Greek yogurt, already a superstar in the dairy department, is now making waves in supermarket frozen cases.
Many new national and private-label brands of Greek frozen yogurt — in pints, cups and bars — have landed in freezer cases over the past year. Sensing opportunity and not wanting to be left out in the cold, manufacturers worked fast to formulate the new products.
“Nobody wants to get left out of it,” said George Puro, a researcher who follows the category for market research firm Packaged Facts, Rockville, Md. “Too many major players were late to the game with refrigerated Greek yogurt.”
The Greek-style novelty is lifting frozen yogurt sales. Among ice cream and frozen novelties, “Fro Yo” is a small player, with less than 3% share of the $11.1 billion market, according to 2012 research from Mintel. Nevertheless, sales of frozen yogurt grew nearly 17% from 2010 to 2012, the largest percentage increase of all the categories tracked by Mintel. The company attributed the boost to yogurt’s better-for-you image and the new frozen Greek yogurt products, which were included in total frozen yogurt sales.
“Last year Greek yogurt was the golden child of the dairy case and now frozen Greek yogurt is becoming the golden child of the frozen case,” said John Frank, Mintel’s category manager for food and drink.
In the dairy aisle, both regular and Greek yogurt can be part of a healthful diet because they’re low in calories and packed with calcium and live bacterial cultures.
What makes Greek yogurt especially appealing is that it is strained more to remove much of the liquid whey, lactose and sugar. This gives it a super-thick consistency with more protein and lower sugar. Frozen Greek yogurt is similarly unique in that it packs more protein than other frozen yogurts and, without the extra water, the freezing process leaves Greek yogurt with less of an icy texture so the treat is creamier without added fat.
There are many different varieties of Greek yogurt in the freezer case, so calorie count and fat content and other product attributes vary by brand.
Consumers with a taste for fresh Greek yogurt seem to be early adopters of the frozen version. Marketers position frozen Greek yogurt as a healthy treat that delivers great taste without the fat and calories found in ice cream.
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“Our customers are looking for low-fat or fat-free options with high protein and a good taste and consistency profile,” said Maria Brous, spokeswoman for Publix. The Lakeland, Fla.-based chain carries Ben & Jerry’s and Ciao Bella’s Adonia brands of frozen Greek yogurt, which were introduced in the stores in May 2012. Ben & Jerry’s is available in blueberry vanilla graham, strawberry shortcake, raspberry fudge chuck and banana peanut butter. Adonia’s treats come in vanilla, mango, raspberry and blueberry flavors.
To encourage shoppers to buy the product, the stores have offered coupons, featured the products in store circulars and given shoppers a taste of frozen Greek yogurt at store sampling events.
“Ice cream continues to outperform Greek frozen yogurt,” Brous said. But “Greek frozen yogurt is a growing category.”
Still in its infancy in many areas, frozen yogurt is not loved by all. Shoppers at a Kowalski’s supermarket in St. Paul, Minn., one of eight stores in the Kowalski’s Markets chain, are giving the products the cold shoulder. Kowalski’s introduced two brands in the past year.
“It’s not like ice cream,” said Rodney Gagner, the store’s dairy frozen manager. “The demand is not here.”
Like the Greek language, the new frozen yogurt is unfamiliar to many shoppers. Building awareness is always a challenge, just as it is with other frozen products, said Daniel Donovan, spokesman for Giant Eagle, a Pittsburgh-based chain of supermarkets.
Giant Eagle carries the Ben & Jerry’s, Stonyfield, Yasso and Ruggle’s brands of frozen Greek yogurt. To coax shoppers into trying it, the stores have offered coupons and conducted in-store sampling activities. The biggest fans of the treat are the same people who buy fresh Greek yogurt, though the stores also see other consumers giving it a try, Donovan said.
“Frozen Greek yogurt continues to steadily increase in popularity with Giant Eagle customers, with the category representing a low double-digit percentage of overall sales within our pint and super premium business,” Donovan told SN. “The popularity of Giant Eagle’s frozen Greek yogurt mirrors that of other specialty frozen treats such as reduced-calorie ice creams, though it is not currently growing as quickly as categories such as gelato.”
To introduce people to the product, the pioneering founders of Yasso Frozen Greek Yogurt took their yogurt bars to music festivals, sporting events and other functions where they believed they would find a captive audience for a high-protein snack. Yasso was the first brand of frozen Greek yogurt to hit the U.S. market in 2011. Now the brand is expanding from three to six flavors and can be found in 15,000 supermarkets.
“We spend a lot of time talking to our consumers to find out what they’re looking for,” said Drew Harrington, who founded the company with his friend, Amanda Klane. “We relied on Facebook fans and did a lot of sampling.”
Harrington said he’s not bothered by all the new competition from big-name brands.
“The competition makes every company improve on their own products,” he said. “We’ll continue to look at our own brand and make it the best one out there.”
One of the new arrivals, the Healthy Choice line of frozen Greek yogurt, offers consumers three fruit flavors — strawberry, raspberry and blueberry — as well as vanilla bean. Weighing in at just 100 calories per serving, the yogurts, packaged in individual cups, are offered in the frozen section next to Healthy Choice’s single-serve meals.
On Healthy Choice’s website, it’s clear from the comments that the yogurts appeal to consumers who are watching their weight and seeking more nutritious treats.
Consumers enjoy the yogurt for dessert as well as daytime and evening snacking, said Dana Southard, brand manager for Healthy Choice, a division of ConAgra Foods.
“As consumers try to snack healthier as well as eat more nutritious desserts, they want products that don’t sacrifice taste,” Southard said. “Healthy Choice Greek Frozen Yogurt was introduced to meet these consumer needs.
“We’re very excited about consumer response so far for our Greek frozen yogurt,” Southard said.
Best known for premium ice cream, Ben & Jerry’s jumped into the Greek frozen yogurt market in 2012. Unlike other manufacturers, the South Burlington, Vt.-based company didn’t set out to make a super low-calorie product. Ben & Jerry’s frozen Greek yogurt ranges from 180 calories to just over 210 calories for a half-cup portion, said Jody Eley, brand manager for Ben & Jerry’s.
“Our products are not meant for consumers on diets,” Eley said. “Our frozen Greek yogurt is lighter compared to our ice cream.” The yogurts also contain less fat and more protein than ice cream, she said.
Initial sales have been strong, Eley said.
“It’s doing quite well,” she said. “It’s not turning as quickly as our ice cream products, which we never expected it to. It’s brought in incremental buyers, which was our goal.”
Ben & Jerry’s yogurts are primarily sold in pint cartons, with two flavors, banana peanut butter and raspberry fudge chunk, sold in single-size, 3.6-ounce cups. The company will roll out new flavors this year.
Consumers are giving frozen Greek yogurt mixed reviews.
When corporate dietitian Leah McGrath posed a question about frozen Greek yogurt on Ingles Markets’ Facebook page, two shoppers responded with negative comments.
“It was OK, but I don’t think I’ll be buying more of it,” one shopper said.
Another shopper was more critical. “I didn’t even finish it, threw it away and won’t buy again,” the shopper said. It is “just not my cup of tea or bowl of ice cream!”
Few areas of the supermarket are as difficult for new products to break in as the frozen food aisle. Based in Asheville, N.C., Ingles stores offer shoppers a sizeable selection of frozen goodies. The array of ice creams, popsicles, sherbets, gelatos, soy- based products, vegan items and other novelties make it hard for new items to stand out, McGrath said.
Frozen Greek yogurt “hasn’t caught on at least in our area, not yet,” McGrath said. “You have a lot of loyal ice cream fans down here.
“In the Southeast, I think we were later adopters of the [fresh] Greek yogurt wave,” she said. “Now we sell lots of Greek yogurt and have private-label Greek yogurt. I don’t know if people are willing to make that leap into the frozen category.”
Still, the frozen treats have attracted a following in some areas. Beth Drewniak of Hanson, Mass., got hooked accidentally, after enjoying a Yasso frozen Greek yogurt bar at an event for runners. She eats the bars for breakfast and for snacking. Her golden retriever also enjoys them. Drewniak likes to add a dash of hot fudge sauce to the raspberry bars, her favorite flavor.
“It’s delicious and nutritious,” Drewniak, 60, told SN. “When you eat them, you feel satisfied.”
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