Since the economy first started going backwards three years ago, clothing boutiques, restaurants, electronics stores and retailers of every kind have closed their doors. But a chilly real estate market, topped with recession cravings and a self-serve obsession can make for a delicious business venture.
Such is frozen yogurt’s case. Remarkably, Americans are flocking to frozen yogurt establishments because of the fact that yogurt is a much healthier and lighter alternative to ice cream and custard. And let’s face it, it’s a nice alternative to our previous fate of becoming the fast food nation that consumes high calorie desserts from Sonic, McDonalds and two guys named Ben and Jerry.
Stand in Union Sqaure and you will notice that frozen yogurt shops are everywhere. A Joyride frozen yogurt truck idled by the park, Diet Lite Ice Cream is visible just down 17th Street, and a quick Yelp search reveals that a Pinkberry, a Tasti D-Lite, a Red Mango, a 16 Handles, a Yoqua Bar and a Yogurberry are all within a five to 10 minute walk. There are now around 22,000 frozen yogurt stores in the U.S. Pinkberry touched off a craze in 2005, then things slowed down, but yogurt’s getting a second wind. One of the fastest growing chains is Red Mango. After closing stores during the recession, Red Mango is launching new locations all over the country including one on Fulton Street. Tasti D-Lite, the frozen treat that is similar to but not quite ice cream or yogurt, is also sniffing around the area as it aggressively expands around the country and abroad.
All the establishments are set up similarly: self-serve, many toppings and flavors, and cost is by weight. Choosing a favorite froyo place then comes down to comparing tiny details and observing owners who put true passion into their stores. But many of these businesses are trying to differentiate themselves by claims of superior taste. Some claim others’ yogurt is too tart. Others say their competitors use a lot of preservatives. Some like to highlight their use of local dairy suppliers. Others emphasize their selection of flavors that appeal to the whole family.
The question of why the sudden popularity of the treat remains. There may be a correlation between fro-yo fandom and the overarching trend of “healthiness.” After all, frozen yogurt got its start in the 1980s, a decade characterized by a nationwide health craze that spawned celebrity exercise videos, celebrity-endorsed weight loss products and Olestra. Today, natural food stores like Whole Foods are experiencing booming success, despite the fact that “organic” and “natural” items often carry heftier price tags. It is therefore not so unexpected that ice cream, a favorite go-to snack for many Americans, would be replaced by something more readily consumed by the health-conscious. According to research conducted by the NPD Group, an increased interest in probiotics, the healthful bacteria found in yogurt and some other foods, may be a factor in the popularity of this alternative to regular ice cream. Frozen yogurt is also lower in fat than traditional ice cream, and is served with “healthy” toppings like fruit, granola, and nuts (that is, in addition to options such as chocolate chips, brownie bites, sugary cereals and a variety of candies and syrups).
It is also this level of freedom, with the customer being able to create exactly the dessert they want, that really brings them back time and time again. In an economy where so many people are being limited in what they can have, a self serve frozen yogurt franchise gives the power back to the people so they get exactly what they want every time. There’s almost no way a customer can be dissatisfied because they made their own dessert. For quite a while, the self serve frozen yogurt franchise had been considered a trend, but truth be told, it’s one trend that defies trend standards.