Fruity Frozen Yogurt Wars Heat Up

Dessert has always been about choice — lots of choice.

Baskin Robbins built an ice-cream empire on the motto of 31 flavors. Ben and Jerry's rose to fame with wacky flavors, such as Chunky Monkey and Cherry Garcia.

But now, a new trend is taking over the frozen dessert industry: simplicity.

A number of frozen yogurt stores are popping up that offer only a few flavors, and they allow customers to personalize their snack with fresh fruit, granola and cereal.

So, instead of getting that raspberry-flavored snack, customers get vanilla and add their own fresh raspberries, mangos and pineapples.

Leading the charge in Los Angeles and New York is Pinkberry, a chain of tiny shops with funky colors and loud music that aim to make eating dessert more fun — even if its product is low in calories.

Pinkberry and a number of knockoffs — some call Pinkberry the knockoff — are appearing on street corners everywhere in the two cities, with ambitious plans to expand.

The companies offer a frozen treat that tastes less like ice cream and more like actual yogurt. They offer just a few flavors, and then give customers a bevy of toppings.

CLICK HERE FOR PHOTOS OF THE BATTLING YOGURT SHOPS

Pinkberry has only vanilla and green tea but offers nearly 20 toppings, ranging from kiwi to almonds to blackberries and mangos.

The stores have drawn large crowds willing to wait in long lines to buy the frozen treats.

Pinkberry has done very little marketing, relying almost entirely on word of mouth.

"One customer came and tried it, they liked it, they brought their friends," Pinkberry co-founder Young Lee said. "All of a sudden, we were starting to make money."

Peter Golder, a marketing professor at New York University's Stern School of Business, said such word of mouth is incredibly important for new businesses.

Not only is it inexpensive, but it's more credible to people.

"We're sort of programmed to discount advertising we hear," Golder said. But we tend to trust those we know.

People love to sample and try new things, especially food, and word of mouth and the company's long line help. Golder said that if a customer sees others waiting for the food, they think it must be good.

"Who wants to walk into an empty restaurant at dinner time?" he said.

But once a company gets some buzz, Golder said, "the challenge for the company is to make sure that it's more than a fad."

They need to get a sense of how many customers are first-time customers and how many of them are repeat customers. Over time, they should be getting a larger percentage of your business from repeat customers.

"Eventually," Golder said, "you'll run out of first-time customers."

Nancy Zenna lives in New York's Chelsea neighborhood and walks down the block to her local Pinkberry three to four times a week.

"It tastes so good. It's very healthy. It's very refreshing and low in calories," she said the other day.

Joining Zenna was Aliza Weston on her first-ever Pinkberry outing.

"It's amazing," Weston said. "You don't feel like you have to run the marathon afterward."

Berry Wars

Its first store opened in January 2005, and it has expanded to 30 stores in Los Angles and New York. Pinkberry now has plans to open a store in London and is looking at Arizona, Texas and Northern California, according to Lee.

Lee said that only 10 of those stores are franchises right now, but that more than 3,000 people have applied for a franchise. He plans to expand, but carefully.

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