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Chobani founder named Ernst & Young National Entrepreneur of the Year

NORWICH, N.Y. — Chobani founder Hamdi Ulukaya has won the Ernst & Young National Entrepreneur of the Year 2012 Retail and Consumer Products Award. Ulukaya was also awarded the Ernst & Young National Entrepreneur of the Year 2012 Overall Award.

The Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award encourages entrepreneurial activity and recognizes leaders and visionaries who demonstrate innovation, financial success and personal commitment as they create and build world-class businesses.

Ulukaya was honored at the Entrepreneur of the Year gala, the culminating event of the Ernst & Young Strategic Growth Forum in Palm Springs, Calif. The forum is the nation's premier gathering of high-growth, market-leading companies. Awards were given in nine additional categories. All Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award winners were selected by an independent panel of judges from 244 regional award recipients.

"Entrepreneurs continue to be a driving force in leading the economic recovery. Their ability to see around corners and find new, better ways of doing things makes them an engine of growth," said Bryan Pearce, Americas director, Entrepreneur of the Year, Ernst & Young LLP. "Ulukaya's ability to not only see an opportunity in the market, but to turn that opportunity into a nutritional phenomenon is inspiring at a time when the news is frequently doom and gloom on market growth."

After leaving his family's dairy business in Turkey to pursue higher education in the United States, Ulukaya recognized an opportunity to tap a relatively untouched market: Greek yogurt. Instinctively following his gut, he purchased an old Kraft yogurt plant in 2005 with the goal of bringing superior products to the U.S. market.

In less than four years, Ulukaya took Chobani's sales from $50 million to almost $700 million per year. While other competitors focus largely on mass marketing and TV advertising, Ulukaya has instead taken a more creative, grassroots approach, capitalizing on social media and word-of-mouth marketing to build a cult following around the brand. With almost 600,000 Facebook fans, Chobani prides itself on being engaged and connected with its growing community.

Despite rapid expansion of the Chobani brand, Ulukaya sticks by his company's philosophy: "Nothing But Good." His philanthropic initiatives have supported more than 50 groups globally. In 2010, Ulukaya created the Shepherd's Gift Foundation, an independent 501c(3) in honor of his mother — Chobani means “shepherd” in Turkish. The foundation contributes 10% of all Chobani post-tax profits to those working for positive, long-lasting change.

Ulukaya recently launched Chobani Champions, the first Greek yogurt for kids. Ulukaya is also undertaking a major expansion of the current New York plant and is constructing a new plant in Idaho that, when finished, will be the largest yogurt plant in the country. On a global scale, Ulukaya acquired Bead Foods in Australia in 2011 and is planning to move into Canada as well.