pull the flyer out of the garbage. “I called the real estate agent,” Ulukaya says, “and drove there the next day for a tour.”
Ulukaya found the plant in working condition, but the decor was hardly inviting. “The year 1920 was still visible on one of the walls, the paint was peeling off the outside walls, and it reminded me of a cemetery,” he recalls. “A work crew was still there, turning off water, shutting off the lights and preparing the plant to be closed.”
Against the advice of his attorney, Ulukaya bought the factory, using Small Business Administration loans and bank financing. Seven years later, the plant is the busiest yogurt producer in the US, processing some 3 million pounds of milk per day. Moreover, Chobani commands an almost 20% share of the US yogurt market and is now expanding globally.
And while the plant in New York still churns out some 1.6 million cases of Chobani yogurt every week, in late 2011 the company broke ground in Twin Falls, ID. That plant, Ulukaya projects, will eventually become the largest in the world, processing some 3 million pounds of milk a day and supplying Chobani yogurt to West Coast customers.