Dessert Trend: What's In Pinkberry?

Pinkberry is the hot new trend in Southern California and New York. It's a slightly sour frozen yogurt that only comes in two flavors. But now some critics are saying it actually isn't yogurt. So what exactly is it? And why is this uber-expensive frozen treat so popular?

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ANTHONY BROOKS, host:

This is DAY TO DAY from NPR News. I'm Anthony Brooks.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

And I'm Madeleine Brand.

Today is the first day of summer, the perfect time to cool off with a frozen treat. In New York and here in Southern California, there's one that's kicked up quite a stir. It's called Pinkberry. The soft-served treat is wildly popular, so popular some people call it crackberry, even though nobody seems to know exactly what's in it. NPR's Alex Cohen reports.

ALEX COHEN: Pinkberry is a far cry from 31 flavors. There are just two choices here - green tea and original, which taste a lot like plain yogurt with a bit of a tang to it.

Unidentified Woman #1: Original? (unintelligible).

COHEN: At a store in L.A.'s Korea town, customers top their orders with fresh fruit, cookies or sweetened cereals like fruity pebbles. Pinkberry spokesperson Heather Wilson.

Ms. HEATHER WILSON (Publicist and Spokesperson, Pinkberry): You could really tailor it to make it your own, and that's, I believe, why there's such a line here for it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

COHEN: Despite the prices, a large green tea with three toppings cost nearly 10 bucks. People were lined up to get their frozen fix. Shortly after the first store opened two years ago, Pinkberry became a hit. Californians slopped to it. Celebrities raved about it. The frosty treat are nicknames like frozen heroin and crackberry.

(Soundbite of music)

LADY TIGRA (Rapper): (Rapping) Sorry ice cream. I'm dreaming of a different dessert.

COHEN: It even inspired a rapper named Lady Tigra.

(Soundbite of music)

LADY TIGRA: (Rapping) It doesn't feel like I'm cheating when I'm eating it, because it's healthy. I feel better already.

COHEN: Doesn't feel like cheating when I'm eating it, because it's healthy. Such claims carry a lot of weight in image-conscious L.A., but are they true? Attorney Mary Glarum is representing a guy who's suing Pinkberry for not disclosing their ingredients to the public.

Ms. MARY GLARUM (Attorney): The concern is that it doesn't have the health benefits that they've led people to believe that it does have. And that is one of the reasons why we brought the lawsuit.

COHEN: On her desk, exhibit A: an empty Pinkberry container.

Ms. GLARUM: This is actually a cup that we got before we filed the lawsuit at a Pinkberry location. And it clearly says on here, all natural, non-fat frozen yogurt.

COHEN: How can customers be sure it's all natural if they don't even know what's in it? Glarum argues. She says her client doesn't want any money. He just wants to know what Pinkberry is, and if it's really frozen yogurt.

Mr. STEVE LYLE (Director of Public Affairs, California Department of Food and Agriculture): It's not frozen yogurt. It's not a dairy product in the eyes of California law.

COHEN: Steve Lyle is with the California Department of Food and Agriculture, an agency that's been on Pinkberry's case for months.

Mr. LYLE: The rule that's at the center of the Pinkberry case is that frozen yogurt be manufactured in a state-licensed and state-inspected facility and delivered in a semi-frozen state to the retail establishment. That is not occurring currently with Pinkberry.

Mr. GLARUM: Well, we're working with the state to sort that out.

COHEN: Back at the Pinkberry store, spokesperson Heather Wilson says they now have plans to open a central off-site processing plant, so that they can call their product frozen yogurt. In the meantime, they have taken the words frozen yogurt off their cups, and that catchy little jingle is now pretty much an instrumental.

(Soundbite of music)

COHEN: Today, the L.A. Times reported results from a lab in Oregon, where they sent some Pinkberry. Turns out it does contain healthy bacteria cultures contained in yogurt. But as long as the chain keeps mum about the ingredients, all sorts of speculation about Pinkberry will likely continue online. There's been talk of a mysterious powder being added to the mix. Rumors that Pinkberry is actually a generic brand of supermarket yogurt, frozen, whipped and swirled. I put the question to Heather Wilson.

What exactly is Pinkberry? What's in it?

Ms. WILSON: It's made of yogurt and milk and other flavorings. And there is some sugar in it. So that's what it is. It's a frozen dessert with yogurt in it.

COHEN: And it's a frozen dessert with yogurt in it that is selling incredibly well, with plans for nearly two dozen new stores to open soon. It looks like the only thing that might put a chew on Pinkberry sales now is competition. In recent months, copycat stores with names like Snowberry, Kiwiberry and Roseberry have started popping up throughout Los Angeles.

(Soundbite of music)

Alex Cohen, NPR News.

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