Thankfully, most of the trends that died in the 1990s stayed there — parachute pants, feathered bangs and Crystal Pepsi, for example. But frozen yogurt — the low- calorie dessert that was once even the focus of a Seinfeld episode — has been making a resurgence, and it looks like it might be here to stay.
Frozen yogurt, which made a splash in the late 1980s and early 1990s, has surged back since 2006, with a number of shops featuring the creamy concoction opening in the greater Kalamazoo area in the last few years. This time, frozen yogurt is riding the coattails of a few larger food trends, one of which is the rise of customizable, do-it- yourself products.
Changing the delivery mode of frozen yogurt from counter service to self-serve, with myriad ways to customize it through toppings and flavors, has not only lowered the cost of overhead but made it possible for frozen yogurt sales to take off, according to restaurant, food and franchise analysts from Food Business News, Nation’s Restaurant News, CNBC and Small Business Trends.
The second larger trend that frozen yogurt is piggybacking on, and perhaps what keeps pushing it forward, is the nation’s drive toward healthful eating and probiotic-rich foods. As probiotics continue to demand more attention, so does yogurt, which is chock-full of the healthful microorganisms. That also goes for its frozen counterpart, which thanks to its probiotics, calcium content and fewer calories, is being touted as the “healthy” alternative to ice cream by frozen yogurt retailers.
The national chain Red Mango, which has a store at 6118 S. Westnedge Ave., plans to open 550 stores in the next five years. And as large North American franchises continue to grow, it’s likely we won’t see a thaw in the frozen yogurt market anytime soon.
The Kalamazoo-Portage area has plenty of other shops where you can buy frozen yogurt, including many that offer it along with ice cream. What makes some shops successful while others close down is a combination of great location, great atmosphere and wide- ranging flavors and variations, says Michael Tirikos, owner of the local frozen yogurt shop Y’OPA, at 165 W. Centre Ave.
“We offer dairy-free sorbets and non- fat, low-fat and no-sugar-added yogurts,” Tirikos says. “I think that’s one of the main things that makes us so successful, and location is huge. We’re close to a school, and we’re in a busier section of Portage. We also put a lot into the look and feel, the atmosphere. We have friendly employees, and the shop has a modern look. This is a place where people like to come and hang out.”
Tirikos opened Y’OPA in October 2012. He was traveling between Indiana and Portage for business and started to notice that while the frozen yogurt trend was picking up in other areas of the country, it wasn’t reaching this area.
“We definitely knew about the momentum and how big of a trend it was,” he says. “It’s something I think is here to stay, and so it’s worth the risk. Since we opened, there’s been another three shops open in the area.”
Yo Go Delites, which opened in May 2012, at 6412 S. Westnedge Ave., has also experienced success in Portage. Assistant Manager Chuck Van, whose family owns the shop, recognizes the staying power of this customizable dessert option.
“The best thing in my opinion about frozen yogurt is that it’s based on weight, and I control how much I want and what I want on it,” he says. “Frozen yogurt might be a trend to a healthier lifestyle, but I believe it is a change in the restaurants and stores that is here to stay. Everything in today’s world is control and customization — you can customize your car, your phone, etc., to fit your lifestyle. With frozen yogurt, you get more options and control.”
As both shops plan for another busy summer, they share a common trait of successful frozen yogurt shops: lots of flavors and toppings.
“One of our really popular flavors is white chocolate mousse, and every time we switch it out we have people coming to our shop and asking where it went,” Tirikos says. “Probably our most popular flavor right now is salted caramel pretzel. It’s salty and sweet, and we’re never getting rid of it because I know our customers would be upset if we did. We have a lot of popular toppings, but one of the favorites is baklava — we have a Greek background so we like to stick to our heritage.”
Over at Yo Go Delites, Van names two lighter flavors as his favorites: a strawberry and mango mix and taro. The latter flavor comes from the tara root, a vegetable native to Southeast Asia.
“Taro frozen yogurt is unique and has an indescribable flavor — it’s a must-try for everyone,” Van says. “As far as toppings go, I just add fresh fruits like raspberry or strawberry on top.”