Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna joined Idaho Senator Mike Crapo, Meridian Joint School District No. 2 Superintendent Dr. Linda Clark and officials from Chobani and the United Dairymen of Idaho to kick off the High-Protein (Greek) Yogurt Pilot Program in Idaho.
Idaho was one of four states selected to participate in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s pilot to make the Greek yogurt available as a protein addition to school menus.
Senator Crapo led letters from the Idaho Congressional Delegation, and, working with Senator Chuck Schumer (D-New York) and others, convinced the USDA to add Greek yogurt as a non-mandatory addition to USDA school nutrition programs for the 2013-14 calendar school years.
If the pilot program involving Idaho, New York, Tennessee and Arizona is successful, USDA may expand the Greek yogurt offerings to all 50 states.
Chobani, with the world’s largest Greek yogurt production facility employing more than 600 people in Twin Falls, won the competitive bid to supply the four-state pilot project.
“The addition of Idaho-produced Greek yogurt to school lunch menus is a win-win for Idaho,” Crapo said. “Not only will Idaho dairy producers and workers benefit, but Idaho’s students will have access to a nutritious protein-filled option.”
“We know students perform better academically when they eat healthy, nutritious meals. This will be a great way to showcase how Idaho is taking the lead in working to get more nutritious foods, including those produced right here in Idaho, into the hands of Idaho students,” Superintendent Luna said.
"We believe in supporting our local communities, which includes working tirelessly to provide access to simple, delicious and nutritious food to everyone, especially kids. With this USDA pilot program, we are one step closer to achieving that goal," said Kyle O'Brien, executive vice president of sales for Chobani. "As the exclusive manufacturer chosen for this pilot, we are thrilled to be able to offer our authentic strained Greek Yogurt to K-12 schools right here in Idaho."
“Idaho’s dairy farm families have long been committed to improving the health of our students by providing fresh, wholesome dairy foods to school meal programs,” said Karianne Fallow, CEO of the United Dairymen of Idaho. “This pilot project represents yet another way that children can choose healthy and delicious options during the school day.”
Right now, the USDA is only piloting this program because yogurt is a highly perishable product. Therefore, it is important for USDA to assess the logistics of delivering this product effectively and efficiently to schools before making it available across the country. The states selected represent different regions of the country with varying proximity to yogurt manufacturers and will help test distribution through different warehousing models.
As part of the pilot, Idaho will help assess 1) the logistics of delivering high-protein yogurt to schools participating in the program, and 2) the usefulness of the product in school meals.
In Idaho, the pilot program is open to all Idaho school districts that use USDA foods. Idaho has 115 school districts across the state. Currently, only three districts – Boise, Grace and Fruitland – use Cash-in-Lieu rather than USDA foods. These districts can still choose to purchase Greek yogurt but will not participate directly in the pilot.
Schools can use high-protein yogurt in many ways. It can be served in single servings to students or used in other foods, such as parfaits, fruit smoothies, or even dressings. In the Idaho State Department of Education’s recently published Chef-Designed School Lunch book, the state included a recipe for a dressing that uses yogurt.
The pilot will include: 4oz single serving containers of flavored yogurt as well as unflavored yogurt in 32oz containers to provide schools with a variety of ways of serving this product.
USDA will evaluate the cost-effectiveness of its initial procurement by December 2013 to determine next steps for the pilot.