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Chobani incubator to help 7 companies take on Big Food

  • The companies will participate in workshops and mentoring events with Chobani employees and receive $25,000.
  • The seven companies were selected out of more than 550 applicants based on a combination of product quality and mission, including bringing nutritious and affordable food to more people.
Chobani founder Hamdi Ulukaya launched the company's food incubator in 2016.
Source: Chobani
Chobani founder Hamdi Ulukaya launched the company's food incubator in 2016.

Chobani plans to help seven food and beverage companies challenge their respective industries the way the Greek yogurt maker disrupted the yogurt industry.

In its second year, the Chobani Food Incubator brings companies ranging from young start-ups to more established companies together one week a month for four months. They will participate in workshops and mentoring events with Chobani employees and receive $25,000.

This year's participants are Chloe's Fruit, a company that whips up soft serve and ice pops using only three ingredients; Farmer Willies, which makes gluten-free and less sugary ginger beer; Grainful, which produces frozen entrees and meal kits featuring steel-cut oats; LoveTheWild, which produces frozen fish meals; Pique Tea Crystals, which uses super plants to make tea; saffron product maker Rumi Spice; and Snow Monkey, which makes a plant-based ice cream.

The companies were selected out of more than 550 applicants based on a combination of product quality and mission, including bringing nutritious and affordable food to more people, said Jackie Miller, director of Chobani Food Incubator.

"It was not so long ago that Hamdi [Ulukaya] was in the trenches building Chobani," Miller said of the founder of the yogurt company. "He's very motivated by the idea of paying it forward."

Rachel Geicke and Mariana Ferreira, co-founders of Snow Monkey, said they're on "cloud nine" to be selected. They graduated from Boston University in 2015 and 2016, respectively, and took the homemade plant-based ice cream recipe they created in college to start their business.

So far, their ice cream is available in 200 stores in 12 states, including Whole Foods, Wegmans and small natural grocery chains. They're planning on using the money from Chobani to help them increase production.

More importantly, Geicke said, they're excited to work alongside their role model.

"Even prior knowing about the Chobani incubator, we've always been huge fans of the company," Geicke said. "They've been a role model, and we want to revolutionize the frozen food aisle the way Chobani revolutionized the yogurt aisle."

Chloe Epstein, co-founder of Chloe's Fruit, said she hopes to tap Chobani for tips on taking on Big Food. She and her co-founder created soft serve in 2009 by blending fruit, water and a touch of organic cane sugar. They now operate a flagship store in New York City and sell frozen pops in 10,000 grocery stores across the country.

Despite the company's growth, Epstein said, she wants to learn about marketing from Chobani.

Jacqueline Claudia, founder of LoveTheWild, has similar goals. Her company farms fish and freezes them with sauce that can be cooked in the oven. She said the product is natural and sustainable, but the challenge is shedding the stigma around frozen fish.

"Frankly speaking, that's one of our biggest challenges," Claudia said. "The seafood industry has been training people that you don't go to the freezer aisle for premium fish where fish sticks don't even say a species."

She compared selling people on the idea of quality frozen seafood to selling people on the idea of Greek yogurt. Chobani has done "an incredible job" of building the category, and Claudia wants to to hear any tips the company has.

That is exactly what Chobani is looking for when it selects companies for the incubator.

"There's a lot of innovation and great missions and purposes, and the companies are well-poised to take the advice and expertise we give them," Miller said. "We think we can add real value to them as they grow."

The program starts Tuesday and runs through December.