Greek yogurt may be going to school

by Keith Nunes
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NEW YORK — The U.S. Department of Agriculture will offer Greek yogurt in New York school meal programs under a pilot program and may expand the effort nationally if it is successful, said Senator Chuck Schumer of New York. The U.S.D.A. will add Greek yogurt to its Foods List, which is a list of 180 foods that state agencies may buy with U.S.D.A. food entitlement money.

“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,” Mr. Schumer said. “I applaud the U.S.D.A. 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 U.S.D.A.’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.”

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Ken Concannon, undersecretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services, said the list of U.S.D.A. food products is routinely updated with new 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 U.S.D.A. foods program,” he said.

The U.S.D.A. will issue a request for information to seek input from potential yogurt vendors and producers on their ability to supply strained yogurt, including types and quantities available and information on pricing. Then the U.S.D.A. will use the information to gauge interest from New York State and other state school boards, in participating in a pilot to use U.S.D.A. entitlement dollars toward acquiring this product.

If there is interest, the U.S.D.A. said it will issue a solicitation for the product and allow manufacturers to compete for the opportunity to provide strained yogurt to the interested state. Mr. Schumer said the New York School Boards Association is already supportive of this pilot program. The U.S.D.A. expects to complete the process so deliveries of strained yogurt may begin as early as April 2013.

“We applaud Senator Schumer and the U.S.D.A. for their work on this initiative,” said Hamdi Ulukaya, founder, president and chief executive officer of Chobani, Inc. “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 3 pounds of milk to make one pound of Chobani.”

Juan Pablo Fernandez, general manager of Alpina Foods, added that, “with its high protein and calcium content, authentic Greek yogurt is a delicious and natural addition to the school meal program. Alpina Foods is proud to be a U.S. manufacturer of authentically strained Greek yogurt, and appreciates Senator Schumer's continued support of Greek yogurt and the dairy industry in New York State."
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