By Elizabeth Beeson SYRACUSE, N.Y. (NCC News) — Yogurt has been a popular snack in the U.S. for decades, but in the last five years, thicker and richer greek yogurt has taken over grocery store shelves. Greek yogurt giant Chobani leads with about 40 percent of the fast-growing yogurt industry, raking in $1 billion in sales each year.
One factory and a 1000-year-old recipe
In 2005, Chobani bought an abandoned factory in Chenango County, right in the middle of hundreds of central New York dairy farms. Known for its simple, age-old recipe, Chobani prides itself in using all-natural ingredients and sourcing its milk from local farmers.
“We hit the road running to build big business in America, to take a nonexistent company to truck-loads and truck-loads of yogurt as fast as we can,” said Kyle O’Brien, Chobani sales executive.
Today, the Chenango factory has more than 2,000 employees and ships about 1.5 million cases of yogurt to grocery stores across the country every week.
Collins Knoll Farm milks close to 9,000 gallons daily
Chobani sources milk from about 800 farmers across the country, but some of its key players are right up the road. Collins Knoll Farm in Chadwicks, NY is just 28 miles from Chobani’s Chenango factory.
More than forty years ago, “We bought my dad’s farm on a Friday night and it’s grown quite a bit,” said Ed Collins.
His dad’s small dairy farm consisted of only 11 cows, but today, Ed and his three sons have 800 cows and 2,000 acres. Ed’s Holsteins can produce close to 9,ooo gallons of milk each day. The milk they produce is hormone-free and RBST-free, two of Chobani’s requirements for their all-natural products.
After Chobani opened its Chenango factory, Dairylea, encouraged Ed to maximize the farm’s milk production. Soon after, he grew his herd by 200 and built a state-of-the-art barn to accommodate the new cows. He spent $1 million.
“It’s just a good market for the milk,” said Ed.
The greek yogurt craze, and Chobani in particular, has really helped local farmers. They’re making greek yogurt out of it right up the road, “What better could you ask for?” said Ed.
From grocery stores to schools and military bases
Chobani’s latest charge for the protein-rich treat is to be on every school lunch tray in America. Last fall, Chobani teamed up with the USDA to implement greek yogurt into school lunches in four states as a healthier option to traditional yogurt.
“When we get to our mission of being on every menu at least once a week in the US, and even if it’s 70 percent of the schools, it’s at least one more plant, but more like two facilities that we’ve have to build just to manage that volume,” said O’Brien.
Chobani opened its second facility, and the world’s largest yogurt manufacturing plant, in Twin Falls, Idado in December 2012. It’s simple, said O’Brien, the farmers grow and we grow.
In Chenango County, “We rebuilt an entire town, and we have two-thousand employees and we’re pumping billions and billions of dollars into the economy,” said O’Brien.
The company’s next mission involves the military.
“When soldiers go overseas and are active, we need to know that they’re getting their protein-packed power by Chobani,” said O’Brien.
Chobani is ready to sell more yogurt to the commissaries or grocery stores on all the bases in the U.S., O’Brien said, than any other yogurt.