It has been a tough few months for the Chobani Greek yogurt company. In February, we here at Abnormal Use reported on both a court’s then recent ruling that the company could not label its yogurt “Greek” since its products are made in America and Russia’s decision to block Chobani’s yogurt from reaching U.S. athletes in Sochi. Now, the company faces a new problem: allegations of corporate espionage. According t0 the New York Post, a recent court filing alleges that Hamdi Ulukaya, founder of the Chobani, stole the Chobani yogurt recipe from rival yogurt company Fage. The allegation is part of a 2012 lawsuit brought by Ulukaya’s ex-wife, Ayse Giray. The suit alleges that Giray owns 53 percent of Chobani based on a 2003 handwritten letter from Ulukaya promising her an ownership interest in a Chobani precursor company (Euphrates). That ownership interest was allegedly given in exchange for Giray providing $500,000 in capital. However, she has no stock or other proof of ownership in the company.
Now as part of her lawsuit, Giray is alleging that Ulukaya paid a former Fage employee approximately $4o,ooo for the yogurt recipe. Regardless of whether the allegation is true, it is a bit of head-scratcher. Why would a person who allegedly owns 53 percent of a company-to-be claim that the company developed its main product through corporate espionage? We can only figure that perhaps it was meant to discourage an investment firm from purchasing a stake in Chobani that would dilute her 53 percent.
Bloomberg Business Week actually did a cursory analysis of the Chiobani and Fage yogurts ingredients, which revealed some difference. Most notably, Chobani’s yogurt uses nearly 1/4 more milk than Fage’s yogurt. So maybe this whole thing is much ado about nothing.