By Luc Olinga, AFP
NEW YORK–It only took Turkish immigrant Hamdi Ulukaya’s yogurt seven years to sweep American grocery isles, where Chobani now competes with some of the biggest brands like Danone and Yoplait. ��I love winning, I hate failure,�� said the 42-year-old, whose story epitomizes the American dream. When Ulukaya arrived in the United States, he had US$3,000 in his pocket. Today, he’s at the helm of the trendy Greek yogurt industry. Creamy, rich in protein and low in fat, ��Greek yogurt�� made from cow’s milk is increasingly prized by health-conscious consumers, and it has benefited from the growing popularity of the Mediterranean diet in the Western world. Ulukaya, who was born into a nomadic family in the town of Ilic sometime in late October 1972 and landed in New York in 1994 to study English, sensed an opportunity. Like many immigrants, he was homesick for his country, which he left for political reasons. But he took solace in a student job at a farm in a yogurt-producing region of New York state, and the rest, of course, was history. The blossoming entrepreneur signed up for a business program at the University of Albany in New York state. Self-made Man During a visit to the United States, his father complained about the quality of feta �X a traditional soft, Greek cheese �X and suggested his son make his own. Ulukaya founded Euphrates, a feta company that supplied local restaurants and retailers. Then in 2004, he came across an advertisement for a dairy specializing in fresh products for US$700,000. Thanks to US$1 million provided in large part by a small-business loan program, Ulukaya became the owner in August 2005. And after 18 months of testing, his recipe �X which he packaged in larger containers than competitors �X was ready. ��It was all about the package. It will catch your eye,�� he said, seated at a table in Manhattan’s trendy SoHo neighborhood. But, he emphasized, it’s the yogurt that ��will close the deal.�� In October 2007 Chobani �X named after the Turkish word for shepherd �X was officially born. It contained no fat, twice the protein of its peers and no artificial flavors.
At the time, Danone and Yoplait accounted for 71 percent of the American yogurt market, according to AllianceBernstein.