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ENTREPRENEUR OF THE YEAR

5 Reasons Chobani Rules | Company of the Year Runner-Up

Chobani grew 2,662% over the past three years and has revenue of about $1 billion. The numbers tell only part of the story of why this Greek-yogurt maker is runner-up to Company of the Year.

Chobani

Courtesy Company

Hamdi Ulukaya, founder of Chobani

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This superfast-growing company is creating lots of quality jobs in America, is building new plants here in the United States, and gives back profits to charity. Oh, and it was built using no outside investment.

All of these accomplishments made Chobani an impressive contender for Company of the Year. In fact, it beat out all but one other company for the award. (Tomorrow, Inc. unveils the 2012 Company of the Year honoree, so stay tuned.) Here are just some of the reasons Chobani is an extremely impressive company.

1. It's real

Don't get us wrong: We appreciate Silicon Valley's latest smoke-and-mirrors brainstorm as much as anyone. And sometimes the things we initially dismiss as smoke and mirrors end up making big differences in the lives of lots of people.

But this is yogurt. You put it on the breakfast table, feed it to your kids, and eat it yourself. It's hard to get much more tangible than that.

2. It's for everyone--not just foodies.

As Hamdi Ulukaya, Chobani's founder, readily admits, he didn't invent Greek-style yogurt.

A number of brands of similarly thick, similarly healthy yogurt, notably Fage, were being imported into the U.S. long before Chobani drove its first shipment down to a grocer on New York's Long Island.

But at the time, Greek yogurt was positioned as an upscale product for foodies. Chobani, from the start, was meant for everyone. That--not the yogurt itself--was Ulukaya's real innovation. By 2009, Chobani was in Stop & Shop; warehouse clubs BJ's and Costco soon followed.

3. It's creating good jobs--right here, right now.

Chobani employs about 1,600 people, and all but a few hundred of them work in the United States. It may technically be possible to outsource the production of yogurt and ship it back to the U.S., but Chobani insists it has no such plans.

Instead, it is investing $450 million in a new plant in Twin Falls, Idaho, that will employ about 400 people and more than double the company’s capacity.

4. Its founder did it himself.

OK, maybe not entirely on his own--Ulukaya's ex-wife is suing him, claiming she put up part of the money to get the company started. But there are no outside equity investors in the company. Ulukaya started with a Small Business Administration 504 loan and spent an awful lot of nights sleeping at the plant.

It may be true, as many venture capitalists claim, that the founder who got a company to $5 million is seldom the person who can get it to $50 million. But Ulukaya is one. 

Chobani has about $1 billion in revenue, and Ulukaya still owns and runs it. We like to think that's what entrepreneurship is about. If this isn't the American dream, what is?

5. Its executives don't seem like a bunch of jerks.

Chobani is not a green company in the conventional sense. The yogurt may be healthy and all natural, but it's not as if it's comprised of only organic milk from rare breeds of cows who listen to piped-in chamber music while they sleep. 

But, you know what? Chobani does give a laudable 10% of its profits to its Shepherd's Gift Foundation, which funds efforts around the globe to provide clean water to communities that lack it. And if you visit Chobani's retail store in New York City, you can keep the glass dish in which the yogurt is served or return it and get a 25-cent credit toward your next purchase. It's just kind of…nice. And we like nice people.

IMAGE: missmeng/Flickr
Last updated: Dec 3, 2012

KIMBERLY WEISUL is editor-at-large at Inc. and co-founder of One Thing New, the digital media startup that is rebooting women's content. She was previously a senior editor at BusinessWeek.
@weisul




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