Chobani Will Pay Food Startups to Battle Big Food
There's a new Mother Teresa in town, and she's a he who's responsible for making Greek yogurt a breakfast staple in the U.S.
On Wednesday, Hamdi Ulukaya, founder and CEO of Chobani, announced an open call for the Chobani Food Incubator. Chobani will give six food startups six months' worth of expertise — and a $25,000 grant — to make the future of food one to look forward to. The program, which was first announced in 2014, will serve as a launchpad for food entrepreneurs with startup companies that want to disrupt the food industry.
"Natural food startups with the right mindset can make a big difference," Ulukaya said in a press release. "I know that getting started can be the hardest part of the journey, so I designed the Chobani Food Incubator to share what we've learned when it comes to scaling up, challenging the big guys and fighting convention."
The Chobani Food Incubator is a "no strings attached" grant-based program, meaning the Greek yogurt giant isn't looking to take a cut or make a profit from the companies it hosts. In the pilot program, six startups will have the opportunity to attend a six-month program with monthly on-site classes led by a variety of Chobani experts and mentors, from those in marketing in packaging and food quality to leaders in retail strategy and nutrition. Each team will also receive an equity-free grant from Chobani.
So, what's the catch? There is none, apparently. "For quite a while now, we've wanted to share the success of Chobani," Michael Gonda, vice president of Chobani's corporate communications and public affairs said over the phone. "And [we wanted to] figure our how we can take everything we've learned over the past nine years and use that to help entrepreneurs who are like-minded."
What does it mean to be like-minded with Chobani?
Ulukaya, who founded the yogurt company in 2005, is currently worth a reported $1.1 billion. Now he wants to use his deep pockets to help other startups that aim to make food that's delicious, nutritious, natural and accessible. According to Gonda, Chobani's founder believes the future of food relies on small companies that challenge Big Food, a group that's not doing its job when it comes to nutrition and accessibility.
Proof: America's food culture is objectively in need of some incubation. Most of us subsist on junk foods (re: sugar) more than any other food, the New York Times reported. It's no surprise, then, that more than two in three adults are considered overweight or obese. Access to healthier goods could use some cleaning up, too: One in seven Americans is on food stamps, and, according to 2006-2010 census data, close to 10% of Americans live in a low-income area that's more than a mile from a supermarket. The country is hungry for some new ways to make good food more abundant and accessible.
Ulukaya has proven to be committed to wide-spread wellness. In April, he announced he'd be giving all 2,000 of Chobani's employees shares equal to up to 10% of the company when it's sold or goes public, the New York Times reported. "The goal, he said, is to pass along the wealth they have helped build in the decade since the company started."
Now Ulukaya will continue his pattern of generosity by passing his business acumen to eager startups with good intentions.
"Good food is a right, not a privilege," the Incubator website reads. "There's a food revolution happening and it's being led by young, growing companies with attitude and aspiration."
Who knew the food revolution would start with humble, protein-rich yogurt?