Why Chobani founder Hamdi Ulukaya believes Australia is the perfect place to create global food brands

Australians are in the prime position to make food and brands that will resonate around the world, the founder of American yoghurt success story Chobani says.

Just ten years ago in 2007, Turkish migrant Hamdi Ulukaya bought a disused Kraft Food factory in New York state and launched a new line of Greek yoghurt. Fast forward to 2017 and Chobani is the highest-selling yoghurt brand in America with sales of $1 billion a year, and is growing rapidly in Australia, Europe and Asia.

Having launched the brand in Australia in 2013, it is now the second largest seller in the yoghurt category, with the number one spot in its sights. We love a story of a start-up brand growing to market domination, partly because it’s such a rare achievement, and partly because it is always a story fueled by passion, brand and focus.Chobani is seen in the industry as just that, a small start-up with a passionate vision, who saw a niche in the market, developed a great brand and caught the industry food giants napping to create a new sub-category in a stagnant space. In the market here we have seen the same over recent years with 5am Yoghurt in the dairy case and Carman’s Muesli in the breakfast cereal and snack aisles.

In a recent interview with Fairfax Media, Mr Ulukaya reflected on the advantages he sees for Australian food product start-ups to follow-in his footsteps and build world dominating brands. “I’m a brand guy and Australia is an awesome brand,” he said. “One of the biggest opportunities for innovation and brand-building in the future is food. And living in Australia, you are leading this opportunity more than anybody else. You’re sitting on a gold mine.”

And if that wasn’t enough reason to become Chobani fans, Mr Ulukaya was in Australia this week to launch a local version of his ‘Chobani Food Incubator’ which aims to unearth and mentor four small, local ‘food start-ups’ and help them grow into brands with the commercial potential to take-on the world. In the US, his program has already worked with a juice company that uses fruit and vegetables that would otherwise be wasted and a socially responsible cocoa producer. The four successful local start-ups will receive AU$10,000 funding and access to the food labs and industrial kitchens at Monash University’s new $3 million ‘incubation facility’ at its Food Innovation Centre.

Mr Ulukaya said “Start-up companies in any industry needed to understand that branding was more important than ever. Australia had a disproportionate influence worldwide,” he said, “the coffee guys are doing it already, but brands cannot be built unless you have a beautiful product in it.”

One of the great challenges for Australian start-up brands is seeing themselves in the context of the world market. In many ways, Australian businesses and brand owners think with an ‘island’ mindset. By comparison, European or US-based brands have a natural expansion strategy on their doorstep with huge new markets literally next-door. This context naturally encourages them to think and behave as part of a larger, international market.

Sometimes it takes a brand and business building rock-star from outside our market to re-set our perspective on where the ceiling actually is. When the founder of Chobani tells us Australian food producers and brands have an unfair advantage in the world market, we’re inclined to drink his cool-aid.

Dave Ansett
David is the founder of Truly Deeply, a brand agency with 25 years experience working with brands to position them for growth. His deep expertise is in the creation of high engagement brands that attract the attention of their audience and stand out from their competitors. David has extensive experience working with corporate, retail, food & beverage and entrepreneurial clients. Find out more here
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