This blog has previously written about the phenomenal success of Turkish-born Hamdi Ulukaya, who has managed to turn the Chobani brand of yogurt into the United States' most successful purveyor of of "Greek style" yogurt (more "Turkish style" in this case). Ulukaya's is a wonderful rags-to-milky-riches story: born in a small village in eastern Turkey, the businessman came to America, bought a defunct yogurt factory in upstate New York and turned into a fast-growing enterprise that had some $700 million in sales last year.
Ulukaya has been so successful that he's been dubbed the "Steve Jobs of yogurt." In fact, Chobani's success is now a driving factor in a New York state government effort to create a kind of "yogurt valley" in the dairy-producing part of the state where the company and several competitors are located. As the New York Times reports, Governor Andrew Cuomo recently presided over NY's first-ever "Yogurt Summit," designed to further boost the state's booming "Greek style" yogurt biz. From the NYT's report:
The Cuomo administration designed a logo for the meeting, featuring a cow with a spot on its side in the shape of New York State, and the governor wore a lapel pin with the yogurt logo. The administration also commissioned a custom-made backdrop, printed with “New York State Yogurt Summit” in capital letters, for Mr. Cuomo and other dignitaries to sit in front of, like professional athletes at a Super Bowl news conference.
There was, naturally, plenty of yogurt — several tubs of it, in fact, featuring New York-based industry leaders like Chobani and Fage, as well as lesser-known yogurt concerns, like Siggi’s (an Icelandic-style brand made in Chenango County) and Müller (a German company that is building a plant with PepsiCo in Batavia). It was possible, if not advisable, to eat yogurt for hours on end; Mr. Cuomo is known for keeping his meeting rooms cold, so there was little risk that the yogurt would go bad.
Mr. Cuomo praised the yogurt industry’s growth as “staggering” and “unbelievable”: 29 yogurt plants, up from 14 in 2000; 1.2 billion pounds of milk used annually; 8,070 people employed. Chobani, for example, which started in 2005 with 5 employees, now has 1,200 in New York State.
The State Assembly speaker, Sheldon Silver, said he hoped New York would become “the yogurt capital of the United States, if not the world.” And Dean Norton, the president of the New York Farm Bureau, suggested yogurt could provide New York with an agricultural version of California’s Silicon Valley — the “yogurt empire,” in his words.
Meanwhile, it appears that Chobani's success is creating a market for Turkish yogurt-making knowhow. As NPR's "The Salt" blog reports, in their effort to quickly develop a formula for "Greek style" yogurt, several companies have turned to the work of a Turkish food engineer who has developed a formula for creating thick yogurt without the cost-intensive step of straining it, which requires using more milk than for regular yogurt. Ulukaya, for his part, refers to yogurts made this way as cheap imitations.