Aditya Dhere and Anes Dracic were about to present their capstone project to an audience of peers at Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School of Business. After a series of presentations by students mostly focused on starting technology companies, they took the stage and announced they were going to start a Greek yogurt company.
“People thought we were joking at first,” Aditya shared. But they meant it: they want to change the Greek Yogurt game.
Greek yogurt is all the rage and has taken over the yogurt category and comprises over 50% of all yogurt sold in the U.S. today. Yogurt brand Chobani has led that rise. Once a small startup, the brand has now expanded to all major retailers, has opened its first Chobani Café in New York City and has made its founder, Hamdi Ulukaya, a billionaire. Fage is the other leading Greek yogurt brand and their takeover of the category has led many other manufacturers to make their own versions.
While yogurt’s health properties are known (they are an excellent source of protein and probiotics), not all yogurts are created equal. There are very few organic yogurt brands and even fewer organic Greek yogurt varieties. In fact, Chobani has recently received flak for using milk from cows fed with GMO-feed.
This is one of the reasons why Aditya and Anes were inspired to start Naturi. They both grew up with their family’s homemade version of the thick, creamy yogurt and they both set out to recreate the experience with amped up taste and flavor using organic dairy and artisanal ingredients.
They started in their apartment –experimenting with recipes and techniques and rigged an incubator bought off Craig’s List to make their first batches. Before that, they were using a slow cooker whose temperature they had to regulate by manually clicking the on and off switch. Neither of them slept much on those nights.
They finally perfected the process and launched the company in February 2014. In June, the team was joined by Jennifer Mrzlak, who brought experience from the food industry. She shares the same passion for good, real food and sustainable sourcing and production practices that pushed Aditya and Anes to launch Naturi.
However, sourcing has not been that simple. The team was surprised that it was hard to find organic dairy suppliers. “Most farmers cannot bear the cost of organic standards and qualify “rBST free” as a marketing equivalent, which of course, is far from true.” says Jennifer. “What attracted me to Naturi was not just the products, but the opportunity to educate consumers.”
They finally found Sunrise Family Farms in Norwich, NY—an organic dairy farm that was welcoming of startups and excited about Naturi. “Not only are we sourcing our dairy from them, they are producing the yogurt based on our specs and have also helped us with finding partners for packaging and sourcing organic fruit.”
“Clarion River Organics has also been a great local partner and we look forward to working with them as we grow,” adds Jennifer.
Naturi will launch with four varieties: plain, blueberry, Saigon cinnamon and Tahitian vanilla. Their fruit yogurts are not artificially sweetened but rely on the natural sugars of the fruits that they carefully source. Other flavors up the pike include chocolate made with the high-end Callebaut brand, a seedless raspberry and a coffee flavor made with chicory for natural sweetness. Their first products will be in the market in the fall.
The company has raised a friends and family round of investment as well as funds from Carnegie Mellon University. A few weeks ago, the team launched a Kickstarter campaign, and to date is a little over 70% of its goal. The campaign ends on Sunday. Naturi will be sampling their products at the Pittsburgh Public Market on Saturday.