Greek yogurt expanded to school lunch program nationwide

Greek yogurt will be added as a permanent option to USDA's foods list for school meals nationwide starting this fall, according to U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.).

Schumer, who worked to create a USDA pilot program for Greek yogurt as a part of the School Lunch Program locally, then four, and then 12 states, called the expansion a "win, win, win that benefits our school kids, Upstate (New York) dairy farmers and our rapidly growing Greek yogurt industry."

During the three-month, 12-state pilot – in New York, Arizona, Idaho, Tennessee, California, Iowa, Connecticut, Illinois, North Carolina, Vermont, Washington and Mississippi – participating schools consumed 200,000 lbs. and $300,000 worth of Greek yogurt. New York is home to Greek yogurt manufacturers Chobani, Upstate Niagara, Fage, Alpina and Muller Quaker.

USDA will accept bids from potential Greek yogurt suppliers for the 2015-16 school year. Greek yogurt has about twice the protein content of traditional yogurt, and USDA determined in 2013 that it could be used as a substitute for meat as a protein source.

"Starting this fall students across the nation will have the option to balance nutritious and protein-rich Greek yogurt on their lunch trays," said Schumer. "In the last few years, New York has quickly become the Greek capitol of the country, and Upstate New York dairy farms from Western New York to the North Country to the Hudson Valley benefitted from that growth. So, the USDA's decision to include Greek yogurt permanently in their nationwide school lunch program is a nutritional benefit to our kids, an affordable option for local school boards, and a boon to New York dairy farmers and yogurt producers. I will increase demand for Greek yogurt across the country, while at the same time providing another healthy food option in the lunchroom."

"We're thrilled at the success of the USDA pilot program and today's announcement to expand nationally," said Dr. Robert Post, Chobani senior director of nutrition and regulatory affairs. "Providing students with affordable, delicious, nutritious food made with only natural ingredients is one of the most important things we can do as a company, and the success of the pilot is a testament to the growing popularity of Greek yogurt and USDA's recognition of the value of Greek yogurt as part of a healthy meal for kids. There's still work to be done on getting recognition for all the nutritional benefits of our food, and we're excited to continue working with USDA on this front."