NEW BERLIN, N.Y. • Chobani is giving its employees ownership stake in the company, a surprise move that could make some of the yogurt company’s longest employees very rich.

The news was broken Tuesday morning by The New York Times, which was given an exclusive interview with Hamdi Ulukaya, the Turkish immigrant who founded the company in 2005. Employees at Chobani’s New York facility were handed white envelopes Tuesday that contained “shares” of up to 10 percent of the company when it goes public or is sold. The number of shares was based on tenure.

Employees at Chobani’s factory in Twin Falls are expected to be given similar envelopes Thursday.

“I’ve built something I never thought would be such a success, but I cannot think of Chobani being built without all these people,” Ulukaya told the New York Times. “Now they’ll be working to build the company even more and building their future at the same time.”

Assuming the company is worth $3 billion — a low-end valuation figured when the company received a loan two years ago from private equity firm TPG Capital — the average employee payout would be $150,000.

The earliest employees could receive shares worth more than $1 million.

The shares come directly from Ulukaya’s stake in Chobani. He owns the vast majority of Chobani, but TPG Capital has the option to buy a stake as part of a $750 million loan it gave Chobani in a bail out to save the company.

Giving employees ownership stake is rare in food manufacturing companies, the Times reported. It’s more commonly seen in tech startups who struggle to pay employees as the companies get off the ground. Similar employee-stake arrangements made early employees at Apple billionaires.

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This deal is different, the Times reported, because Chobani is already a large and well-established company.

After a rocky start at its Twin Falls facility — widely regarded as the world’s largest yogurt factory — Chobani has surged, largely on the strength of new product lines coming out of Twin Falls.

The company announced in March a $100 million expansion of its Twin Falls factory as it continues to diversify its yogurt products with several new lines in Twin Falls. And, the company told the Times-News, it will also build a global research and development facility for its existing Twin Falls scientific team, office expansions to accommodate current and future employees and an employee cafeteria.

The city granted Chobani’s building permit Feb. 26 for a nearly $7.9 million addition of packing and filling rooms to the east side of its facility at 3450 Kimberly Road. The application had been submitted just 10 days before approval, and the company paid more than $82,000 in fees.


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