- Yogurt maker Chobani chose seven food startups from around the country to participate in its second incubator class. They will take part in workshops and mentoring events with Chobani employees for one week each month from September through December, plus receive $25,000.
- This year's participants are Chloe's Fruit, a New York City company that makes soft serve and ice pops with only three ingredients; Farmer Willie's of Boston, which makes gluten-free and less sugary ginger beer; Ithaca, New York-based Grainful, which produces frozen entrees and meal kits featuring steel-cut oats; LoveTheWild of Boulder, Colorado, which produces frozen fish meals; Pique Tea Crystals of San Francisco, which uses "superplants" to make tea; saffron and saffron product importer Rumi Spice of Chicago, and Snow Monkey of Santa Monica, California, which makes a plant-based ice cream.
- The company said there were more than 550 applicants this go-round. "To select our second next class, we tasted hundreds of products and met with entrepreneurs across the country and the world," Chobani CEO Hamdi Ulukaya said in a company statement. "These seven companies each have something special and unique. In selecting this class, we looked at what categories — and what teams of people — have the ability to make big changes in American supermarkets and give more people better options. I can't wait to have these companies at Chobani to see how we can help them on their journey and welcome them to our family."
Chobani said the applicant pool this time around was 20% larger than the inaugural incubator class last year, when six startups were chosen for their potential and opportunity to "really shake things up in their categories." Last year's class included Banza (chickpea pasta), Chops Snacks (all-natural beef jerky), Cissé Cocoa Co. (chocolate products), Jar Goods (tomato sauces), Kettle & Fire (organic bone broth) and Misfit Juicery (cold-pressed juice made from "ugly" produce).
Given the wider variety this year, it seems Chobani is trying to mix it up with a good representation of various types of food items, as well as companies from different parts of the country. Those chosen are disrupting, innovating and inspiring new food categories in the U.S. — from innovative products like plant-based ice cream; a low-sugar, low-calorie beer alternative; a healthier frozen fruit pop; and fresh and sustainable takes on foods that have been around for centuries such as oats, saffron and seafood, the yogurt company noted.
While the stated goal of the incubator project is to disrupt and revitalize the food industry, there may be a more personal element involved. Incubator director Jackie Miller told CNBC that the company's CEO and founder was in the trenches building Chobani not so long ago. "He's very motivated by the idea of paying it forward," she said.
Along with mentoring and other events and the $25,000 payments, Chobani staff will provide programming for the startups that will discuss brand and marketing, packaging and pricing, sales and retail strategy, innovation and manufacturing, and food quality and safety. The program culminates at a Demo Day in New York in January, when the company's support and encouragement may accrue tangible benefits to the incubator participants — as well as attract positive public relations for Chobani.
Incubators and accelerators are becoming more popular as a method for larger, more established food companies to invest in a creative idea and potentially see returns in a relatively short period of time. Nestle USA invested in an accelerator this summer to support emerging food and agriculture startups, and Land O'Lakes started an incubator in July to help dairy product startups reach scale and better compete with plant-based alternatives.
If successful, these startups go on to manufacture quality food products for a relatively small investment. If they aren't, it's a lesson learned without having to bet the farm.