Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Deciding what we eat

As I approached the grocery store dairy case, I saw what appeared to be a mom and her teenage son, both gazing at the yogurt shelves.

Their body language spoke volumes. She had her feet planted and hands on her hips as she peered at every carton on the shelf. He was a step behind her, bouncing on his toes like he really wanted to leave.

“Face it, Mom,” I heard him say. “That’s how they make it now.”

I didn't hear her response. What I want to know is, who decided? Who decided that 95 percent of the space formerly given to perfectly good fruit-on-the-bottom yogurt is now devoted to (1) Activia and its imitators and (2) something called “Greek” yogurt?

Activia I understand, sort of. Jamie Lee Curtis is all over the airwaves promoting the stuff, so even though I don’t eat it, I am willing to believe that others have been persuaded to do so.

But Greek yogurt? I have yet to see a single ad telling me what it is and why I should eat it. I’m pretty sure I didn’t just happen to miss them. And I am oddly insulted by this. I feel as though it suited somebody’s business purposes to create this stuff and – what? People would just start buying it?

They may be right. After not being able to find our regular Dannon yogurt in flavors we wanted, or an acceptable substitute, I tried Greek yogurt. It was richer than Dannon, and I liked it. Peter did not. I tried another brand; same results. As I write this, I’m trying a third brand, which I dislike intensely. I won't even suggest it to him.

Somewhere along the way, Peter and I Googled Greek yogurt. Wikipedia says the generic term is “strained yogurt” and that it’s produced by straining out the whey, making the resulting product thicker, richer in protein, and lower in sugar and calories.

Also from Wikipedia: Most of the recent growth in the $4.1b yogurt industry has come from the strained yogurt segment. The term "Greek yogurt" has become synonymous with strained yogurt due to successful marketing by the Greek Fage brand, though strained yogurt is a staple in many countries besides Greece, and most yogurt in Greece is not strained. "Greek-style" yogurts are similar to Greek strained yogurt, but may be thickened with thickening agents.

I wasn’t even going to try this stuff, until my store included it in a promotion they’re doing and, ahem, by trying these new brands I could get more chances to win a prize in a so-called Monopoly game.

Bottom line, I like some brands of Greek yogurt well enough (especially Chobani), and it seems that with more protein and less sugar it’s better for me than the Dannon I had been eating. But why did it just sneak up on us? Why are we inundated with Activia ads but had to use Google to learn about Greek yogurt? And what will Peter eat, now that nobody carries Dannon peach-on-the-bottom?  

Like the teeager said to him mom, "That's how they make it now." And then he added, "You'll just have to get used to it."

P.S. I just found a story saying that Chobani has become the market leader thanks in large part to social media, and that they are hiring a new advertising agency, presumably to reach non-tweeters like us.


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