Chobani's Hamdi Ulukaya

America’s new yoghurt billionaire

Chobani, the best-selling yoghurt brand in the US, has given its founder, Turkish immigrant, Hamdi Ulukaya, a net worth of at least $1,1 billion in under five years, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

He is founder and sole owner of Chobani, whose sales have quintupled since 2009, and has never appeared on an international wealth ranking.

Based in Norwich, New York, the company – formerly known as Agro-Farma – began producing Chobani five years ago. It controls about 17 percent of the US yoghurt market, more than double the share of Yoplait Original, according to Chicago-based market research firm SymphonyIRI Group.

Chobani says on its website that it processes more than 1,5-million kg of milk every day. The company’s revenue more than doubled to $745,6 million in the year ending May 13, 2012, according to London-based research company Mintel. The company’s $1,1 billion valuation is based on the average enterprise value-to-sales and enterprise value-to-Ebitda multiples of two publicly-traded dairy companies, Danone SA (BN) and Saputo Inc. (SAP)

Ulukaya came to the US in 1997 from Turkey, where his family operated a dairy farm. After taking a few business courses at the State University of New York at Albany, he began making feta cheese at a factory in Johnstown, New York.

He got into the yogurt business in 2005, after seeing a classified advertisement for a factory near Utica, New York, that Northfield, Illinois-based Kraft Foods had shuttered. He bought the facility with help from a Small Business Administration loan. The first cases of Chobani Greek yogurt were shipped to Long Island supermarkets less than two years later.

Since 2009, sales of Chobani have increased almost 400 percent, according to PrivCo. That surge has been fueled in part by Americans’ appetite for Greek-style yoghurt, which contains less sugar and more protein than the regular variety. Greek yoghurt is strained to remove excess liquid, leaving the concentrated whey protein behind. A 6-ounce (170g) serving of Chobani yogurt contains 13 grams of protein.

“At a consumer level, the Greek yoghurt trend is the biggest innovation in the dairy industry since individual packaging of things like yoghurt and mozzarella sticks,” said Robert Ralyea, head of Cornell University’s Food Processing and Development Laboratory. The company, he said, has “marketed it really well.”

Bloomberg: Read the full article

Related reading:

US goes crazy for Greek yoghurt

Not bad Greek debt – it’s brilliant Greek yoghurt

US: Greek yoghurt’s booming success

US: Yoghurt wars get serious