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December 19, 2013

Chobani cuts temp workers, shuffles shifts

By Joe Mahoney Staff Writer
The Daily Star

---- — Chobani, the producer of Greek-style yogurt, will no longer rely on temporary workers at its Chenango County plant and is switching its regular workers from 12-hour daily shifts to 8 hours per day, a company representative confirmed.

The plant in Columbus, on the west bank of the Unadilla River, will operate with three eight-hour shifts from Monday through Friday, after reaching what the representative called its optimum production capability.

While Chobani opened an even larger new plant in Idaho last year, the Columbus plant remains its hub, and is considered vital to the company’s East Coast operations, said the representative, speaking on background.

The Chobani representative said the elimination of temporary workers should not be viewed as a layoff because they are employed by a third party placement agency, Staffworks, the representative said. The company did not release the number of workers it is letting go.

Chobani, which has enjoyed rapid success over the past seven years, is facing heightened competition from major rivals in the dairy industry. However, the company’s output continues to grow, the Chobani representative said.

On Wednesday, the Wall Street Journal reported that Whole Foods, a national supermarket chain, will stop selling Chobani yogurt by early 2014. Whole Foods has signaled that it wants to sell more organic products that are free of genetically modified organisms (GMO). Chobani has said it doesn’t require that its dairy suppliers send only GMO-free milk to the company’s production facilities.

There are no Whole Food stores in Otsego, Delaware, Schoharie or Chenango counties.

Chobani’s founder and chief executive officer, Hamdi Ulukaya, said in a statement that his company has “very limited distribution within Whole Foods.” though he called the chain “an important partner of ours over the years.”

“As the number one Greek Yogurt brand in America using only natural ingredients, we share an affinity with Whole Foods and its shoppers,” Ulukaya said. “We know our fans love buying our products in their stores and we hope to continue our partnership moving forward.”

In recent months, Chobani tuned up its public relations operations, bringing on board new chief marketing and brand officer Peter McGuinness.

McGuinness, who did not return a message seeking comment for this story, acknowledged in a recent interview with the trade publication Adweek that Chobani’s rivals were taking aim at the company by “Greekwashing their portfolios.”

“Greek is now 50 percent of the market and we think it will go to 75 percent,” he said. “Yogurt consumption will double. So the yogurt wars have officially begun.”

Chobani, which boasts about $1 billion in sales annually, remains the largest producer of Greek-style yogurt in the United States.

Last month, the company parted ways with Nikki Briggs, its chief communications officer since 2009, according to PR Week. McGuinness told the publication then that Chobani was planning for what will “probably be our biggest marketing push thus far in the company’s history.”

This month, the company announced that it will place its first commercial during the nation’s biggest televised sports event — the Super Bowl. The spot is expected to cost upward of $4 million.

In late August and in early September, the company experienced one of its biggest public relations problems to date following complaints of moldy yogurt from its Idaho plant.

Federal officials recently told The Daily Star that there were no incidents of the moldy product associated with the Columbus plant.