Privately-owned, US-based yogurt maker Chobani is open to investing in entrepreneurial companies it plans to help through its new food incubator programme.
Through the initiative, Chobani is looking to help companies it says can “further fuel the food revolution”. The programme includes a US$25,000 business growth grant.
Speaking to just-food, a spokesperson for Chobani said the company is ready to consider taking a stake in businesses that emerge from the incubator. “We would absolutely not close the door on anything,” he said.
However, the spokesperson insisted the company would welcome any of the firms it helps going on to become a competitor, he said.
He said: “We are looking for like-minded companies – and companies that might also go on to help others in the same way that Chobani is doing.”
In a statement to announce the programme, Chobani founder and CEO Hamdi Ulukaya said: “Natural food start-ups with the right mindset can make a big difference. I know that getting started can be the hardest part of the journey, so I designed the Chobani food incubator to share what we’ve learned when it comes to scaling up, challenging the big guys and fighting convention. This is a no-strings-attached, grant-based program to support entrepreneurs so we can further fuel the food revolution.”
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The spokesperson added: “Hamdi is constantly looking into areas that excite him. His vision for Chobani as a company is all about sharing the success of the company. As a provider in the food industry in the US, we want to help like-minded companies get started.”
The deadline for applications for the six-month incubator is 10 August and there has been “an overwhelming response” to date, the spokesperson claimed.
The incubator programme runs from October to March 2017, with two to three participants from each successful team working online and on-site with dedicated Chobani team members. The programme includes monthly sessions at Chobani locations such as manufacturing facilities across the US and a “dedicated space” in the company’s New York offices. Participants also qualify for travel, hotel and other expenses and equity-free capital.
Chobani staff will advise on subjects including building a sustainable business, brand and marketing, packaging and pricing, sales and retail strategy, innovation and manufacturing, food quality and safety and nutrition and food labelling.
The culmination of the programme will be a chance for participants to showcase their products to natural food industry peers at the Expo West Natural Food Conference in Anaheim, California, next year.
Firms applying to join the programme must disclose any relationship between their companies and Chobani competitors, but the spokesperson said: “We want this to be a programme with unfettered access, so all we ask is that the information is disclosed.” Having a connection to a competitor is not a bar to being accepted and all applications will be considered “on a case-by-case” basis, he asserted.
The spokesperson said: “It really is a no-strings-attached programme. We are a food-obsessed culture at Chobani. It is that idea that we are really excited about and we believe in our mission of providing different food for more people.”
In 2014, Chobani secured investment of US$750m from private-equity group TPG Capital to “fund future growth”. The company is among the largest yogurt companies in the US by market share.
In April, Uklukaya announced that he was giving employees an ownership stake in the company. He said the shares being distributed would amount to 10% of the company’s future value should the company be sold. 2000 full-time employees will receive shares based on their function in the business and length of service.