Yogurt Juggernaut Chobani Has Mold Problem

PHOTO: Chobani Greek Yogurt is seen at the Chobani plant in South Edmeston, N.Y., Jan. 13, 2013.
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Chobani is recalling some of its Greek-style yogurt from supermarket shelves, following discovery of what the company calls a swelling or bloating of containers from mold found commonly in dairy products.

The company said less than 5 percent of production was affected, and that at no time did the cartons pose a health hazard.

Hamdi Ulukaya, Chobani's founder and CEO, apologized to customers in a message on the company website, explaining that customers can request "replacements or refunds" at www.chobani.com/care.

"Over the past few days, with the help of our retail partners, we proactively withdrew product from store shelves and I decided to voluntarily recall the limited amount of remaining product to be extra careful and cautious," Ulukaya wrote. "My heartfelt apologies to our friends, fans and consumers who were impacted, as your loyalty and safety is something we cherish and never take for granted. We have worked round the clock to fully fix the issue and have been shipping fresh product to stores."

A spokeswoman for Chobani said the company received "some claims of illness and are investigating and responding to those claims, as there's nothing more important to us than the health and safety of our consumers."

Ulukaya did not say exactly how many reports of illnesses the company received, but said it was not in the hundreds or thousands.

"Everybody in the company took this hard," Ulukaya told the Associated Press. "It shook us up."

The company said the recalled yogurt was produced at the company's Idaho facility.

"Over 95 percent of the units in question have already been identified and removed from retailer shelves," the company said.

The formal recall was a rare hiccup in what has been an otherwise smooth campaign by Chobani to become the nation's dominant, best-selling, most successful brand of Greek yogurt.

Asked what effect he thought the mold incident might have on Chobani's continued popularity, Harry Balzer, chief food industry analyst for consumer marketing research firm NPD Group, said it was hard to say. He added, though, that force of habit was on Chobani's side long-term.

"The most influential force, when it comes to dietary choice, is habit," Balzer tells ABC News. "Ordinarily such incidents, if they're resolved quickly, have a hard time changing our behavior."

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Chobani, in a blog post, assured any consumers with affected containers that the company would replace their merchandise "within 24 hours or less" of notification. Potentially affected cartons have expiration dates of 9/11/2013 – 10/7/2013 and the code 16-012.

Balzer says that over the past 30 years eating yogurt has become habitual for about 32 percent of Americans. Consumption has increased steadily since 1985, when it stood at just 2 percent. People buy yogurt, he says, because they think it's good for them. It has what he calls "a halo of health."

Plus, it's convenient, does not require cooking, and can be used as "a delivery system for fruit." As the latter, he says, yogurt has become America's fastest growing dessert. "It has increased," Balzer says, "like no other food product."

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