Greek yogurt on a marathon-like growth spurt

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SOUTH EDMESTON, N.Y. — Chobani is making Greek yogurt as fast as Americans are eating it.

Its plant in upstate New York farm country already pumps out 1.5 million cases of the thick yogurt every week, and pallets are stacked four stories high in the warehouse.
But like other Greek yogurt makers, Chobani is expanding.

Greek yogurt now accounts for a quarter of the total yogurt market after a dizzying growth spurt. The nation’s No. 1 and No. 2 Greek yogurt brands – Chobani and Fage – are expanding plants within 60 miles of each other, and another company is build­ing a plant in western New York.

Greek yogurt is made a bit differently than the thinner, more watery product that dominated U.S. supermarket shelves for decades. The whey is strained off, leaving a creamier yogurt high in protein and low in fat.

Chobani said production will increase from 1.5 million cases a week to more than 2 million when the $134 mil­lion expansion is completed this year. Another $128 million Chobani plant being built 2,000 miles west in Twins Falls, Idaho, will add still more.

About 60 miles northeast, the Greek company Fage is in the early stages of doubling the capacity of its 3-year-old plant in Johnstown, N.Y. to about 160,000 tons of yogurt annually.

By multiple accounts, the seeds of the Greek yogurt boom were planted years ago through Fage imports to New York City. Fage opened its U.S plant in 2008 to keep up with growing demand. Russell Evans, Fage’s marketing director, said sales have grown on average of 50 percent a year for a decade.

“It’s going up exponentially every year,” he said. “It’s constantly expanding.”

The big players have taken steps to grab some of the market back. General Mills added capacity and Dannon is in the process now, according to representatives of the two companies. General Mills this winter will introduce Yoplait Greek Parfaits with granola and new flavors of Yoplait Greek yogurt in multi-packs.


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