In early October, Chobani partnered with Cornell’s Food Science Department, donating $1.5 million to the school to help with food quality and safety, as well as training programs for those planning to work with yogurt. Part of the department’s research deals with managing acid whey, or the liquid found at the top of traditional yogurt.
“Even before this partnership, Cornell already had a number of projects underway related to Greek yogurt and acid whey, including efforts to develop new products that use acid whey as an ingredient,” Dr. Martin Wiedmann, food science professor at Cornell, said.
The by-product from creating this high protein yogurt has been seen as detrimental to the environment. When released into the environment, acid whey can exhaust the oxygen from water, which fish need to survive. This is why dumping the waste is illegal. Instead, Greek yogurt companies have partnered with farmers to recycle the whey, as it is as acidic as orange juice, according to Justin Elliott of Modern Farmer.
However, Tristan Zuber, yogurt and cultured dairy products specialist at Cornell University’s Food Science Department, says acid whey is not toxic, unless it is mishandled.
“Right now, [farmers are] feeding it to cows, and cows like it because there’s a lot of energy content and lactose in it,” said Zuber. “Some of that whey is going into anaerobic digesters to create energy, in some cases it’s dried and used as a food ingredient.”
According to a Chobani spokesperson, other farmers use it as a fertilizer, but only at farms with nutrient management plans in place.
No longer a niche product, Greek yogurt is now mainstream, with several companies competing to have the highest selling yogurt product in the United States, according to Euromonitor’s 2012 report. In only five years since their opening in New Berlin, New York, Chobani rose to the challenge and became the No. 1 selling Greek yogurt in America.
Because of its higher protein content, Greek yogurt is healthier than traditional yogurt, or yogurt that has not been strained. The straining process eliminates the excess acid whey, which helps to concentrate the proteins in Greek yogurt.
“High protein is definitely a trend right now among consumers,” said Zuber.
After Chobani’s rise in the industry, the company began to face intense competition. According to Business Insider, Chobani used to dominate half of the market, but as other brands, such as Danone, starting producing their own Greek yogurt, Chobani’s share has fallen to 39 percent.
While Chobani faces competition, other similar businesses are taking advantage of the popular treat.
“We use Chobani for a number of reasons, the main reason why we use it is because it’s local and because the quality,” Matt Poole, owner of Smart Yogurt, said. “They have such a high standard for their yogurt.”
Alexandra Leslie and Kristen Tomkowid are senior Journalism majors at Ithaca College. You can reach them at email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.