Have you seen the new breed of frozen yogurt shop?
Of course you have; they’re like retail kudzu, sprouting everywhere with their happy-hued decor, self-serve flavor lineups, and myriad toppings. We started this summer with around 6,000 frozen yogurt shops, a big jump from the 3,624 at the end of 2010.
The frozen dessert shop segment as a whole has been holding steady at $6 billion per year, which means that virtually all of the froyo growth represents a cone for cone, cup for cup swap of ice cream for yogurt. Ice cream sales are at their lowest point in decades, and chains like Cold Stone, Baskin-Robbins, and Friendly’s have been shuttering stores by the hundreds.
The name says it all.
The 1980′s saw the first wave of frozen yogurt shops with the popular franchises I Can’t Believe It’s Yogurt! and TCBY (originally the acronym stood for This Can’t be Yogurt until a lawsuit from I Can’t Believe It’s Yogurt! forced a name change to The Country’s Best Yogurt). Like selling margarine as an I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter stand-in, frozen yogurt was seen as ice cream’s poor relation, and the more closely it mimicked the real thing, the better. After a decade of froyo madness, the market collapsed in the ’90s with the rise of coffeehouses and competition from niche frozen treat alternatives like gelato, Italian ice, and smoothies.
This time around, it’s all about the yogurt.
The new wave of frozen yogurt is defiantly, unapologetically not ice cream. It’s tart and comes in a slew of trendy and nontraditional flavors like green tea, guava, and salted caramel swirl. Plus it’s kinda, sorta, maybe healthy.
In its basic form frozen yogurt is a healthier choice than ice cream.
It contains less fat and sugar than ice cream. Frozen Greek-style yogurt has an especially dense concentration of healthy protein, and the tart flavors can slow down the release of sugar in the body, which stabilizes appetite and energy levels. Frozen yogurt also contains the strains of beneficial bacteria known as probiotics; the National Yogurt Association demands it of any product labeled as yogurt. You’d be fine if you just stopped there, but that’s not going to happen.
The ironic indulgence of the yogurt shop
Neuroscientists study something called ‘vicarious goal fulfillment.’ It happens when a person feels that a goal has been met even if they’ve only taken even a teeny, tiny step towards it: you feel healthier just joining a gym, even before you’ve ever worked out there; and smarter for subscribing to the New Yorker, even when the issues pile up unread. And in the froyo world, you can feel virtuous about your diet simply because you chose frozen yogurt over ice cream.
There you are celebrating your dietary restraint in a self-serve frozen yogurt shop. You pat yourself on the back with one hand while the other fills the oversized yogurt cup and ladles on honey toasted almonds and- what the hell, it’s only yogurt- Oreo crumbles. And here’s the ironic part—the more self-disciplined an individual is, the more powerful the what-the-hell effect. So says the University of Chicago’s Journal of Consumer Research in the study Vicarious Goal Fulfillment: When the Mere Presence of a Healthy Option Leads to an Ironically Indulgent Decision. Maybe this is news to you, but you can bet it’s not to the frozen yogurt industry. They know that the health food halo that sits atop yogurt brings customers in the door, but it’s the guiltless indulgence of the toppings bar that satisfies them.
Ice cream is struggling to regain its cool factor.
Frozen yogurt shops are successfully selling the health angle, the buzz of their hip decor, and the hands-on foodie vibe of customization. They make traditional ice cream parlors and scoop shops feel downright stodgy. Ice cream isn’t going anywhere; it will always be the luxuriant nosh of choice. But if it wants a marketing edge over frozen yogurt, it needs to enrich its offerings and update the customer experience.
Miscellany from the froyo world:
Naming Force will pay you $100 to name their client’s frozen yogurt shop.
Don’t they all just pick a fruit, pick a color, and add a ‘Yo!’?
The yogurt shop aesthetic has been described as ‘cool,’ ‘sugary,’ and ‘Tokyo preschool lounge.’ Mindful Design Consulting has assembled a best of gallery of shop interiors.
I wouldn’t say it was bound to happen, but it has: Cups is touted as the Hooters of froyo.