These are dark days for yogurt, and even the Greek stuff is in trouble. Overall yogurt sales fell by 2.8% in the last year, and sales of the Greek variety fell by a more dramatic 4.6%, according to Nielsen data.
It appears we've hit Peak Greek, and the yogurt barons see it as a sign that consumers are ready for something new.
Yoplait maker General Mills — which saw a 20% drop in US yogurt sales last quarter — is going post-Greek with a new product launching on Monday: "Oui," a "French-style" yogurt based on a recipe the company uses in France. It's made from whole milk only, comes in "a French-made glass pot," and at $1.50 costs about twice as much as regular Yoplait.
If you've never heard of "French yogurt," join the club.
"French is not a category," said a spokesperson for Nielsen, which tracks sales of just about everything you can buy at the supermarket. "I think the closest option we have is Greek." Neither does French yogurt appear on the list of things market researcher Euromonitor tracks.
It's a new category, and figuring out the exact standards that make a yogurt "French" is food history still in the making. David Clark, president of US yogurt at General Mills, said Oui is authentically French, because it's produced the way French farmhouses made yogurt 150 years ago. Each serving is individually cultured in the glass pot it's sold in, rather than made in large vats and then poured into cups.
This creates a yogurt that is firmer than both regular yogurt and Greek yogurt — scraping the surface with a spoon makes clean lines, like running a knife over butter. And it's not nearly as tart as Greek yogurt.
The plain variety is made with just two ingredients: whole milk and yogurt cultures. The black cherry flavor, sweetened with cane sugar and colored with carrot juice, is faintly reminiscent of cherry-flavored cough medicine, making you at last appreciate how cough drop makers really nailed it.
There's a "general trend towards perceivably 'naturally healthy' products and away from foods with low fats, sugars and other similar ingredients," said Jordan Rost, VP of consumer insights at Nielsen. "Sometimes consumers do need to be reminded of its health benefits and convenience."
General Mills is in a slump.
Going French was an easy choice, the company says. Shoppers associate "French" with high quality, care and attention to food, and great taste, said Clark.
But you don't want to get too French. The company originally considered naming the new product "Saveur d’Autrefois," the brand name it uses in France. That was a bit of a mouthful for the average American consumer, so it went instead with Oui, which "sounded friendly and approachable," said Clark. Some pronounced it ooo-eee, but "more people knew what it meant than we'd thought."
"There's been no big innovation in 10 years," Clark said. "Greek was the last thing to happen in yogurt."