New York becoming Greek yogurt capital of North America
Dairy farmers, food industry executives, politicians and reporters scrambled to The Egg, a theater in Albany, New York, to sample free yogurt and discuss the future of this multi-billion dollar industry at the first official New York State Yogurt Summit on August 14.
“This is a historic day,” Andrew M. Cuomo, the governor of New York, told the crowd. “You can all go home and say, ‘I was at the first Yogurt Summit ever in the history of the State of New York.’ ”
According to The New York Times, Cuomo has been a vocal champion of the yogurt industry, in part because it has emerged as an unexpected and rare growth sector in economically struggling areas of upstate New York, and in part because it has become a reliable magnet for positive publicity.
The industry has been growing because of the exploding popularity of Greek-style yogurt, which requires significantly more milk to produce than does regular yogurt, and which has benefited from a proximity to New York’s dairy farms.
“Our cows are working overtime,” said State Senator James L. Seward, an upstate Republican whose district is home to Chobani, the country’s undisputed market leader in Greek-style yogurt.
The summit proved a unique opportunity for state officials to strategize with industry leaders about how to help ensure that the fast-growing industry continues to prosper.
The governor’s office even designed a logo for the meeting, featuring a cow with a spot on its side in the shape of New York State. Cuomo, himself, wore a lapel pin with the yogurt logo. And there was, of course, several big tubs of this low-fat creamy white treasure – yogurt from the New York-based industry leaders like Chobani and Fage, as well as lesser-known ones like Siggi’s (an Icelandic-style brand made in Chenango County) and Müller (a German company that is building a plant with PepsiCo in Batavia).
Growing, growing, growing
In his speech, Cuomo described the growth of the yogurt industry as “staggering” and “unbelievable”. He said there are currently 29 yogurt plants, up from 14 in 2000, currently operating in the state of New York.
According to data he presented at the summit, some 1.2 billion pounds of milk (up from 158 million pounds in 2005) is being used to make the yogurt each year. Increased production has also translated more than 8,000 jobs. Chobani, for example, opened in 2005 with a small staff of five and now employs some 1,200 people.
Dean Norton, the president of the New York Farm Bureau, said yogurt could transform New York into an agricultural version of California’s Silicon Valley. "If we make it our mission, there is no reason we can't make New York state the yogurt capital of the nation, if not the world," he said.
More good news came from Darrel J. Aubertine, the governor’s agriculture commissioner. He said he would seek to encourage (by cutting regulations and costs) smaller farms to expand by increasing the herd size at which a permitting process is required to 300 cows, from 200.
More than 800 dairy farms with 100-199 cows could benefit from this reform and capitalize on the national boom in Greek-style yogurt.
According to the local Observer Dispatch of Utica, New York, farmers and yogurt manufacturers praised the governor’s effort to connect with and help agribusiness. Many of the regulations they complained about, however, are environmental protection measures to keep chemicals and animal waste from polluting the water and land.
In Washington, Senator Charles Schumer renewed his push for a Dairy Augmentation for Increased Retail in Yogurt Products Act, which would give dairy farmers tax benefits to help expand production.
"Greek yogurt is popping up on shelves in supermarkets from coast to coast, and its popularity is creating a golden opportunity," Schumer said.
Dairy farming and processing combined presents a total impact of $8.9 billion to New York's economy, according to the online financial network, Equities.
This is why Cuomo promised his administration will do everything it can to facilitate the continuous growth of the state’s yogurt production. “We want the yogurt business to do well, and continue to thrive in New York,’ he said.
New York Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, who is Greek descent, said: "The New York State Yogurt Summit has brought the agriculture and manufacturing industries together so our local communities, farmers, businesses and the dairy industry can all benefit from the recent yogurt boom. Government needs to be a partner in this effort so we can help create jobs and grow our economy, while providing consumers and their families with the healthy food choices they are demanding."