All eyes were on Chobani after Whole Foods announced in December its plans to phase out the yogurt purveyor’s products beginning this year. The decision, it was reported, stemmed from Chobani’s mass-market appeal and accusations of genetically modified ingredients. But when we spoke to Chobani CEO Hamdi Ulukaya at the re-opening of Chobani SoHo in NYC on Friday, he told us the move hasn’t really fazed him.
“You know, I think they made more noise than what actually [it] is,” he said. “I think they changed their stories a couple of times. They are right when they said we had a different business strategy — the difference in our strategy is we want it to be available everywhere and they want to have more exclusive small brands. We wanted to make this simple food for everyone. When we grew up in Turkey, Greece, wherever, yogurt had nothing to do with exclusivity— you always had access to a simple cup of yogurt. In Chobani’s mindset we make good yogurt for everyone. So if somebody thinks this is too mass and they want it more exclusive it’s their decision, I don’t pay too much attention to that.”
Ulukaya also responded to claims that Chobani uses GMOs in its products.
“We are GMO-free,” he told us. “It’s a feed issue, the feed that they feed the animals. … The only way you can find out what [the feed] is made [of] — nobody knows — is if you go certified organic. If I go certified organic, than 99 percent of my consumers will not be able to enjoy this yogurt.”
But despite being satisfied with his product — he mentioned his yogurts contain no preservatives, artificial sweeteners, rBST hormones — he’s not stopping yet. “We’re gonna work more and more and more to make it better. My mother’s yogurt is the best; I want to get close to that.”