Chobani said to seek investment that would value it at $5 billion

New York Times News ServiceMarch 12, 2014 

Big investors are vying for a piece of Chobani, the fast-growing yogurt maker that built the world’s largest yogurt plant in Twin Falls.

Chobani, less than a decade old, is in talks with six potential investors for a deal that could value it at $5 billion, a person with direct knowledge of the discussions said this week. The company is looking to finalize an investment in the first half of the year, with an eye toward expanding internationally.

The bidders include two companies that would provide a strategic alliance, two equity investors and two lenders, said this person, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. The identities of the bidders could not be determined.

Among the options being explored, Chobani is looking at selling a stake of 15 percent or less, giving it a shot of capital to ramp up distribution and manufacturing, the person said. The company may seek to go public down the road, but no offering is expected this year.

Bank of America is working with Chobani as the company explores its options, said another person briefed on the matter.

Founded in 2005 by Hamdi Ulukaya, a Turkish immigrant, Chobani has capitalized on the explosive popularity of Greek yogurt in the United States, with its sales growing more than 30 percent last year to above $1 billion. But it remains closely held by its founder.

This month, Chobani invested about $4 million to expand its manufacturing plant in Twin Falls, which opened in December 2012. It is seeking more capital to propel an expansion overseas. Currently, the company sells yogurt only in the United States and Australia.

Politicians in New York state, where Chobani is based, have embraced yogurt production as a booming business in an otherwise sleepy region. They rushed to Chobani’s defense when the Russian government blocked a shipment of the company’s yogurt bound for American athletes competing in the Winter Olympics in Sochi.

That standoff ended in disappointment for Chobani, with the company opting to donate its Sochi-bound yogurt to New York and New Jersey food banks. But with fresh capital, the company may yet have another shot at flexing its muscles in foreign markets.

News of the recent talks was reported earlier by The Wall Street Journal online.

The Idaho Statesman contributed.

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