Our Take

Musings on the Foodservice Industry

It’s All Greek to Me

There is a famous Greek expression, “Ta pada ri” – nothing stays the same.

The past few years have been wonderful for the Greek yogurt industry. Greek yogurt has gone from one percent of the yogurt market in 2007 to 36 percent, and it seems, on the way to half of the market share. Within the Greek yogurt arena, new items appear daily. 

Greek yogurt, regular yogurt strained to remove much of the liquid whey, lactose, and sugar has a thicker consistency. Consumers perceive the product as healthy since consuming the same number of calories delivers twice the protein and half the sugar. Greek yogurt’s nutritional superiority has helped elevate the product to a superfood status in the U.S., with sales more than doubling over the past five years, according to Euromonitor International. Greek yogurt sales are up because it satisfies consumers’ needs for health, convenience, and taste, according to Nielsen, a global marketing and advertising research company.

Without a standard of identity or government regulations, some companies just affix the word “Greek” on labels throughout the dairy aisle and beyond, masking products that are not so healthy. The straining process requires costly equipment. To avoid the expense, some yogurt companies offer “Greek” yogurts not made in the traditional way. They add thickening agents like cornstarch and milk-protein concentrate to mimic the rich texture of strained yogurt. go_greek1

A downside of the explosion is the massive increase in Greek’s by-product, sour or acid whey. Acid whey is toxic to the environment and kills off aquatic life; in addition, cattle can only tolerate a small amount in their feed. The USDA has expressed concern for the more acidic whey and is studying alternatives for regulation.

Another issue for Greek’s popularity is a push by the European Union to add Greek yogurt to its list of “geographic indicators”, in order to prevent American dairy makers from using specifically European names of cheese varieties.  In the August 1st edition of Cheese Market News, this headline appeared, “Court rules against Chobani, Inc. appeal to use ‘Greek’ on yogurt in United Kingdom”. The article said, FAGE UK Ltd. won its ongoing court case against U.S.-based Chobani when the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom recently ruled that Chobani could no longer appeal a decision that prohibits it from selling its yogurt as “Greek” in the United Kingdom.

Marketing Greek

The moniker “Greek”, has plenty of positives and apparently, still amply upside. With crowded shelves, the attempt to confuse the consumer, acid whey and EU pushback, is it your time for Greek?

In the psychological literature, there is a concept known as the “halo effect”. As an example, an employee who performs well in a key area, gains the perception that they perform well in all areas. This halo above their head creates an atmosphere, where managers overlook certain behavior. Greek has a halo over its head. Consumers perceive all things Greek, as healthy and good for them. I say, capitalize on that belief.

First, only make claims that are real, the wheels will come off the cheaters’ carts sooner rather than later, help educate the public regarding “strained” yogurt versus “thick” yogurt. Good companies and good people in the industry should band together to drive out those who would misinform and attempt to fool the public.

Second, do not stop at yogurt. Halos are real, now is the time to co-opt Greek with new product development. Use authentic Greek yogurt as an “ingredient” in order to extend its goodness. Several examples easily come to mind. Greek yogurt ice cream is a natural product extension. Think about the all substitutions of mayonnaise like, potato salad, egg salad and macaroni salad, using a Greek yogurt based dressing. A yogurt type of salad dressing is a great substitute in hundreds of new products.

Next, consider a burrata type of product with Greek yogurt in the middle. A good R&D team could develop and market “Greekata”.

Move beyond yogurt to other Greek dairy products. Two underperforming cheeses are Myzithra and Kasseri. Both are wonderful products that are virtually unknown in the U.S. I believe that a campaign to re-introduce these Greek cousins would be successful. Traditionally made from goat milk, a Myzithra developed cow’s milk would increase appeal and decrease costs. It is also generally made with salt, so Myzithra is sweet and could be the base of a good dessert offering. Kasseri in a cow’s milk format would substitute beautifully for Parmesan. A good marketer could construct a terrific story blending the perceived goodness of Greek to pastas or grated over Greek salads.

Returning to the acid whey issue, a clever marketer or R&D effort can create a dried version of acid whey for use as an ingredient; i.e. John’s Energy Bars, now made with dried Greek yogurt whey.

Nearly at the end, there is Feta. The EU problem already exists with geographic intrusion. Why not assist our European brothers in their angst and simply call Feta, Greek-style Feta. I am certain they would relish the call-out. It would remind consumers of the connection and firmly affix the halo just above the brine bucket.

Finally, there is foodservice. Other than dip shops, all things Greek appear missing except at the chain restaurant level with Zoe’s and Daphne’s. Food manufacturers, distributors and operators have an opportunity to hop on the popularity of Greek with new product introductions and limited time offers.

Everyone wants an edge to sell incremental products. All things Greek is a popular platform from which to launch. Consumers perceive Greek as healthy. Now is the time to look at your product line up and determine if a little Greek can go a long way.

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