Greek Yogurt Surge Increases Demand For Milk

Yogurt has always been associated with good health. Now demand is growing for a new kind of yogurt--the Greek variety. Sales more than doubled last year. And just as this market shift is healthy for consumers, it's also healthy for dairy farmers--a key sector in our region's economy that is struggling to survive. The Allegheny Front's Nancy Cohen reports.

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COHEN: Some describe Greek yogurt as tangier and less sweet than the conventional. But 23-year-old Matt Loch, whoís shopping at a Giant Eagle supermarket just outside Pittsburgh, says the taste has nothing to do with why heís sworn off conventional yogurt.

LOCH: Flavor difference? I wouldnít say thereís too much. Thereís a lot more texture to Greek yogurt than regular yogurt. Itís got more body and itís almost creamier than regular yogurt.

COHEN: Other converts, like 50-year-old Julie Falvey, says Greek yogurt fills her up --- with the right stuff.

FALVEY: I like it ëcause itís got more protein in it and its keeps you fuller longer. So if you eat it for breakfast its like having an egg in the morning. And its low calorie also.

COHEN: Itís got a lot more proteinódouble or even triple the amount in conventional yogurt. Thatís because Greek yogurt is made with a lot more milk.

MOFFITT: This is raw milk! Raw milk right from the farm!

COHEN: Thatís Tom Moffitt, President of Commonwealth Dairy in Brattleboro, Vermont. Heís standing next to a seven thousand gallon tanker truck of milk. His plant makes yogurt for retail stores who want their own brand. Moffitt says heís getting nearly 50 thousand gallons of milk delivered every day.

MOFFITT: Part of the reason we are receiving so much as a yogurt maker is because we make a lot of Greek yogurt. Greek yogurt takes about five times as much milk to make than conventional yogurt.

COHEN: Moffitt says when he first opened his plant about a year ago, he thought heíd be making maybe 10 percent Greek yogurt, the rest conventional. But as he steps into the room where conventional yogurt is made itís clear a Greek tsunami has drowned it out.


MOFFITT: This rooms empty! We donít use this room very much because we donít make too much conventional yogurt.

COHEN: In another room Moffitt leads the way up two flights of stairs to a catwalk that overlooks six stainless steel tanks each full of 8,000 gallons of skim milk thatís fermenting.

MOFFITT: The most important room in the plant in my mind. This is where we make the yogurt!

COHEN: This is where the milk is cultured. But to become Greek yogurt it goes into a centrifuge that separates out the whey, the watery part of conventional yogurt .

MOFFITT: Thatís what makes the Greek yogurt so thick and smooth and creamy youíre taking all the liquid out of it. So weíre going to open this up and you can see fresh Greek yogurt that has just been made.

COHEN: But making such a rich yogurt requires much more milk---two to five times as much. Moffitt says he canít always get enough.

MOFFITT: Getting milk is a daily struggle. Every week we put in our order for our milk in terms of how many tankers we need. And every week we scratch, claw and fight for as much as we can get . I would say three out of four weeks we donít get enough milk. Three out of four weeks we simply canít get enough raw milk into our plant to make the yogurt we want to make.

COHEN: Sometimes the milk is there, but processors donít want to pay extra for it. In nearby New York state there are 29 other yogurt plants, many of which make Greek yogurt, also vying for milk. Pepsico just announced itís opening a $200 million dollar yogurt plant there. In Pennsylvania, Schreiber Foods in Shippensburg is making Greek yogurt. Besides yogurt-makers -- milk-bottlers, cheese, butter and ice cream-makers also want to buy milk.

Penn State Dairy economist Jim Dunn says when thereís not enough milk for yogurt makers this is good for farmers

DUNN: The fact that more milk is being used means that farmers, every where in the United States, western Pennsylvania, California, you name it are going to get a higher price for their milk.

COHEN: A USDA economist estimates the milk price paid to farmers in the northeast has gone up by about 6 cents per 100 pounds of milk. Dunn says this adds up.

DUNN: It basically means there are more farmers in the future than there would be without these new products.

COHEN: Back at Commonwealth Dairy a machine is pumping Greek yogurt , the consistency of soft-serve ice cream, nonstop.

MOFFITT: This filler is making 90 cups a minute of two-pound cups of Greek yogurt, so its using about 630 pounds of milk a minute. Thatís a lot of milk!î

COHEN: Moffitt says he doesnít see an end to the demand for Greek yogurt. Or the milk thatís needed to make it.

For The Allegheny Front Iím Nancy Cohen