Chobani, one of the fastest-growing private food companies in the United States, announced this week it has confidentially filed documents with the Securities and Exchange Commission to go public. The yogurt brand's social mission to benefit its local communities, and refugees in particular, could see a significant boost from an IPO.
Chobani was founded in 2005 by Hamdi Ulukaya, who immigrated to the United States from Turkey in his early 20s. With a loan from the Small Business Administration, he acquired an abandoned factory in upstate New York to begin making Greek-style yogurt. Under his leadership, Chobani has become known as a socially conscious brand with worker-friendly policies.
Ulukaya champions hiring locally--and diversely. As of three years ago, more than 20 languages were spoken in the company's New York plant, and more than 30 percent of staff were immigrants or refugees. He told me at that time his hiring philosophy wasn't political--it had everything to do with creating an inclusive company culture.
If you want to build a company that truly welcomes people--including refugees--one thing you have to do is throw out this notion of "cheap labor." That's really awful. They're not a different group of people, they're not Africans or Asians or Nepalis. They're each just another team member. Let people be themselves, and if you have a cultural environment that welcomes everyone for who they are, it just works.
Employees own 10 percent of the company in the form of an employee stock ownership program, or ESOP. That means that an IPO has the potential to mint many millionaires, both in New York and in Twin Falls, Idaho, home of Chobani's second major U.S. plant. (The New York Times estimates the average worker would net $150,000 from a $3 billion IPO.) In the 2018 interview Ulukaya credited much of the business's success to issuing stock to his then-2,000 employees, and advised other business owners to do the same: "This is probably one of the smartest, most tactical things you can do for a company," he said. You're faster, you're more passionate. Your people are happier."
The run-up to an IPO typically takes upward of two and a half months, meaning the offering--which could be valued at $10 billion--could come between September and the start of 2022. Timing for a public offering seems fortuitous, as it's a busy time to debut on the U.S. exchanges. Last week, 19 newly public companies began trading. And high-profile food companies are faring well: Oatly, the oat-milk maker, went public in May, raising $1.4 billion; and Impossible Foods, the maker of plant-based proteins, is expected to go public before the end of the year.