Chobani Executives Depart as Yogurt Maker Delays IPO

Several top executives are leaving Chobani Inc. as the yogurt maker puts plans for its initial public offering on hold.

President and Chief Operating Officer Peter McGuinness told employees last week that he is leaving the company effective Friday to pursue other opportunities, according to people familiar with the matter. Chobani’s Chief People Officer Grace Zuncic, Chief Strategy Officer Michelle Brooks and Chief Corporate Affairs Officer Cristina Alesci are also leaving the company, the people said.

Norwich, NY-based Chobani previously had planned to go forward with an IPO in the fall of 2021, and then in January of this year, according to people close to the company.

It initially targeted a valuation of as much as $ 7 billion to $ 10 billion, The Wall Street Journal previously reported. The company now plans to wait until at least the second half of 2022 or even 2023, according to people familiar with the company, amid an especially volatile market for IPOs in recent months.

Chobani shook up the yogurt industry after it began selling its Greek-style yogurt about 15 years ago. Its products helped popularize the Greek variety, which has more protein and less sugar than traditional yogurt in the US, aligning with a broader shift in consumers’ eating habits.

Chobani estimates it now holds about one-fifth of the roughly $ 10 billion US yogurt market, after introducing other varieties such as extra-probiotic yogurt and an oat-based version. Beyond yogurt, Chobani now makes oat milk, coffee creamer and cold-brew coffee.

Mr. McGuinness joined the company in 2013 to lead its marketing efforts. In recent years, he has been promoted to also oversee Chobani’s supply chain, manufacturing, research and development, legal and finance departments. Chobani’s founder and Chief Executive Hamdi Ulukaya said “he quickly connected the dots,” in an email last week to employees about Mr. McGuinness’s departure.

Chobani is still considering who will succeed Mr. McGuinness, Ms. Brooks, Ms. Zuncic and Ms. Alesci, a person close to the company said. The 10-member executive team reported to Mr. McGuinness, who reported to Mr. Ulukaya. In the interim, the team will report directly to Mr. Ulukaya, he said in the email, which was reviewed by the Journal.

“We have our next leaders within us, and we will have more to join,” Mr. Ulukaya said.

Ms. Brooks, who was promoted to head of strategy in July, has been with the company since 2018. Ms. Zuncic has worked at Chobani for a decade and joined the executive leadership team in 2019. Ms. Alesci joined Chobani in 2020 to head up communications, government affairs and philanthropy.

In its IPO filing, Chobani positioned itself as a growth company with goals of expanding further outside of the yogurt aisle and to other countries. Mr. Ulukaya has previously said that cash from an IPO would help fuel that expansion, particularly within plant-based products.

Since November, however, markets have been turbulent for newly listed companies: Companies going public via traditional IPOs in the US have raised about $ 2.3 billion this year, according to Dealogic, versus $ 27 billion over the same period in 2021. Big stock-market swings and fear of interest-rate increases have made it less attractive to buy shares of companies whose value derives from expectations of big profit growth in the future, according to investors and traders.

Chobani’s executive departments are partly influenced by the delay in the IPO, people close to the company said. Personal decisions also are a factor, these people said.

Meanwhile, Mr. Ulukaya has hired Tarkan Gurkan, PepsiCo Inc.’s

former global head of mergers and acquisitions, at Mr. Ulukaya’s family office, Shepherd Futures LLC, people familiar with the matter said. Mr. Ulukaya is the majority owner of Chobani, and of La Colombe Coffee Roasters, a chain of coffee shops.

Chobani faces intensifying competition in the yogurt sector. Rival yogurt brands such as Dannon and Yoplait have created their own new varieties in recent years, while others are marketing yogurt made from oats and other milk alternatives. Rising labor, commodities and freight costs are making it harder for Chobani and the food industry at large to turn a profit.

The IPO market has ground to a halt this year, and bankers said when deals start relaunching, they will be for companies that are mature, fairly large and with solid profits.

In its November 2021 IPO filing, Chobani said its sales rose 5.2% in 2020 to $ 1.4 billion. The company’s losses totaled $ 58.7 million in that year, compared to a $ 19.4 million loss in 2019, according to its filing, during a period when companies generally struggled to navigate the pandemic.

For the nine months through Sept. 25, 2021, Chobani generated $ 1.2 billion in sales — a 14% increase from the year-ago period — and had $ 24 million in net losses. Gross profit grew 7% over that time.

Chobani is required to update that filing in the next month or two with 2021 financials if it decides to continue pursuing the IPO, for a more opportune time in the market.

“I look ahead and have never been this excited about the future of Chobani,” CEO Mr. Ulukaya said in his email to staff.

Write to Annie Gasparro at annie.gasparro@wsj.com, Corrie Driebusch at corrie.driebusch@wsj.com and Cara Lombardo at cara.lombardo@wsj.com

Corrections & Amplifications
An earlier version of this article misspelled the surname of Peter McGuinness in two instances as McGuiness. (Corrected on March 11)

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