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Greek-style yogurt, once a specialty food that was hard to find outside Greece, has in a few short years become ubiquitous. Increasingly health-conscious consumers like the pro-biotic benefits of yogurt, and the version has more protein than traditional yogurt. It has become so popular that it’s squeezing out other varieties of yogurt on supermarket shelves and creating demand milk producers can’t meet. We explore what’s behind the Greek yogurt craze and how it’s affecting the yogurt products in your supermarket.
- Andrew Novakovic Professor of Agricultural Economics, Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management, Cornell University
- Brandon Partridge Founder & CEO, Skyland Foods
- Cary Frye V.P. Regulatory Affairs, International Dairy Foods Association
How To Make Greek Yogurt
MR. KOJO NNAMDIWelcome back. Greek style yogurt was once a specialty food, hard to find outside Greece. Not anymore. Greek yogurt is everywhere and what can only be called a craze. In a few short years this extra thick, extra tart yogurt has become ubiquitous in supermarkets to the point where traditional yogurt is being squeezed off the shelves. It's pushed up demand for milk in states like New York where it's produced. So what's behind the skyrocketing popularity of Greek yogurt and what does it mean for other kinds of dairy products?
MR. KOJO NNAMDIJoining us to discuss this is Cary Frye. She is the vice-president of regulatory affairs with the International Dairy Foods association. Cary, thank you for joining us.
MS. CARY FRYEThank you. It's a pleasure to be here.
NNAMDIAlso with us in studio is Brandon Partridge, founder and CEO of Skyland Foods based here in Washington, D.C. Brandon, thank you for joining us.
MR. BRANDON PARTRIDGEThanks for having me.
NNAMDIAnd joining us from studios at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y. is Andrew Novakovic. He is a professor of agricultural economics at the School of Applied Economics and Management at Cornell University. Andrew Novakovic, thank you for joining us.
MR. ANDREW NOVAKOVICHello, Kojo. Good to be with you.
NNAMDIAndy, I'll start with you. I couldn't have said this even five years ago but most of us are now familiar with Greek style yogurt. But for the uninitiated can you describe it for us and what makes it different?
NOVAKOVICYes. Basically Greek yogurt is made very much like conventional yogurt but it's a much more protein-rich formulation. And because of its concentration it also has a more developed flavor, that tartness that you referred to.
NNAMDICary, how much of the yogurt market does Greek yogurt have now? And how fast has this happened?
FRYEWell, Greek yogurt is certainly growing and today the Greek yogurt products dominate the market, holding about 31 percent of the volume share at retail sales.
NNAMDIWhat do you see behind this Greek yogurt trend, Andy?
NOVAKOVICWell, I think there's several different elements. For a lot of us it's just taste. It's do I like this product? I tried it and I like the texture, I like the tartness, I don't like the tartness, I like the flavors. Generally the manufacturers of Greek yogurt are striving very much to produce a very high quality premium type product. And the ingredients, the inclusions of fruits, the chocolates, the orange zest are all flavors that are intended to attract the palate.
NOVAKOVICFor some other folks, it's the feeling of this being a natural product, something that's especially healthy for you. For others this healthfulness goes into a kind of a higher level awareness of nutrition. For example, some of the people that are consuming Greek yogurt are really new to the yogurt category and are attracted to it because it is a high protein dairy food, in particular athletes, energetic young men and women.
NNAMDIOur telephonic manipulator also known as call screener is consuming it even as we speak. If you'd like to join the conversation, call us at 800-433-8850. You can send email to email@example.com. Are you one of the many who've discovered Greek yogurt and can't live without it now? What do you like about it, 800-433-8850? Brandon Partridge, you look at the business side of all of this. What do you see behind the Green yogurt trend?
PARTRIDGEWell, certainly all the factors that have been mentioned in terms of the nutritional properties that attract people to Greek yogurt. Certainly protein is a very powerful trend in the food industry now, not just within yogurt but in other categories of food as well. And general awareness -- health and wellness, the attitudes that people bring to choosing new foods and reading nutrition labels. Greek yogurt lines up with a lot of those trends. And it's really sort of found a sweet spot that appeals to a lot of shoppers.
PARTRIDGEFrom the business standpoint, my company Skyland Foods, we produce IBEX drinkable yogurt which is...
NNAMDIYou're about to launch that new yogurt product. It's not Greek style.
NNAMDITell us a little bit -- I'm looking at three containers. What do you call these, bottles?
PARTRIDGEYeah, they're single-serve drinkable yogurt bottles. IBEX is all natural yogurt that delivers taste with less sugar, functional health benefits and portable on-the-go nutrition. So even though it's not Greek style yogurt, it embodies a lot of the characteristics that have brought people to Greek yogurt. And from our view, those trends can apply even in a non-Greek product and still consumers can have that interest and respond to the traits that the product possesses.
NNAMDIBrandon, if to the average shopper it seems like there's only room for Greek yogurt on the supermarket shelves, well, that's not so far off. Greek yogurt is in fact squeezing other products in the dairy case. Can you talk a little bit about that?
PARTRIDGEI sure can. You know, as you and your guests indicated, Greek yogurt has done the service of bringing new consumers to the yogurt category. And as often happens when these trends occur, both manufacturers of yogurt products and grocery stores and retailers respond by increasing their allocation, in this case, to Greek yogurt products. And of course there's even ripple effects for non-yogurt products, other products in the refrigerated case that have shared space with yogurt in the past. And if they're not keeping up with the demand for some of these yogurt products then the space for yogurt even begins to grow.
NNAMDIAnd Cary, yet it's not necessarily a tradeoff, it's my understanding, between Greek yogurt and traditional yogurt. What does the overall picture for yogurt consumption look like?
FRYEWell, it's very exciting. And I think Harry Balzer from the NPD group who follows eating trends for claims, and I agree with him, yogurt is the food of the decade. If we look back ten years ago, 18 percent of people reported they would be eating yogurt about once every other week. And now it's 32 percent of people. We're up to 3.3 billion pints a year of yogurt. And to add on that, drinkable yogurt is also increasing 10 percent over the last 52 weeks. So a product that Skyland Foods is introducing with selling 140 million pints on average last year.
NNAMDISo the yogurt consumption has doubled over the past decade. If you'd like to make your contribution to this conversation, call us at 800-433-8850. Do you prefer traditional yogurt? Are you still able to find your favorite flavors? Give us a call, 800-433--8850. You can send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Send us a Tweet at kojoshow or simply go to our website kojoshow.org where you can ask a question or make a comment. Andy, New York State is the epicenter of the Green yogurt production plants. Why is such a concentration there?
NOVAKOVICTwo major factors, maybe three. One is it's the East Coast, it's the Mecca for every company that wants to introduce a new product to this enormous and incredibly culturally, demographically, economically diverse population that occupies the northeast. The very first company to market what we are now today calling Greek yogurt was in fact a Greek company, FAGE, that actually imported by air travel their product from Greece to New York City.
NOVAKOVICAnd I think part of that was there is a large Greek community in New York City and other Mediterranean origin people who are familiar with that product. So part of that is the demand pool, the consumer profile of the northeast. New York is a very large dairy state, 34th in milk production. So as a manufacturer, you think of where can I get the raw material for this product. And New York pops up on a short list of states that have that kind of density.
NNAMDIHere is Chris in Bethesda, MD. Chris, you're on the air, go ahead please.
CHRISBefore my comment, I totally crave your show. It is delicious.
NNAMDIThanks a lot, Chris. Go ahead.
CHRISSo my comment is that I think for some consumers Greek yogurt has benefits that your experts haven't talked about and that is per serving, it tends to have less sugar, which is something that many consumers pay attention to now. So in addition to the protein, which has been mentioned, it's been my experience that many of these brands have -- Greek yogurt brands have less sugar, which like I said is something I pay close attention at all times.
NNAMDICare to comment on that, Cary?
FRYESure. I would like to. And certainly Greek yogurt is known for the protein, having two or three times more protein than a glass of milk or a cup of the regular yogurt. But sugar really varies by brand. And it depends if you're adding sweetener to the product or if you're looking at plain yogurt. So if you have six ounce as the typical yogurt serving, if we look at six ounces of milk, it will have six grams of sugar.
FRYEAnd if we look at six grams of the plain yogurt it will -- I'm sorry, six ounces of the plain yogurt, it'll have about the same amount of sugar, plain yogurt. But once you add sweeteners to it, such as the fruit flavoring or other sweeteners, it does go up.
NNAMDIBrandon, how much sugar is in my IBEX Banana Recovery?
PARTRIDGEYour IBEX drink yogurt has about 17 grams per eight ounce serving. And that's a product that we formulated with sugar really at top of mind. One of our beliefs about yogurt is that the sort of otherwise very nutritious products sort of water down their nutritional offering by over-sweetening and using sugar that's sort of, you know, keeps it from really being the healthy product that it otherwise could be.
PARTRIDGESo there is some sugar naturally occurring in milk as there is in a lot of foods. In the case of milk that naturally occurring sugar with lactose. We sweeten with a very moderate amount of cane sugar for taste. But generally speaking, our sugar levels are far below a lot of competitive products because we too have heard from consumers like our caller that the level of sugar in yogurt was something that concern them.
NNAMDIChris, thank you very much for your call. We're going to take a short break. When we come back -- if you have called, stay on the line. We will get to your calls. If you'd like to call, 800-433-8850. Do you eat yogurt for the aforementioned health benefits? 800-433-8850 or send email to email@example.com. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back to our Food Wednesday conversation on Greek yogurt. We're talking with Brandon Partridge. He is the founder and CEO of Skyland Foods based here in Washington, D.C. Andrew Novakovic is a professor of agricultural economics at the School of Applied Economics and Management at Cornell University. And Cary Frye is the vice president of regulatory affairs with the International Dairy Foods Association.
NNAMDIWe go back to the phones. And a crucial questions for a lot of people. Holly in Church Hill, MD. You're on the air, Holly. Go ahead please. Hi, Holly, are you there?
HOLLYI'm here. Hold just a sec. My question is, I'd like to make my own yogurt. I love -- I love the Greek yogurt as well. But when I make my yogurt -- I guess my question is, how do you make it? How is it made? Is it because the yogurt is sieved and the whey is removed and that thickens the yogurt? I guess that's my question.
NNAMDILet's now talk about how not to make it. Here's Cary Frye on how to make it.
FRYEWell, let's talk about traditional Greek yogurt and going back to Greece and the original Greek yogurt was strained. It was strained through cheesecloth. Yogurt was made the same way whether you're going to make a spoonable yogurt or a Greek yogurt to start with. And then it was strained overnight in cheesecloth, allowing the whey, which is the liquid portion, some of the sugar -- as the earlier caller alluded to -- goes out.
FRYEThe lactose does go out with the whey. And a little bit of the minerals and calcium is also lost. So the straining happens overnight in the traditional or if you're making it at home. And then what you result in is a thicker product. It's got a texture that's almost spreadable, thick and higher in the casein protein that stays. That's the basic traditional. I can also go into more of the more commercial processes, but I think -- I hope that helps your caller.
NNAMDIWhat do the different processes mean for the final product in terms of taste, in terms of texture and protein?
FRYECompared to a tradition spoonable yogurt versus a strained yogurt, is that what you're asking, Kojo?
FRYEWell, certainly once you have strained the yogurt and Greek yogurt actually in the U.S. is made, can be made in three different methods. And so, let me explain those methods. One would be close to what's considered the traditional method. We don't strain through cheesecloth, that's not very efficient. You actually centrifugal mechanical separators. So they're spinning the yogurt and the whey goes off in one stream and the concentrated protein goes in another stream.
FRYEAnd that happens after the yogurt is fermented. The yogurt is fermented with cultures. It thickens the yogurt, like the spoonable yogurt you see in the grocery store and then the centrifugal force through separation removes the whey. That's one way.
NNAMDIOn to Laura in Laurel, MD who has a related question. Laura, your turn.
LAURAI returned from living in Greece about four years ago and I was spoiled to find my favorite Greek yogurt was really on the shelf in my grocery store here in Maryland. Since then, I've seen a whole spring up of other brands that have claimed to be Greek yogurt and I get disappointed when I try them and the consistency is completely off, the flavor is completely off and I wonder how you're allowed to call it Greek yogurt?
LAURAIs it only when you profess to have used the right process for it even though some are very watery and not the consistency I'd expect?
FRYEFrom the regulatory standpoint, there is no regulatory or federal standard for Greek yogurt. There is a standard of identity that the FDA and the states enforce for yogurt. And that must have certain yogurt cultures and milk ingredients and culturing. When you get into Greek yogurt, it's the marketplace that's deciding. There's all types of yogurt. There's Swiss yogurt. There's Greek yogurt. There's all different types of yogurt.
FRYEBut traditionally consumers, like your caller, is expecting it to have higher protein, a thicker texture but just within that category there can be a lot of variety. And some of that's appealing to different consumers.
PARTRIDGEGreek yogurt was a very disruptive force, and particularly in the form of FAGE yogurt which was the initial source of Greek yogurt in the U.S. and of course Chobani is now a brand that has come along and really taken the lead in the category. And the experience that the caller describes, I think, is sort of the market playing out in the sense that national brands who were gone along for years successfully producing yogurt the way they'd always made it found themselves sort of losing market share to these products produced using a new method.
PARTRIDGEAnd of course they respond and want to sort of try and offer products of that style. And sometimes the methods they use produce a comparable product that consumers adopt and sometimes the response was not as positive. And there have been, you know, national brands that have introduced Greek products that have not succeeded partially because either through their methods or formulations or flavors or whatever decisions they made consumers didn't respond that way.
PARTRIDGEAnd I think it's a -- in the life cycle of a product in this case, it's still fairly new, that's sorting our process is still happening.
NNAMDILaura, thank you very much for your call. Andy Novakovic, what has the demand for Greek yogurt done to the dairy market in general?
NOVAKOVICWell, there's not one answer to that question. First thing, of course, we need to say is it's been a terrific phenomenon for the dairy industry in general and certainly the dairy farmers that supply the milk to those processors have benefited. Every time you have a new product take off, it's a good thing. However, how this plays out in one part of the country or one area or another really varies.
NOVAKOVICAnd that's because there's a lot of moving parts in the dairy industry. New York is a large dairy sector. It's got a lot of texture, lots of different products, large fluid milk market and nice cheese market. A rich palette of dairy foods that are produced here. And the yogurt business has been very exciting but it hasn't really bottom lined to any a really noticeable price benefit for dairy farmers in our region.
NOVAKOVICAnd that's because of this issue of a lot of moving parts. Part of what's also going on is fluid milk consumption is declining, and so yogurt is going two steps forward and fluid milk is going a half step back. And it's netted out to a situation that isn't really dramatically changed the price picture for New York dairy farmers. Idaho, where Chobani built its second plant, is a state that has equally large milk production, slightly more than New York right now.
NOVAKOVICAnd the Chobani plant has really transformed the price features of Idaho because it was a very different industry, very low population, very simple dairy industry primarily dominated by commodity cheese, value added processor comes in and suddenly the game has picked up for everyone. And so in Idaho, probably added 5 percent, 7 percent to their bottom line milk price.
NNAMDIOn to Nellie in Silver Spring, MD. Nellie, you're on the air, go ahead please.
NELLIEHi, Kojo. I want to say I really enjoy your show. I drink kefir every single day and I want to know how that differs from Greek yogurt, whether it has more protein or not or whether one's better than the other.
NNAMDIOkay. First you, Brandon.
PARTRIDGEKefir is actually a product that's really gained. It's not on the scale of Greek yogurt but certainly consumers have embraced it, both for some of the nutritional properties that it shares with Greek yogurt. What really makes that product unique and it's a product that comes initially out of Russia and parts of eastern Europe where it's a traditional product is it's -- I often describe it as a cousin of yogurt.
PARTRIDGEIt's a particular blend of cultures that give it those traits, but it's quite similar and probably doesn't have quite the protein content of Greek yogurt. But nutritionally it's quite similar. And frankly, the growth of kefir consumption in the U.S. was frankly an indicator to us that a drinkable yogurt product could have some promise and certainly was instructive to us as we were developing IBEX.
NNAMDINellie, thank you for your call. Cary, purists call some Greek yogurt fake because it's thickened by adding other ingredients. Can you talk about that?
FRYEKojo, there's three different ways that Greek yogurt can be made. I talked earlier about the centrifugal force of removing the whey after fermentation. You can also filter the milk before fermentation to remove some of the same things as whey. And you can also add protein to it before fermenting. So there's three different ways. The two -- the most traditional is the straining. But the other two are also.
FRYENow with those three different processes, usually you -- sometimes, not usually, but sometimes you do have to add other ingredients such as a thickener or a gum or a starch to thicken it. But there's a lot of variety of products on the market and a consumer can easily look at the ingredients statement if they're seeking one that is just milk and cultures and find one. But some of them, as they get blended with fruit and other ingredients so it's runny do use thickeners.
NNAMDIAndy, we occasionally hear about problems in the quality of various foods. And a couple of weeks ago, we mentioned Chobani yogurt earlier, that's the biggest maker of Greek yogurt in the U.S., had a recall issue. What was the problem as far as we know? By the way, Chobani did not have a spokesperson available to join us. But, Andy, what do we know about this?
NOVAKOVICI'll definitely make some comments. This is also an area that Cary is an expert in.
NNAMDIShe's an expert. We only have about a minute and a half left.
NOVAKOVICAll right. From what I've been able to determine both from public reports and talking to my colleague at Cornell, Randy Worobo who's a food scientist that's been working on this. There was a problem with mold contamination in some of Chobani's product. People who consumed some product reported symptoms of that one would associate with what we might typically call food poisoning.
NOVAKOVICAnd this particular mold is not actually associated normally with these symptoms. So we're still trying to unfold scientifically what's occurred here. More than likely, there was a small cleaning issue somewhere along the vast miles of pipeline that resulted in this mold contamination. And in the meantime, Chobani I think has taken a very appropriate and aggressive corporate response to recalling their product. Although it's not a serious health issue.
FRYEI would agree. Also that it is unusual that quality problems like this can occur with mold in dairy processing, certainly in an acidic product like yogurt. You can also see mold sometimes in cheeses or jams or jellies. This mold that was found and identified as Mucor circinelloides or mucor mold is common in fruits, vegetables and can be found in dairy. But the experts such as Dr. Worobo say, it is not disease producing.
NNAMDICary Frye is the vice president of regulatory affairs with the International Dairy Foods Association. Brandon Partridge is the founder and CEO of Skyland Foods based here in Washington, D.C. And Andrew Novakovic is a professor of Agricultural Economics at the School of Applied Economics and Management at Cornell University. Andy, thank you for joining us.
NNAMDIBrandon, thank you for joining us.
PARTRIDGEThank you, Kojo.
NNAMDIAnd, Cary, thank you for joining us.
NNAMDIAnd thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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