Second cooling: Behind the new frozen yogurt craze

Just two years ago, locally owned Arch's Frozen Yogurt, with locations on Ivy Road, the Corner, and Emmet Street, was the only fro-yo game in town. Today, there are three new regional franchises serving the stuff, and one already has three locations–- Sweet Frog (Downtown, Barracks, Hollymead), Bloop (Pantops), and Berry Berry (the Corner). And it might be only a matter of time before the big national players, Pinkberry and Yogurtland, take up residence. 

So what is going on? Blame it on Korea and California.

In 2004, a place called Red Mango in South Korea started selling old-fashioned-style sour yogurt. Three years later, Red Mango had 150 stores in South Korea and was making plans to expand in the United States. Then a Korean couple in West Hollywood opened a strikingly similar kind of place called Pinkberry. Today, there are over 100 Pinkberry stores, and an equal number of Red Mangos, mostly in L.A. and New York City. Next,  L.A.-based Yogurtland, founded by another Korean-American, introduced the self-serve, soft-serve concept and an official craze was born.

Locally, Derek Cha and his wife, Mi Jung Kim–- yes, another Korean couple– had a picture-framing business in Short Pump, but after seeing how well frozen yogurt shops were doing on the west coast they decided to open their own in 2009. Sweet Frog was born. Since 2010, the franchise has grown at an alarming rate–over 100 Sweet Frog stores have opened between Massachusetts and Florida, and they soon could overtake Yogurtland.

Two weeks ago, another budding franchise opened on the Corner, Berry Berry Frozen Yogurt, this time founded by a Chinese-American in Winchester. Owner Phung Huynh laughs when asked why the business is dominated by Koreans and other Asian-Americans.

"Probably because it originated in Korea,"she says. "But I'm not really sure why."

Of course, it doesn't hurt that the concept is a business owner's dream: self-serve yogurt machines and a buffet-style fixins' bar translate into minimal staffing needs. With the customers at the controls and the food sold by the ounce, usually between 30 and 40 cents, the situation seems to tempt eaters– often kids– to pile it on.

Huynh says she's not really concerned about all the other fro-yo shops opening up in town because theirs is homemade with Greek yogurt, which is not only fat-free and low-calorie, but creamier than mix-based frozen yogurt. Plus, it is rich in protein and probiotics. Big companies like Ben & Jerry’s and Stonyfield, wanting a piece of the fro-yo market, have been pushing their versions of Greek pretty heavily. Accordingly, though, it is more expensive than regular frozen yogurt.

"But it's really the smoothness people like," says Huynh. "At other places it tends to come out too icy."

Rob Archer, owner with his wife, Sandy, of Arch's, might beg to differ. For two decades, Charlottesvillians have been gobbling up their creamy Edy's and Wow Cow (non fat and just 12 calories an ounce). Bloop, which opened earlier this year on Pantops Mountain, emphasizes that it uses real fruit to make its yogurts, not syrups.

Another oddity here: according to a Pinkberry study, out of 60 percent of people surveyed who said they have fro-yo at least once a week, 80 percent are women. We saw 10 women arrive at once at the Arch's on the Corner, and during a visit to Berry Berry, we ran into four female UVA hospital dietary interns gobbling the stuff, quickly justifying their indulgence by pointing out it has lots of protein.

In actuality, though, frozen yogurt, while indeed lower in fat and higher in protein than ice cream, delivers about the same calories, especially when one starts adding those candy toppings. But there may be another reason why women love the stuff.

"It's all the great chocolate and candy toppings," says a woman who wished to remain anonymous, "that you can just put on without asking for."

Rob Archer admits that the second coming of fro-yo took him somewhat by surprise. In response, he recently re-fitted the Corner location with self-serve yogurt machines and a fixins bar, a departure from the counter service model Arch's has offered since opening in 1992.

"Maybe we should have done it sooner," says Archer, who reopened the Corner location in early September. "Personally, I like that we still have the counter service at our other locations. But we had to give people what they want."

Indeed, Berry Berry is just steps away from Arch's Corner location. And across the street from Arch's Emmet Street location, in the North Wing of the Barracks Road Shopping Center, there's another Sweet Frog.

"It was time to pump some energy into the old place anyway," says Archer, who says that between raising four kids and coaching youth football there's sometimes not much energy left. "So we revamped the Corner location."

As for the powerful fro-yo trend now reaching Charlottesville, the Archers find themselves in a challenging business situation. How do they maintain the local hold they've had on the market for twenty years while a trend floods the marketplace? 

"Keep on doing what we've been doing," answers Archer, emphasizing the local business aspect and his hope that an eventual shake-up will weed out the best from the rest. As a mom and pop operation, Archer says he and his wife can't afford a team of marketing and public relations people promoting the brand, and he has no interest in challenging what the other shops are doing.

"I'm not going to disparage anyone," he says. "I just don't want to go there."

Indeed, so far, competition among the local shops has been civil, but could it get heated as more shops open? On the West Coast, for example, competition between Pinkberry, Red Mango, and Yogurtland, along with dozens of other upstarts, became so heated that it was dubbed "The Frozen Yogurt Wars" by the L.A. Times

Along with innovations and new flavors, there were threats, lawsuits, and gimmicks galor. But that's actually old news out west. The L.A. Times was reporting on the craze in 2007, when other media outlets were already saying that the market had reached such a saturation point that dozens of Pinkberry and Red Mango copy-cats would go out of business, something that eventually transpired as the "Big Fro-Yo Melt."

Indeed, anyone compelled to open a new shop might want consider how fickle the fro-yo market can by recalling what happened to TCBY. In 1997, at the height of its success, TCBY had over 2,000 stores across the country. Today, it has around 400, and it's begun retooling some for self-serve.

Could a meltdown be far off as the fro-yo market heats up in Charlottesville? We'll have to eat and see.

Read more on: frozen yogurt


Location - Location - Location - that was the mantra we had to recite every day in the business course I took at PVCC.

Crozet needs one, archs come quick

The first yogurt place I go into that lists actual ingredients, not just nutritional information, available any time to customers, I will be a loyal customer. I want to know what I am eating, not just that it is lo-cal and hi-protein. It will then be evident who uses real ingredients, ie, greek yogurt, real fruit, not syrups, etc. I have been unable to get this information from Sweet Frog. Their response? Why would we give you the ingredient list - you would just go out and copy us. Huh? No, I just want to know exactly what I am putting into my body. If it's not real food, high quality, nothing artificial, then I am not going to consume it. Sweet Frog has turned me off. I do not trust them. Plus, look at their shirts they sell to see what FROG stands for. I don't understand the need for religion in a frozen yogurt shop.

I think you can say it all with a one word response. Bloop

the advantage of the new shops as a treat stop is the ability to get as much - or little - as you want
if we're eating out on the downtown mall, we'll often stroll down to sweetfrog afterwards and for $2 get just a bit of dessert - enough to be the right end to the meal without adding much to the cost

Actually, I really wasn't a huge fan of yogurt until my kids and I went to Bloop out in Pantops. Its actually pretty awesome. I think there is something different about their yogurt. The location is kind of odd though, but its really nice inside and the staff is very helpful. I see why its packed out every night.

It's hard to imagine that all of these places will still be here in a few years - I think Arch's and Sweet Frog will be the only ones who will stick around. My children LOVE frozen yogurt and we've visited just about every shop in the area. Living north of town, the Sweet Frog at Hollymead comes in handy often! I have no problem with what 'frog' stands for as it is a private business and the business owners have the right do follow their belief systems. The ladies there are always friendly and very nice/helpful to my children. As a side note, we visited the Barracks Road Sweet Frog and it was plain awful; few toppings, no napkins and their employee had to scramble to find spoons for us! I found out after voicing some concerns that they are not owned by the same people that own the Hollymead shop.
Anyway- long live froyo!

I was reading the new Edition for this week.I Wanted to Mention That There Is one In Waynesboro Across The Street From The Wal-mat&Near The Dupont Credit Union.There Is Also Another Yogurt Place Called Zinga.It Is Also Located Near The Martian's Food Store.