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The Yogurt That Ate New York

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Randall suggested a scenario. “Let’s say we just stopped production because of a snowstorm,” he said. “We would probably be empty in about two days, because we sell almost as much as we make every day.”

We climbed up to where the milk was stored. The floors sloshed with liquid, and men walked in knee-high rubber boots toward us, pushing mops in front of them. The air was suffused with the smell of warm milk—an overabundance really, milk-smell times 3,000, as if the world’s largest barista were making the world’s largest latte in the room next door.

Chobani’s New York plant used 850 million gallons of milk in 2011; in 2012, it used far more than a billion. That milk is sourced from approximately 850 farms, the vast majority of which are located in New York State.

“Before Chobani, the dairy industry was perceived to be dying—a historical legacy and the least interesting agricultural effort in New York State,” Kenneth Smith, the executive director of the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Chenango County, told me later. Smith serves as a conduit between local farmers and the agricultural school at Cornell; as such, he has kept a close eye on the impact of the Greek-yogurt business.

“When Chobani came, it was like, ‘We need more milk,’ and all of the sudden dairy became an important part of New York’s future,” Smith added. “This lightbulb goes off, and [politicians] realize this is a really huge moneymaking business. It’s not just a burden. It’s a huge opportunity.”

Today the constellation of Greek-yogurt operations stretches from the shores of Lake Ontario all the way to the pastures of central New York—there is Fage, as well as a new Alpina facility in Batavia, which will make, according to company projections, 42 million pots of Greek yogurt this year.

But New Berlin remains at the heart of that boom. Chobani’s vertiginous growth here has created what a business-school professor might call a “halo effect”—a rippling, continually expanding circle of profit, which originates somewhere in the heart of the old Kraft factory and spills outward across the surrounding hills. The mayor, Terry Potter, has dedicated his second term to building out New Berlin’s downtown, which now includes a new Chinese restaurant. Dairy trucks rumble up and down the undulating roads day and night; locals have taken to tying up their dogs to prevent them from getting run over. The dairy operations around the factory pump so much milk to Chobani that one farmer told me, only half-jokingly, that he was mulling building a pipeline “straight downhill into the Chobani warehouse.”


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