- Chobani announced today an open call for applications for its newly launched Chobani Food Incubator in New York.
- This "no-strings-attached, grant-based program," as Chobani founder and CEO Hamdi Ulukaya said in a statement, includes six months of access to designated space at Chobani's New York facility, team members for on-site assistance, a $25,000 grant, classes and workshops on various aspects of operating a food business, and access to Chobani executives and experts, including Ulukaya and other food industry thought leaders.
- The program's initial run is from October 2016 to March 2017, culminating in the startups' participation at the EXPO West Natural Food Conference.
Chobani won't be focusing on Greek yogurt or related categories, choosing instead to include "natural" food startups in general.
"Regardless of the specific product, we want food entrepreneurs who share our vision for Delicious, Nutritious, Natural and Accessible (DNNA) food to apply to the Chobani Food Incubator program," Vice President of Chobani Corporate Communications Michael Gonda told Food Dive.
Chobani declined to comment on whether incubator participants could be potential acquisition targets. But that does seem to be a likelihood, considering how many major manufacturers have launched their own incubators, accelerators and VC units in the past year -- including Danone, Kellogg, Hain Celestial, Anheuser-Busch InBev, and Campbell.
VC investments, incubators and accelerators are becoming increasingly common in the food and beverage industry as startups play a larger role in driving industry innovation and claim more market share from larger processed food manufacturers. Bigger companies are launching dedicated units to focus on identifying and funding startups, and it's likely, in many cases, that manufacturers are grooming these startups for potential acquisition in the future if the brand takes off.
Chobani had recently been looking for expansion opportunities of its own. That included potentially selling a minority stake to expand distribution and bounce back from financial struggles the company faced after ramping up production years ago. However, Chobani turned down offers from PepsiCo and other companies, which wanted to acquire a majority stake in the company.
A month later, Chobani announced a $100 million incremental investment to expand its Twin Falls, ID, manufacturing plant for production of its fast-growing Chobani Flip line and new products like yogurt-based dips and drinks. At that time, Chobani also hinted at potentially expanding its New York facility.