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Columns

September 11, 2010

Chobani yogurt: Nothing but good for the area

I'm in love with Chobani.

True to its marketing slogan, this locally made, Greek-style yogurt is, indeed, "nothing but good."

First of all, it's delicious: thick, creamy, fruity and sweet (but not too sweet).

Second of all, it's nutritious. Chobani has no artificial colors, preservatives, flavors or sweeteners. All varieties are either low-fat or fat-free (like the raspberry flavor that got me hooked), and high in protein. Because of the special straining process used to make Greek-style yogurt, Chobani has twice as much protein as regular yogurt. One 6-ounce serving has 14 grams -- more protein than a serving of milk, canned tuna, peanut butter or black beans.

Best of all, Chobani's success is nothing but good for local dairy farmers. Chobani is made at a plant in the Chenango County town of Columbus using milk from local farms. Last month, its parent company, Agro-Farma Inc., launched a $100 million expansion project designed to keep up with rapidly increasing demand for the yogurt. During a ground-breaking ceremony for a 150,000-square-foot refrigerated warehouse across the road from its plant, Agro-Farma President Hamdi Ulukaya called on local dairy farmers to consider increasing the size of their herds to meet the plant's growing need for milk.

After years of hearing about the sad plight of upstate New York's declining dairy industry, this is exciting news. Agro-Farma has a strong commitment to supporting local farmers -- it gets all the milk used in its yogurt from farms within 15 miles of its plant in the hamlet of South Edmeston -- and by the end of this year, the company estimates it will need 25 million pounds of milk a week to keep up with demand for its yogurt.

Chobani is one of the top-selling yogurt brands in the country, thanks, in part, to a savvy marketing strategy. The easy-to-navigate Chobani website offers downloadable coupons, recipes and nutrition information, as well as a schedule for the touring CHOmobile -- a mobile booth that visits community festivals and health expos (including the Utica Boilermaker Road Race this past July) across the country to promote the brand and hand out samples. Chobani is wisely working to capture a chunk of the market share for children's yogurt products with a new line called Chobani Champions, featuring fun flavors like StrawNana and Very Berry that seem sure to stand up against popular brands such as Trix and Go-Gurt.

Chobani has also had the benefit of being in the right place at the right time. Ulukaya purchased the former Kraft plant in 2005 and launched the Chobani brand two years later, just when Greek yogurt was starting to become trendy among foodies and nutrition buffs. The health benefits of Greek yogurt have since been touted in a wide variety of food, health and fitness magazines, and Chobani was singled out by Prevention magazine in a June article listing the "49 best ready-to-eat foods" available in grocery stores.

To top off all this "nothing but good" news, Chobani donates 10 percent of its annual profits to charities that fight poverty, promote nutrition and physical activity in schools, and raise money for cancer prevention and research, among other noble causes. What's not to like?

Maybe it's because of my Greek ancestry, but I also have a soft spot for a product with Mediterranean roots. AgroFarma president Ulukaya was born and raised in Turkey, where his family produced yogurt and feta cheese for three generations. Prior to launching Chobani, he started Euphrates Inc., a wholesale feta cheese producer in Johnstown.

In addition to being a great business success story that will help our regional economy, Chobani is one more example of the amazing variety of high-quality, delicious foods that are grown, raised and made in our area.

For me, there's no breakfast more luxurious than a slice of toasted Heidelberg Hearty Flaxseed bread (made in Herkimer) spread with apple butter from Handsome Brook Farms in Franklin. I see the farmers' market season as an endless parade of treats -- from spring lettuce and strawberries to summer sweet corn and blueberries to fall apples and squash.

With products like Chobani yogurt -- not to mention McCoy's honey, Brooks' barbecue sauce, Foti's bread, Harpersfield Cheese and many, many more -- available year-round in our supermarkets and health food stores, we can continue to buy local, even when the gardens and fields are covered with snow.

Lisa Miller is a freelance writer who lives in Oneonta. She can be reached at lisamiller44@hotmail.com.

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