In a single decade, Chobani has transformed itself from a small startup to a prodigiously successful food maker, becoming nearly synonymous with Greek Yogurt along the way as maker of America's #1 Greek Yogurt brand and the second largest overall yogurt manufacturer in the U.S. And with its Chobani Incubator program, the company is aiming to give like-minded startups a leg up, to advance the company’s mission to provide better food for more people, and improve broken food systems.
I recently spoke to Jackie Miller, Director of the Chobani Incubator, to learn more about the program and its Spring 2018 class—accepting applicati
“Chobani Incubator was born out of our Founder, Hamdi Ulukaya’s vision of paying it forward for the next generation of food entrepreneurs,” explained Jackie. “This year is Chobani’s tenth anniversary, so it’s really not that long ago that Hamdi was building up Chobani in those early days. We launched our Incubator in 2016, and I joined Chobani specifically to run the program. Our mission is ‘provide better food for more people.’ There are a lot of great small brands out there innovating, making better food—delicious, nutritious, and natural products. So we asked ourselves: how do we help these companies scale up and grow, so they can reach more people and make an impact on people’s lives?”
The answer, Jackie told me, was a unique four-month program designed to provide food entrepreneurs with mentorship, grant them access to Chobani’s resources, and provide a no-strings attached grant for the companies to use as they desire to help grow their companies and advance their concepts.
“We want to help these companies grow, accomplish their mission, and reach more people by giving them access to all of Chobani’s network and internal resources as well as capital—we provide $25,000,” Jackie noted. “Another really unique thing about this program is we don’t take any equity in these companies. The program is designed to be very founder friendly. There’s always someone asking founders for a piece of the pie, but we want this to be about them, really, and about making the process as friendly and supportive as possible. Our program is really about better food, giving people more options, and helping the little guys grow to compete with the big guys.”
In the same sense that Chobani transformed the yogurt category by introducing a healthier, tastier Greek yogurt, Jackie told me, these entrepreneurs are hoping to do the same in their own categories and introduce transformative change throughout the industry. By selecting companies that make excellent products and working to ensure these companies’ success, Chobani intends to improve the entirety of the food industry.
“We have what we refer to as our DNNA—we look for products that are delicious, nutritious, natural, and affordable—affordability is very important to us,” said Jackie. “And we invest in people as much as we do products, companies, and ideas. We look for people that are really passionate founders who have a purpose-driven approach.”
Rumi Spice, Jackie tells me, is one example of the Incubator’s second cohort that is purpose-driven by employing Afghan women to produce saffron products. Other companies like Banza, which is part of the first class, were chosen for their innovative approach—introducing a high-protein, low carb chickpea pasta that is nutritious and tasty.
“We get excited about innovation and emerging categories—about innovative formats, packaging, and ingredients,” Jackie added.
Click here to learn more about the innovative companies involved in Chobani Incubator.