WASHINGTON, Jan. 31, 2013- The USDA will begin a pilot program to test the cost-effectiveness of including strained yogurt, or Greek yogurt, in school meal programs, said the USDA Undersecretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services Kevin Concannon in a letter to Senator Charles Schumer, D-N.Y.
If the pilot is successful, deliveries of Greek yogurt to schools could begin as early as April 2013.
Schumer began his campaign in June 2012 for USDA to change its School Lunch and Breakfast Programs regulations to reflect the protein content of Greek yogurt, a growing industry in his state. He said it could provide school children with another healthy option, while creating benefits to New York dairy farmers and Greek yogurt producers like Chobani, Fage and Alpina.
“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,” Schumer said in a statement.
According to Schumer’s announcement, 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. For example, Chobani uses an estimated three-million pounds of milk daily.
"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,” said Chobani CEO Hamdi Ulukaya. “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."
In his letter, Concannon explained that USDA provides two basic types of support: cash reimbursement and what is known as a “USDA Foods entitlement.” Each state agency operating the National School Lunch Program annually receives a USDA Foods entitlement, which may be spent on any of the 180 foods currently purchased by USDA and offered on its USDA Foods list.
“Protein products are often among 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,” he said.
To test market demand for Greek yogurt in schools, USDA will issue a Request for Information from potential vendors on their ability to supply strained yogurt, including types and quantities available and information on pricing. Concannon said USDA will use this information to gauge interest from states in participating in a pilot to use a portion of the State’s USDA entitlement toward acquiring the yogurt.
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. Concannon said he expects to complete this process so that deliveries of strained yogurt could begin as early as April 2013.
Schumer noted that in the state of New York, schools are supportive of the program. According to New York State School Boards Association Executive Director Timothy G. Kremer, the pilot program is a “win-win” for students, parents and schools.
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