Chobani: Yogurt intended for Olympians to be donated
In the Cold War over yogurt, America blinked.
The yogurt maker Chobani conceded defeat Thursday in its standoff with the Russian government, which has refused to allow a shipment of the Greek yogurt intended for the U.S. Olympic team at the Winter Games in Sochi to enter the country.
No amount of dairy diplomacy could break the impasse. Chobani said it would donate the yogurt, which has been held in refrigerated storage near Newark Liberty International Airport, to New York and New Jersey food banks.
“We tried our best,” said Hamdi Ulukaya, the founder and chief executive of Chobani, who said he was disappointed that the Russian government had not been more accommodating.
“Nobody should fight over a beautiful cup of yogurt,” Ulukaya said. “If anything, it brings culture to everybody.”
Chobani’s announcement ended more than a week of international intrigue, as two powerful nations squared off over a protein-rich dairy product.
Russian authorities would not allow delivery of the yogurt because they said it lacked the proper customs certification. U.S. officials said that was just an excuse to keep the yogurt out of the country. The two countries had already been squabbling over dairy goods; U.S. dairy exports have been barred from Russia since 2010.
The blockade outraged American yogurt aficionados, including several who hold elected office.
Leading the charge was Sen. Charles E. Schumer of New York. Chobani was founded in upstate New York, and yogurt production is now a booming industry there.
Behind the scenes, Schumer urged the Obama administration to step up its pressure on Russian officials who were objecting to the yogurt delivery. Publicly, he released an urgent letter addressed to the Russian ambassador, in an attempt to shame the country into action.
Aides to Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand of New York also tried to help, telephoning the Russian embassy in an effort to break the impasse.
But the yogurt remained grounded.
The disappointment was felt as far away as Idaho, where Chobani has a manufacturing plant. Some of the yogurt bound for Sochi came from the Idaho plant, and some came from the company’s original plant in central New York.
Gov. C.L. Otter of Idaho was among the elected officials who rushed to Chobani’s defense.
“It’s unfortunate that bureaucracy played a role in depriving American athletes in Sochi of this wholesome and nutritious American-made product,” Otter said.
On Thursday, on Twitter, Schumer posted a picture of himself enjoying a cup of Chobani and examining a map of Russia. Schumer said Russia’s anti-Chobani stance had a consequence; he and a number of other lawmakers now planned to tackle the broader issue of U.S. dairy exports being blocked from Russia.