BY TOM GRACE
COOPERSTOWN NEWS BUREAU
NEW BERLIN _ Friday morning, as Paul Marquit makes sure his Big M Supermarket is well-stocked, he heads to the yogurt cooler, pad and pen in hand.
A year ago, the yogurt cooler was nothing special, tucked in with the other coolers. Now, Marquit says, yogurt is “a big deal” _ especially Chobani.
``That really hit home a few days ago when the stores in Norwich were sold out, and people were calling to see if we still had some, ready to drive to New Berlin,” Marquit said.
About seven miles down the road from Marquit’s store, a former Kraft plant hosts round-the-clock crews making and packaging the Greek-style Chobani yogurt produced by Agro-Farma.
Founded by Hamdi Ulukaya in 2005, the company has seen sales of Chobani are rise even faster than anticipated, spokeswoman Nicki Briggs said.
“We are discussing expansion plans,’’ she said.
Agro-Farma has begun a $100 million, three-phase plan to expand and streamline operations .
A 150,000-square-foot refrigerated warehouse dwarfs the original yogurt plant across Route 25, and a tall, refrigerated bridge sends one case of yogurt from the plant to the warehouse every 25 seconds.
The firm owns parts of the 335,000-square-foot former Procter & Gamble Research and Development Facility in Norwich, which Briggs said is “part of the discussion” of how best to expand and keep up with demand.
“We’re looking into options,’’ she said.
In February, the company launched an advertising campaign “and the response slightly exceeded our expectations,’’ she said.
Chobani is now the nation’s No. 1 Greek-style yogurt, and No. 2 overall, she said.
It has another reason to be popular in this region, according to John Ray, manager of the Oneonta Hannaford Supermarket. “It’s locally produced and people like that,’’ Ray said Friday.
“Chobani flies off the shelf, 100 cases a day,’’ he said. “People love it. It’s high-quality, reasonably priced and it’s good for you. And it tastes great.’’
Mona Golub, vice president for public relations for Price Chopper Supermarkets, said Chobani is a winner for several reasons.
“People are buying it not just for the nutritional content, but the appealing flavors,’’ she said.
Golub said she believes sales of the brand will continue to increase, and that any shortage of a flavor will be temporary .