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Friday, August 26, 2011

Greek Yogurt Rises, But Is It Because We're Rich or Cheap?

Posted By on Fri, Aug 26, 2011 at 9:07 AM

click to enlarge chobani550.jpg

The trendiest food in our refrigerators might be Greek yogurt, which has increased in sales 25-fold since 2005. It's so popular that it caused Goldman Sachs to downgrade the stock rating for General Mills, maker of now-unfashionable Yoplait.

The Atlantic Monthly and NPR are both on the track of the phenomenon this week.

NPR reports that Chobani yogurt was created by Hamdi Ulukaya, who came from a long line of dairy farmers in Turkey, and was mystified by what passes for yogurt here.

Ulukaya told NPR: "And I started asking the questions, 'Why is this so sweet?' The answer was, well, Americans wouldn't eat unless it's absolutely, you know, very sweet, or they don't like the taste of yogurt. They wouldn't eat it."

Greek yogurt is more expensive than other types, and NPR links its sales to affluence, suggesting its buyers are rich, educated women in the Northeast.

Derek Thompson, senior editor at the Atlantic, speculates that people aren't eating Greek yogurt because it's more expensive than other yogurts; instead, they're looking for something cheaper than a full meal. He writes:

The taste of Greek yogurt is thick, like scooping avocado out of its skin. Sometimes I eat it for breakfast. I couldn't eat fruit-on-the-bottom Dannon yogurt for breakfast, because that stuff can have the consistency of melted ice cream and after I eat a cup, I feel like I've had a big glass of water, not a snack.

So here's a corollary to the conspicuous consumption theory. I don't doubt that many people eat Greek yogurt to feel, and project, a sense of cosmopolitanism. But I wonder if other middle-to-upper-middle class people fell for Greek yogurt as a cheaper solution for breakfast or a big snack, rather than an expensive solution for yogurt.

In other words, if you feel rich, flaunt it with Greek yogurt. If you feel poor, fill your belly with Greek yogurt. No wonder it's hot.

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W. Blake Gray


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