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Yogurt made in Johnstown to be served at Inaugural bash

Thursday, January 10, 2013
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U.S. Sen. Charles E. Schumer tastes yogurt at the Fage plant in Johnstown on Thursday afternoon as Russell Evans, director of marketing for Fage USA, looks on.
Photographer: Marc Schultz
U.S. Sen. Charles E. Schumer tastes yogurt at the Fage plant in Johnstown on Thursday afternoon as Russell Evans, director of marketing for Fage USA, looks on.

— Some of Washington D.C.’s most powerful people will be eating Greek yogurt made in Johnstown and drinking water bottled in Saratoga Springs at the Presidential Inaugural Luncheon.

The menu is courtesy of U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., chairman of the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies.

“This is the most prestigious meal in Washington every four years,” Schumer said at a news conference Thursday at the Fage USA Dairy Greek yogurt production plant in the Johnstown Industrial Park. “I said it was a good opportunity to promote New York state foods. This will allow everybody in the country to taste [the Fage-brand yogurt] and hopefully it will increase sales.”

The luncheon will include President Barack Obama, Vice President Joseph Biden, their families, and members of Congress, the Supreme Court and the Cabinet.

“Fage Greek yogurt is what’s for breakfast at the inaugural ceremonies this year,” said Schumer. “Serving Fage before the inaugural ceremonies shines a spotlight on one of New York’s biggest and most delicious dairy products.”

Also on the menu are other New York state-produced products: A pie made of apples from Golden Harvest Orchards in Valatie, Columbia County; honey from Seaway Trail Honey in Rochester; cheese from Cooperstown Cheese Co.; Crown Maple syrup of Dutchess County; and two wines — a dry riesling from upstate vineyards and a merlot from a Long Island vineyard.

“It is a great highlight of New York foods in general,” Schumer said.

Russel Evans, Fage’s director of marketing, was appreciative of the attention. “We are truly honored to have our Fage Total Greek yogurt be served at the presidential inauguration and thank Sen. Schumer for suggesting us,” he said. “We sincerely hope that the Obama and Biden families and their guests enjoy it.”

A spokesman for Saratoga Spring Water did not return a phone call for comment for this story.

At some point during Inaugural Day, Schumer said he will put the squeeze on President Obama to sample Fage. “I will ask the president if he ever had Fage before and I will ask him to stack it on his refrigerator shelf,” he said. “I will tell him it is healthy and it is American-made and it is something you should give to your daughters.”

Schumer said he eats Fage once a day himself and credited it with helping him lose 30 pounds. During his news conference, the senior senator from New York sampled a new product line from Fage called “Fruyo,” and said he loved it.

The new product is not yet being made at the plant in Johnstown, but it soon will be, Evans said. “There is nothing like this out there,” he said.

Fruyo blends the fruit into the yogurt to create a homogenized product, Evans said. Competitor products have the fruit on top or on the bottom of the yogurt in the container.

Fage will add the product line to the Johnstown production cycle in coming months, Evans said. The company is in the midst of planning a $100 million, 180,000-square-foot addition to its plant in Johnstown and expects the newly constructed portion to be in production in the first quarter of 2014.

When fully operational, the expanded plant will produce 160,000 tons of yogurt annually, double the plant’s current capacity. The expansion would also add 150 workers to the 240 now there. Fage opened the 220,000-square-foot facility in the Johnstown Industrial Park in 2008.

Fage is relying on the expanded plant — its only production facility in the United States — to provide the profits it needs to create financial stability amid the economic crisis in its homeland.

In addition to Fage, New York is also home to the Chobani brand of Greek yogurt and Greek yogurt brands made by Pepsi and Alpina. Total yogurt output in New York grew about 60 percent from 2007 to 2011, with a 40 percent increase in output in 2011 alone.

The Greek yogurt industry has been a boon to the state’s dairy industry, according to the Farm Bureau of New York State. The milk industry already generates $2.5 billion per year for the state, a figure that will likely increase once all the yogurt plants are online and at full production, the bureau said.

When the Fage plant doubles capacity, for example, it will use more than 1 billion pounds of milk annually, or about 10 percent of the total milk output in New York in 2011.

 
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