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Chobani tastes leadership success

NEW YORK — Chobani Greek Yogurt is the recipient of the 2012 North America Innovation in Leadership award for its groundbreaking contribution to the U.S. yogurt sector, presented by Rabobank.

Grace Simmons, VP of strategic initiatives for Chobani, accepted the award at the global bank’s recent Commodity, Corporate, and Trade Finance Forum.

Rabobank awards the North America Innovation in Leadership to companies in the bank's North American wholesale client portfolio that have demonstrated exceptional ability and resourcefulness in implementing new ideas and business practices, or inapplying existing ideas and practices in new ways, that contribute significant value to the company and/or its industry.  

The 2012 award recognizes Chobani, a Rabobank client, for the transformational impact of its practices on the U.S. yogurt industry and its success in redefining an established market to advance its own business and the overall yogurt category.

"We are very pleased to name Chobani the recipient of our inaugural Leadership in Innovation award. In a sector historically dominated by global giants, Chobani, led by its visionary founder, president and CEO Hamdi Ulukaya, clearly evidences that a singular focus on the consumer and an organizational culture which thrives on innovation can be powerful drivers of a meteoric rise to market leadership. Rabobank is proud to have helped Chobani make its first strategic international expansion with the acquisition of Bead Foods in Australia, even as its remarkable take-off began in North America," said Rita Keskinyan, managing director at Rabobank.

"At Chobani, innovation is at the core of everything we do, from research and development to the way we build our production facilities and cultivate our employees," said John Heath, VP of new ventures and innovation at Chobani.  

Since hitting shelves in 2007, Chobani has remained committed to using milk from surrounding area farms around its New Berlin, New York; Twin Falls, Idaho and Dandenong, Australia, production facilities, driving local economic growth and revival.

The award comes nearly a month after founder Hamdi Ulukaya won the Ernst & Young National Entrepreneur of the Year 2012 Retail and Consumer Products Award, as well as the Ernst & Young National Entrepreneur of the Year 2012 Overall Award.

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," and Chobani is certainly reaping what it sows.