Hot & Fresh Out the Kitchen: Chobani Food Incubator at Expo West

We can hardly believe we are nearing the end of the journey for the inaugural class of the Chobani Food Incubator! Earlier this month we went out with a bang at Natural Products Expo West — the leading industry trade show with over 77,000 attendees at the Anaheim Convention Center. All six of our companies had their own booths and tables onsite, in addition to repping the Incubator at Chobani’s booth and in a showcase space featuring all of their products.

We networked with countless founders (shout out to everyone who came by to say hi!) at Chobani’s booth and took more than a few selfies with some of you. We can’t wait to get started on the search for the next class: applications will open in May and the program will start in September.

Brian Rudolph, Co-Founder of Banza, pitching to the audience.

Brian Rudolph, Co-Founder of Banza, pitching to the audience.

Demo Day was also a big success: Chobani’s Founder & CEO Hamdi Ulukaya and CMO Peter McGuinness delivered inspirational remarks to a packed house, including numerous investors and retailers. Each company presented a 5-minute pitch highlighting their accomplishments over the last six months and shared all the ways the amazing Chobani team has helped mentor them. The stats coming out of our first class are pretty exciting, including:

  • Distribution growth of more than 63% across the board
  • Combined total revenue of ~$3,000,000 in 2017 to date
  • Engaged more than 75 internal mentors and 55 external mentors in sales, marketing, communications, manufacturing operations and finance

The Incubator crew also chalked up key wins at Expo West, including:

  • Chops received product launch requests from 4 national grocery chains
  • Jar Goods fielded overwhelmingly positive feedback on 2 new products they launched at their booth
  • MISFIT Juicery received Nexty Editor’s Choice Award for Best New Beverage

Now that the first class has wrapped, we’re looking forward to sharing stories of their continued progress, developing a hub of resources on our site, further optimizing and improving our programming and mentor network and beginning the search for the next class of innovators to help us bring better food to more people.

In the meantime, check out this sneak peek at the first in a series of videos following the programming and progress of the last six months. Stay tuned for more episodes of the journey in the weeks to come!

Building Your Team - Establish a Culture that Lasts

We all love founding lore: the origin stories, the cramped garages, the chance meetings. Great companies often start as an inkling or idea that a passionate founder gives legs, and Chobani’s founding story certainly has its place in the canon.

Hamdi Ulukaya came across a piece of junk mail advertising a former Kraft yogurt factory in upstate New York for sale for less than $1 million in 2005. He obtained a Small Business Administration loan to purchase the factory, hired a master yogurt maker, spent the next two years perfecting the recipe with the help of four factory workers who had worked at the original Kraft plant, and they were able to go to market by late 2007. Ten years later, Chobani effectively launched the category for greek yogurt in the United States and created over 2,000 jobs in the process.

Earlier this month, the Chobani Food Incubator was able to visit the place where it all began, the home to many of the company’s most seasoned team members who have been with Chobani for 7-10 years, a few since the very beginning. They shared fond memories about Hamdi sleeping at the plant after putting in 16+ hour days, all working out of the same room or doing all-hands-on-deck responses to customer emails and calls. 

If you’re the founder of an early stage company, you might ask the same question we did, “how do you build a lasting culture of shared values that withstands the test of time and growth?”

Keeping your team engaged and motivated early on is crucial, and the Incubator companies learned the importance of building a clear and consistent set of values to guide you through the roller coaster of tough decisions that goes along with growth. It’s powerful to see what kind of results can come by establishing this clarity from Day 1, making it a core part of your company’s operations. A culture of shared values can serve as your company’s north star when fast paced growth requires tough calls.  As one early Chobani team member put it,

“It’s not about a specific policy. It’s just about doing the right thing, at the right time.”

Following our visit to Chobani’s facility in Twin Falls, ID a few months ago, it was especially striking to explore the equally impressive but markedly different plant in South Edmeston. Both facilities were an inspiration to the teams because they are emblematic of the significant expansion Chobani has experienced over the last ten years. The plant in South Ed was built in 1920, and the variety of amazing ways Chobani has adapted, retrofitted and expanded it are the perfect embodiment of the growth mindset in action: when faced with a constraint, you build around it. 

We’re gearing up for Demo Day at Expo West next week, and it’s hard to believe the first class of the Incubator is coming to a close. The teams have leveraged lessons about manufacturing, branding, marketing and sales, but our trip to Chobani’s birthplace reminded us that building a team will always be core to long term success. I can’t wait to continue to refine the programming for the next class of the Chobani Food Incubator - exciting updates coming your way this spring as we gear up for Round 2!

Tackling Food Waste, One Juice at a Time

This post was written by Phillip Wong, Co-founder of MISFIT Juicery

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Much like the weird kids in high school who played Dungeons and Dragons during lunch, people working in food nerd out over packaging. For anyone not in the industry, it can be easy to trivialize the things that we agonize over: do I use matte- or gloss-finished labels? Should my bottles have square or round bottoms?

Yet packaging gets attention for good reason. Appearances matter. The food we make is important, but so are the containers we dress them up in. Consumers have thousands of options and little time to choose between them. And samplings aside, we can’t nibble on an apple or crack open a can of sauce before sticking it in our cart.

At MISFIT, we think about appearances a lot. We make cold-pressed juice from fruits + veggies that are different sizes, shapes, and colors from what retailers will buy. (Behold, fodder for Instagram: crooked carrots, surplus strawberries, apples outlandishly large and laughably small.) So appearances matter here, too, but why? Good looks and good taste don’t always line up.

We should care about this disconnect because 20 billion pounds of fruits + veggies go unharvested or unsold every year in the U.S., and much of that waste is driven by cosmetic standards. Food waste has massive environmental and economic consequences: we lose $218 billion every year and 21% of our freshwater usage goes toward uneaten food.

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After learning about the crazy scale of food waste in the U.S., we started MISFIT in my college kitchen—much to the dismay of my housemates. We snagged four crates of ugly peaches from our campus farmer’s market, borrowed a juicer and got to work with a handful of our friends.

Since that day two years ago, we’ve laid the groundwork for a juice empire in DC. We launched in NY with the Northeast’s leading produce distributor, and are now hiring for a full-time NYC Market Manager to lead the charge in sales.

We also just launched an exclusive orange juice that's better for you + the planet in 10 of Dig Inn's restaurants. Check out the juice there or at some of our other retail partners like Eataly and Forager's. You can read us musing on our disconnect with our food here.

For the past five months, we’ve been on the rocket ship that is the Chobani Food Incubator. We’ve seen what it takes to make awesome yogurt (read: a lot of milk!) and find the perfect cup to house that yogurt. Just like the farmer who gave us our first peaches and my housemates who tolerated us, the Incubator has been an incredible community and has ushered us through a critical time in our business.

We’re soon off to Expo West, the authoritative trade show in the natural food industry, and appearances definitely matter there—we’re excited to shake things up with our badass Chobani friends by our side.


Learn more about MISFIT at http://misfitjuicery.co/

If you want to nerd out on food waste, produce, cold chain logistics, feel free to reach out to Phil and Ann at phil@misfitjuicery.co and ann@misfitjuicery.co directly!

Secrets to Growing Sales & Other Lessons from Week 4

The companies in the Chobani Food Incubator came together in Soho last week to focus on what I believe is the lifeblood of any growth company: sales. When you’re a food startup, growth is all about hustling to grow number of doors, negotiating great deals with your retailers, working well with your brokers and the artful calculus of promos and trade marketing. Here are some of the key takeaways from the week:

Relationships, relationships, relationships

Ultimately, it’s all about relationships, and Chobani’s Sales leadership team led some excellent workshops and mentor rotations to provide insight into the best ways to navigate them.

Never underestimate empathy: when up-and-comer food companies are lined up around the block willing to pay the same slotting fees, you have to find a way to pop on the shelf. And the chances of getting to that end cap display and disrupting the store are greatly increased when you roll up your sleeves and help the retail team do their best work. If you can find a way help someone look better to their boss, you’ll get more than your fair share of someone’s attention in any business relationship.

Accelerate ecommerce

A focus on sales wouldn’t be complete without a deep dive on ecommerce, especially as the grocery market continues to grow online. The benefits of appealing margins and access to customer data mean growing food companies must master the online sales game. We were thrilled to welcome Amazon Launchpad to help the teams navigate Amazon’s infrastructure and marketing tools and optimize their performance on a variety of platforms on the site. A few of the teams have already experienced significant multiples of growth in online sales since the start of the Incubator. If you’re a food startup, the Launchpad is a no-brainer.

What happens inside the store?

When you have a team of three, it may be hard to fathom a whole department of shopper marketing experts and brand managers strategizing the best promotions and point of sale programs to build your brand at the retail level. The Incubator companies were able to get practical advice and next steps from Chobani’s Shopper Marketing team on everything from digital banner ads to in-store cooler promotions.

We’re also all about making sure the teams get facetime with Chobani’s senior leadership. CFO Mick Beekhuizen led a roundtable session on setting up a good financial base to make informed decisions, and encouraged the companies to prioritize growth:

Talk every day about the top line numbers for profitability and cash flow in order to stay on track for your goals.

The Chobani finance team has also been a resource, spending one-on-one time advising the teams on fundraising and decisions around investing in your own operations vs. working with a co-packer.

Learning from other founders

One of my favorite parts of the Incubator are the opportunities to sit down with founders of like-minded companies. Last week we stopped by Sir Kensington’s for some fries and condiment tasting (personal favorite — Fabanaise Chipotle Vegan Mayo) and a candid, interactive chat with Sir K’s co-founder Mark Ramadan. Hearing war stories and tactical advice from a company a few chapters ahead of the Incubator companies was hugely helpful.

Because the creative side of the business is essential, too, we had fun “body-storming” with Collins Agency to prototype a temporary customer experience in an airport to bring the Incubator companies’ brand promise and values to life and think creatively about driving trial and brand awareness of their products.

To top it all off, we were able to treat the teams to a very special tour and dinner at Blue Hill at Stone Barns. As we strive to bring better food to more people, the importance of adaptable and regenerative farming that respects the limits of season and builds soil and economies is part of that story. Only a truly special place allows you to snack on some sweet rye cover crop and delicious kohlrabi tacos all in one day!

The Incubator at Stone Barns!

After last week’s programming, I had the pleasure of joining Coalition for Queens as a judge at their Access Code Web Development hackathon. C4Q trains talented software engineers from diverse and underserved NYC communities and helps place them at leading tech companies. Dozens of students spent 48 hours building an app to solve a problem facing an underserved New York population. I was blown away by team Desert Oasis, who built an app to help New Yorkers manage their SNAP benefits and easily identify nearby farmer’s markets that accept food stamps in food deserts.

I left feeling energized and excited about the next generation of builders trying to improve broken food systems and solve pressing food problems. I’m honored that Chobani is part of the movement and am fired up to help it continue to grow!

To learn more about the Chobani Food Incubator, check out our website and subscribe to our newsletter! Feel free to reach out with any questions or inquiries to info@chobanifoodincubator.com

Creating Essential Goods for the Modern Pantry

This post was written by Melissa Vitelli, Co-Founder of Jar Goods.

I hate to admit it but Jar Goods’ genesis emerged from a cynical sentiment: frustration.  
Specifically, I was frustrated with the center of the grocery store. Originally intended to offer shortcuts to the home cook, I found the selection in these inner aisles stale and dreary. There are countless brands offering sub-par products - I personally crumble under the weight of too many choices. Who were the people behind these brands and offerings? I wanted real ingredients and delicious food, not chemicals, overly-abundant health claims, or wacky flavors.

Why was there not a single brand I could depend on across various categories? I wanted to stock my pantry to avoid multiple store visits, but the products I found lacked bandwidth and had just one logical application. 

Much of this frustration was occurring while I was living in the Catskill mountains of rural upstate NY. My weekdays were spent in NYC pretending I was fashionable and trendy, while my weekends were spent elbow deep in a pile of manure to feed the vegetable garden. As I got closer to my food, I began thinking about entrepreneurship, self-sufficiency and the need to write my own narrative in life. Jar Goods was born - an inner-aisle disruptor offering “Essential Goods for the Modern Pantry”.  

Our goal is to provide consumers with inspiration and a highly transparent brand. We believe that less is more. Our products are intended to bring simplicity and joy to our customers. We aim to lighten the burden of a crushingly expensive ingredient list and offer a top quality speed scratch meal solution. Eating well should not get in the way of or minimize our many other responsibilities and obligations. If you start with amazing ingredients, it’s not necessary to do much else.

This philosophy has informed everything we do:

  • Our products will always be all-natural, clean label, non-GMO (verified where possible), versatile, and exceptionally delicious.
  • Our glass jars are infinitely recyclable, as opposed to less expensive single use plastic pouches that would likely end up in our landfills or oceans. Their size is 16 ounces rather than the standard 24 or 36 ounce jars that often go half used and result in food waste.
  • We believe in living and eating with mindful purpose, but with respect for the constraints of modern life. Thus we offer nourishing, delicious recipes using our products that simplify meal planning and prep.

Jar Goods journey began with our three exceptional tomato sauces, Classic Red, Classic Spicy, and Classic Vodka, currently available at 700 retailers nationwide, including Whole Foods, Albertsons, Safeway, Vons, Spartan Nash, Stop & Shop, DeCicco’s, Mrs. Green’s, Central Market, and many more.

We are excited for all the work ahead of us as we focus on driving sales of our existing products, reaching and educating our target consumers, expanding our product line, and hiring our first employees. The brilliant minds of Chobani have been pivotal in helping us figure out where we want to go and how to get there. We are forever grateful to the Chobani Food Incubator for lending their seemingly limitless talent, knowledge and insight!


Find out what’s so good about Jar Goods Classic Tomato Sauces!
Get 20% off any order of Jar Goods through February using offer code CHOBANI at checkout!

Find a location near you: http://jargoods.com/where-to-buy/
Get in touch with Jar Goods: contact@jargoods.com
Visit us and connect on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter @jargoods

The Incubator Heads to Idaho!

The Chobani Food Incubator just took a trip to Twin Falls, ID for a journey from farm to factory to fully explore sourcing, production, manufacturing, food safety, regulation and R&D. We kicked it off with a visit to Si-Ellen Farm, one of Chobani’s key partners and suppliers. CEO Mike Roth and Lindsey Dimond from Dairy Farmers of America led us through 7,000 acres of wheat, alfalfa hay and corn silage, home to 13,000 Holstein and Jersey cows. We were able to witness the cycle of life at Si-Ellen, where more than 50 calves are born every day and a highly efficient process produces large quantities of milk to feed lots of people and make a lots of Chobani products.

The Chobani Food Incubator is all about better food for more people, and the Incubator was able to explore the complex sourcing and operations required to achieve the ‘more people’ part of the equation.

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The opportunity for food entrepreneurs (most of us card-carrying city slickers) to engage in dialogue with members of the local farming community about animal welfare, GMOs, demographic shifts in farming, the intricacies of the dairy industry and Chobani’s role in supporting local farms was a unique and educational experience for all of us.

We also had the opportunity to tour Chobani’s one million square foot world class manufacturing facility. In our scrubs, hair nets, booties and goggles, we observed everything from raw milk receiving, High Temperature/Short Time pasteurization, culture/maturation, straining, production, cold storage and sleeving.

The teams were inspired at the significant scale and capacity of the facility as well as the impressive level of automation. Discussion included learnings to be applied at their earlier stages, logistics, communications, employee engagement, and the merits and challenges of owning your own operations. We also toured the Quality Lab, to impress upon the teams the importance of investing the time and effort in establishing SOPs, best practices, and traceability early on.

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We wrapped up the visit with an R&D presentation and tasting, developing your company’s palate, discussing smaller scale R&D resources available to the companies with limited capacity, and the creative process of exploring new flavors. The conversation spurred some discussion on segmenting your customers and finding the balance of core and new audiences, especially in terms of nutritional value.

I can’t imagine better companions for exploring where our food comes from and how we produce it at top quality and significant scale. I look forward to connecting the experts within Chobani’s operations team to the Incubator community for support as they continue to take on the challenge of growing their companies and bringing better food to more people.

Cocoa and Connections — The Cissé Story

This post was written by Jacque Landers, VP of Marketing at Cissé Cocoa

Cocoa and Connections

These words are somewhat of a mantra in our little home here in Mamaroneck, NY. It’s what makes our world go around; it’s where we began, why we do what we do and how we plan to make an impact!

Our Founder and CEO, Diana set out on a mission to change the way consumers think about packaged food. With a background in medical humanitarian work and a love of chocolate, she founded Cissé to push a step beyond Fair Trade to 100% traceability and fair treatment for everyone involved in producing the Cissé products. From the moment the bean is planted, all the way until it reaches our consumers, we promise real ingredients, sourced with care and products that are always made with love.

Humanitarians at our core, we believe that encouraging and supporting people to connect with others who can inspire change in their communities will have a positive impact. Since Diana began working with FUNDOPO the Fair Trade cocoa cooperative in the Dominican Republic has installed new clean water drinking wells, laid the foundations for a clinic, re-paved critical roads and rehabilitated a school. Cissé is poised to scale this relationship with the cooperative, which is completely independent in its decision-making on how to reinvest profits into the community.

There is a third “c” in our equation, which is of course, Chobani. The Chobani Incubator provides access to some of the greatest talent in the consumer packaged goods industry. Learning from Chobani’s top talent in operations, packaging, branding, sales and finance which makes our little team of five feel like a team of 50! From advice on team building from Hamdi Ulukaya (CEO and Founder), to Quality best practices from Jarret Stopforth (Senior Director of Quality & Food Safety), to art of brand building with Leland Maschmeyer (Chief Creative Officer), we’ve learned so much from so many at Chobani and within the Chobani family that has helped us to dream bigger. In addition to the priceless value the Chobani team has been, the five other brands who have equal passion, commitment and excitement for the work they are doing to “rethink” the natural food space has been the icing on our Chocolate Layer Cake!

So, you want to know more about the delicious products, right?

Super Thins are the latest product in the roundup of delicious treats we offer our mindful consumers. These snackable brownie thins are topped with superfoods like cherries, pumpkin seeds and cashews.

In addition, we offer baking mixes that make baking a double layer cake, ooey gooey chocolate chip brownies, double chocolate cookies and double chocolate chip muffins a breeze! And, they’ll totally pass the “made from scratch” claim you make to your friends and family! Our hot cocoas are the perfect treat on a cold winter day, your reward for pulling sleds and shoveling driveways on your snow day. All of our products are made in the USA with: USDA, Fair Trade, non-GMO ingredients and real butter from Wisconsin. Pick them up at Whole Foods, CVS, Costco, Kroger, Amazon and other retailers nationwide.


Interesting in contacting Cissé? Send them an email at info@cissecocoa.com, and be sure to follow them on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter@cissecocoa.

Hello from Chobani Food Incubator Director

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Hello,

I am Jackie Miller, the new Chobani Food Incubator Director, and I am thrilled to be part of this program! Prior to joining the team, I spent a lot of time with founders of early stage growth companies at Venture for America, helping aspiring entrepreneurs access training, mentorship and capital to launch and grow successful companies in emerging startup ecosystems like Detroit and Philadelphia.

While the path from ideation to execution to scale is always tough, food entrepreneurs face a unique set of challenges: high overhead for equipment and inventory means there’s never enough working capital, and on top of that, there’s an opaque network of co-packers, brokers, distributors and retailers to navigate. We aim to help the six incredible companies in the inaugural class of the Incubator meet those challenges head on in order to achieve significant growth.

Over the next few months, we will be spending time together in Chobani’s offices in NYC and upstate learning from seasoned experts within Chobani on everything from branding to sales and marketing to new product development. They will also have the unique opportunity to visit Chobani’s world class facility in Twin Falls, ID to explore manufacturing and production at scale. We’ll round out the program at Expo West in March, and I can’t wait to see the progress the teams make in the meantime.

We are all about illuminating the path for food entrepreneurs so they can take on the big guys, repair broken food systems, and bring better food to more people. My vision for this program is to add value to the wider community in a variety of ways:

Build a community of peers for mentorship and networking

It has been exciting to see companies at different stages help each other out at the Chobani Food Incubator: tips for working with certain retailers, navigating e-commerce, promo ideas. Let’s build a collaborative community of food revolutionaries, as well as foster partnerships throughout the supply chain and wider ecosystem.

Create a hub of resources for sharing our knowledge

Over the course of this first class, we want to produce a library of open source educational content that provides growing companies with basic templates and info, as well as emboldens potential food entrepreneurs to take those first steps toward food bringing a good food idea to reality.

Engage in dialogue on future of food

Now more than ever, consumers want to know the story behind the food they eat: how it was grown or raised and what impact its production and distribution had on the environment. We know so many companies out there are creating delicious, nutritious, natural, accessible food, and we want to share and learn from their stories.

I’m looking forward to experimenting and iterating on high impact programming and content and finding unique ways to add value. Stay tuned for updates from me and the Chobani team, stories and profiles from the companies in the inaugural class and other dispatches from the front lines of the #FutureOfFood.

We want to hear from you: what are resources food entrepreneurs are looking for? Are you interested in applying to the next class? Do you want to mentor food entrepreneurs or network with other food entrepreneurs? Please reach out to info@chobanifoodincubator.com with comments, suggestions and questions.

Jackie Miller

Chobani Food Incubator Director