MELISSA BLOCK, host: Earlier this summer, some financial firms downgraded their stock rating for the food company General Mills. One of the main reasons was stiff competition in the yogurt business, specifically a craze for Greek yogurt. NPR's Hansi Lo Wang explains.
HANSI LO WANG: The dairy product is growing in popularity and changing consumer tastes and the yogurt industry. Hamdi Ulukaya comes from a long line of dairy farmers in Turkey, and he says the first time he tried yogurt in America, he did not approve.
HAMDI ULUKAYA: I was just surprised that there's so much sugar in there. It was so much preservatives and colors.
WANG: The yogurt Ulukaya grew up eating was made in the so-called Greek style, popular in the Mediterranean and Middle East, where yogurt is strained. The process gives it a tangy taste and a thick texture, almost like sour cream. Ulukaya says the soupy, sweet yogurt found in most American grocery stores threw him for a loop.
ULUKAYA: And I start asking the questions: Why is this so sweet? The answer was, well, Americans wouldn't eat unless it's absolutely, you know, very sweet.
WANG: But Ulukaya didn't buy that argument. And in 2005, he bought instead an old Kraft Foods plant in upstate New York where he created Chobani, now the best-selling Greek-style yogurt brand in the U.S.
(SOUNDBITE OF AD)
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: In a world of secrets, one woman hides her Chobani in a secret hiding place.
WANG: Five years ago, annual sales of Greek-style yogurt totaled just $60 million in the U.S. But this year, food industry analysts predict the dairy product will almost double last year's sales to 1.5 billion. So far, Chobani and the Greek dairy company Fage lead the pack of best-selling Greek-style yogurt brands. But conventional yogurt giants like Dannon are now trying to play catch-up with a little help from Greek-American actor John Stamos.
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JOHN STAMOS: Oikos Greek Yogurt from Dannon.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Really?
STAMOS: Wait until you try it.
WANG: Not everyone who's tried Greek-style yogurt is making the switch. After all, a cup of Greek yogurt can cost double the price of the conventional kind. But the majority of those who have gone Greek represent a highly desirable consumer group, says David Palmer, a packaged food industry analyst with UBS.
DAVID PALMER: You know, it's sort of what I would envision to be the Starbucks crowd. It's a higher educated, higher income user that resides in the Northeast.
WANG: And Palmer says, more often than not, the Greek yogurt consumer is female.
KATHY SMITH: Oh, I love Greek yogurt. I'm addicted to it. I buy it all the time.
WANG: Kathy Smith recently stopped by a fresh yogurt shop in Washington, D.C., where she ordered a low-fat Greek yogurt parfait. The yogurt shop's owner, David Smith, says there's a devoted Greek yogurt following amongst his customers.
DAVID SMITH: It is the one type of yogurt that when we run out unexpectedly, they get very upset.
WANG: David Palmer of UBS says protein-rich Greek yogurt may have the staying power that outlasts other food fads.
PALMER: When you think about it, it is not easy to get protein in a convenient form. And then if you raise the bar further and say high-protein, low-fat, convenient and tastes great, wow, that might make this a perfect food.
WANG: ..COST: $00.00
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