Turkish Philanthropist Hamdi Ulukaya

The sales of Greek vs. regular yogurt has increased considerably over the past decade. The market-share competition of big-name yogurt brands is a bit like the Kentucky Derby of yogurt. Dannon, Fage, Chobani and Yoplait battle for the top spot in sales. In the meantime, outsiders like Icelandic Skyr or Bulgarian yogurt slowly work their way up to contender status. 

So what else is there to know about Greek yogurt? Next time you reach for whichever Greek yogurt happens to be on sale, keep in mind:  in America, there actually is no legal definition of Greek yogurt. Anything goes, as long as the consumer buys it (pun intended). Even regular yogurt with a bit of thickening agent can call itself Greek yogurt. (Check for pectin, locust bean gum, milk protein concentrate, starches or guar gum in the ingredient list to avoid pretenders).

Chobani Line of Oat Milk

Which brings us to Chobani. While we haven’t researched all the other brands (yet), we did take a closer look at Chobani. According to their site, it is free of artificial sweeteners, thickeners, GMO, or other things bad for the consumer. And of course, Chobani also sells a wide assortment of other dairy products.

The Man Behind The Company

Enough about yogurt, and on to the man behind Chobani. Hamdi Ulukaya was born into a family of dairy farmers in Erzincan, Turkey. He immigrated to the U.S. at the age of 22.  After studying in New York, he worked on a farm and opened a small feta-cheese import business. 

In 2005, Ulukaya received a postcard announcing the sale of the shuttered South Edmeston, NY, Kraft yogurt dairy plant.  Ulukaya took a small business loan, bought the plant and  started Chobani, Turkish for ‘shepherd’. After almost 2 years of perfecting the recipe, Chobani launched with a small grocer in Long Island, New York. From there, it worked its way up to the vast assortment of Greek yogurts, snacks, oat-based drinks, creamers, non-dairy and kids’ products they sell nationwide today.

Business Philosophy

Hamdi Ulukaya Volunteering

Small-town farmer to yogurt mogul would be impressive enough. For Ulukaya, that’s just the small stuff which allows him to do big. Chobani is a certified ‘Best Place to Work’, and that’s not surprising when you read Ulukaya’s business philosophy. 

Ulukaya feels that higher wages lead to greater corporate success. He also believes that business-men and -women should promote a sense of purpose in their corporate culture to create a climate of positive change in business and the world: Companies should focus on humanity, and not just the bottom line.

In a 2016 interview with CNN Business, Ulukaya talked about the problems of people being unable to succeed, or even keep up, if they’re not given opportunities and adequate pay.  He also brought up a point so many companies nowadays seem to have forgotten:  Having to replace experienced employees can end up costing more than paying them properly to begin with.  He grants not every company can afford to provide their people with good salaries, health care benefits, and pensions. However, he encourages businesses who can to accept their responsibilities to the people who contribute to the business’ success. 

Philanthropy

In 2015, Ulukaya launched the Tent Foundation, an organization that has grown into a network of more than 100 companies committed to helping refugees integrate into their host communities. He urges companies and entrepreneurs to not just give money, but actively help refugees by providing them with jobs. Ulukaya has hired hundreds of refugees at the company’s factories in Idaho and New York, and signed the Giving Pledge in 2015.  

The list of awards and honors Ulukaya has received is impressive. It ranges from honors bestowed by the Turkish business community to being named an inaugural member of the Presidential Ambassadors for Global Entrepreneurship Initiative by President Obama in 2014. The list seems endless, and so does Ulukaya’s willingness to help others.  In 2017, he founded the Hamdi Ulukaya Initiative, an entrepreneur support program for Turkish  startups. 

Chobani Incubator Program

And after all of the above, Ulukaya still finds time to support food startups who bring better food options to the people, via the Chobani Food Incubator program. This grant program helps startups that thrive to bring better food to the market and positively impact the world.

Non-GMO, using 100% renewable energy in the manufacture of products, sustainable sourcing and packaging, caring about employees, giving millions to good causes, and then some. If company mission and culture affect your buying decision, it looks like Ulukaya has it all covered. Short of the final decision-maker – personal taste – it seems safe to say that the search for the perfect Greek yogurt in the dairy aisle can stop at Chobani. 

Chobani participates in the National Milk Producers Federation Farmers Assuring Responsible Management (FARM) animal care program. Since 2019, all the farms from which Chobani procures their dairy, comply with FARM’s standards for dairy animal care

Check out some free yogurt recipes on Chobani’s recipe pages here

Of course, we know: Chobani is good yogurt, but it’s not authentic Greek. It’ll be difficult to find real Greek dairy products in the U.S. But in the meantime, check out our listings of European businesses selling authentic products in the U.S. here.