Schumer: Schools can soon say they’ve ‘Got NY Greek Yogurt’

ALBANY – U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer announced Wednesday that he successfully petitioned the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to increase the availability of New York-made Greek yogurt in school meal programs in New York State and potentially across the country. In a letter to Senator Schumer, the USDA committed to initiating a pilot program that is expected to place Greek yogurt in schools across the country as early as April 2013. Specifically, thanks to Schumer’s June 18 efforts, the USDA initiated this process, which will first increase school’s access to Greek Yogurt on a pilot basis. If successful, this could become a permanent part of the USDA Foods List for schools nationwide, and could lay the groundwork to create a separate crediting standard for strained yogurt – also known as “Greek” yogurt – to reflect its higher protein content.

Schumer explained that through this pilot, the USDA will now work towards adding Greek yogurt to the USDA Foods List, which is a list of over 180 nutritious foods that state agencies are eligible to buy with USDA food entitlement money. The pilot will help test market demand for Greek yogurt in schools, which would be categorized on the Foods List as an additional protein option – a meat alternative to achieve meal nutrition requirements. New York schools are also highly supportive of Schumer’s efforts to make this a food option that is eligible for upfront entitlement money, rather than federal reimbursement.

Schumer’s efforts to place Greek yogurt in more school cafeterias will provide a boon for the largely New York-based Greek yogurt industry, including companies like Chobani, Fage, Alpina, the future Muller Quaker, and others throughout New York. In addition, because Greek yogurt requires more milk than regular yogurt, New York’s dairy farmers would also benefit from Senator Schumer’s plan.

“Soon, New York-made, healthy and protein-rich Greek Yogurt could be what’s for lunch in schools across New York and even the country,” said Senator Schumer. “I applaud the USDA for heeding my call and working diligently and effectively to initiate a pilot program to bring New York Greek yogurt to school cafeterias as early as April 2013. The USDA’s pilot program will serve as an important first step in boosting nutrition for New York students, all while bolstering business for our dairy farmers and Greek yogurt producers alike. To put it simply: New York schools will soon be able to say they’ve ‘Got Greek Yogurt.’”

“The list of USDA food product offerings is routinely updated, with new and more healthful products added every year. Protein products are often the most popular items chosen from the list, and the inclusion of strained yogurt could help create a more rounded set of protein offerings for schools within the USDA Foods program,” stated USDA Undersecretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services Kevin Concannon. Undersecretary Concannon noted in his letter to Schumer, that since the Senator’s request last June, staff from his offices have been discussing potential opportunities to ensure schools have access to this nutritious product.

“We support the efforts by Senator Schumer and the USDA to provide a healthy alternative with Greek Yogurt to our student’s school meal programs,” said New York State School Boards Association Executive Director Timothy G. Kremer. “This new pilot program is a win-win for the students, parents and schools across New York State,” added Kremer.

In the coming weeks, USDA will issue a Request for Information to seek information from potential yogurt vendors and producers on their ability to supply strained yogurt, including types and quantities available and information on pricing. Second, USDA will use this information to gauge interest from New York State and other state school boards, in participating in a pilot to use USDA entitlement dollars toward acquiring this product. If there is interest, USDA would issue a solicitation for the product and allow vendors to compete for the opportunity to provide strained yogurt to the interested state. Schumer noted that the New York School Boards Association are already supportive of this pilot program. USDA expects to complete this process so that deliveries of strained yogurt could begin as early as April 2013.

Schumer further explained the process for the expected pilot program to get Greek yogurt into schools. The Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) and the Farm Service Agency (FSA) purchases USDA foods for schools by inviting vendors and producers – like Chobani, Fage or Alpina – to participate in a competitive bid system. Before contracts are awarded, AMS and FSA issue and analyze “invitations for bid” that outline specification requirements for each product. USDA has announced that on a pilot basis, FNS would make Greek yogurt available as one of the USDA Foods, which schools can order using their USDA foods entailment to test the demand for Greek yogurt. AMS and FSA will have to develop specifications for Greek yogurt. The Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) will petition and select a state, such as New York to participate in this pilot purchasing program. At the conclusion of the pilot, Greek yogurt could permanently be added as a protein to USDA’s Foods list eligible for purchase with food entitlements across the country.

Schumer’s efforts to place Greek yogurt in more school cafeterias will provide a boon for the largely New York-based Greek yogurt industry, including established companies like Chobani, Fage and Alpina and the forthcoming Muller Quaker. In addition to the extra business for New York Greek yogurt manufacturers, because Greek yogurt requires more milk than regular yogurt, New York’s dairy farmers would also benefit from Senator Schumer’s plan. In fact, Chobani uses an estimated three-million pounds of milk daily. In June, Schumer highlighted to the USDA that grocery stores across Upstate New York and across the country are selling Greek Yogurt off the shelf, However, despite Greek yogurt’s high protein content, many New York school children and their school lunch and breakfast menus lacked the healthy option. For this reason, Schumer launched a campaign to work with the USDA and local schools so that New York’s meal programs can say they’ve “Got Greek yogurt.” Schumer commended Chobani’s help, in particular, in developing this well-thought out nutritional plan to get strained yogurt in schools.

“We applaud Senator Schumer and the USDA for their work on this initiative,” said Hamdi Ulukaya, founder, president and CEO of Chobani. “This pilot program will allow schools better access to Greek yogurt, giving them a cost-effective, nutritious and delicious way to diversify their menus and supply the protein that students need. This is also a win for New York State’s economy and our dairy farmers in particular, as it takes three pounds of milk to make one pound of Chobani.”

In June 2012, Schumer highlighted that if the USDA updated its School Lunch and Breakfast Programs regulations to better reflect the protein content of Greek yogurt, it could provide school children with another healthy option, while creating massive benefits to both New York dairy farmers and Greek yogurt producers like Chobani, Fage and Alpina. New York’s dairy farmers are among the biggest beneficiaries of an increased demand in Greek yogurt, as it takes significantly more milk to make Greek yogurt than regular yogurt. This announcement to initiate a pilot program to place Greek yogurt on the USDA Foods List will begin to show the pent up demand by schools to add this healthy product to their menus.

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