Does anyone remember the first wave of Frozen Yogurt shops to hit the USA in the 1980’s? First it was TCBY (The Country’s Best Yogurt) followed by many smaller players like Heidi’s Frozen Yogurt, I Can’t Believe It’s Yogurt, etc. Well the trend basically died out as most Americans continued to enjoy the regular ice cream at their supermarkets in addition to premium brands like Ben & Jerry’s and Haagen Dazs as well as Baskin Robbins at the retail level. Well it is no secret that frozen yogurt is now all the rage again but this time the craze was started by a few Korean entrepreneurs who saw the growth of the category in their native country and decided to try it in the USA.

The second wave began in South Korea in 2002 with the introduction of the Red Mango concept and for several years the brand did great growing to over 150 stores. But Korean women are fickle consumers and why they may say they love to eat “healthy” they are still devouring their Dunkin Donuts and Baskin Robbins every chance they got. The franchise owner of Dunkin Brands in Seoul was no fool so he just out-marketed Red Mango and blanketed the country with more Dunkin Donuts and Baskin Robbin stores in a Cafe’ format with Italian espresso machines. Red Mango started to falter and the number of stores has declined to about 130 today. So the bloom is off the “frozen yogurt” rose in South Korea.

You can imagine how the Red Mango folks must have felt when they saw the Pinkberry concept getting traction in Southern California a few years ago. After all, they started the Korean version of frozen yogurt by copying some points from the old frozen yogurt concepts in the USA plus Cold Stone Creamery and then found themselves copied by South Koreans living in the USA. Did you get all that?

From the USA to South Korea and back to the USA but repackaged from the 1980’s but not really all that healthy! How can it be with all the toppings Americans put on top of the frozen yogurt itself? There is a lot to be said for the Japanese practice of small portions beautifully presented. If Americans could just practice this art then we would not need to take care of all the obesity problems in America.

Now a couple of interesting questions.

Is the market that much bigger than it was in the 1980’s with the first boom?

Will Americans go back to eating high fat content ice cream as well as their long term retail favorite, Baskin Robbins?

Will Americans find out that to eat frozen yogurt in a healthy manner it is better to just eat the yogurt and avoid all the toppings? And anyway, how healthy can this product be if it is sweet to begin with?

My personal guess is that the market will boom and tank when the Next New Thingarrives. There is a lot of money being thrown at this concept now and some people will make a lot of dough in the short term but I would not want to be the last few people that buy a franchise at the top of the market. I think Americans will always eat their ice cream and the major players don’t really have anything to worry about. They will be selling their version of frozen yogurt anyway to make sure they don’t miss the market if it turns into a mega-trend.

But is should be obvious that this dessert will not slow the obesity trend and is not really all that healthy even if it is perceived to be so. Americans are always looking for the quick diet fix but nothing ever works. My favorite frozen yogurt concept is Yogurt-Land. They are truly focused on the average American. You enter the store, pick up a cup and proceed to go to the machines yourself and pour yourself as many flavors as you wish and then go to the counter and add as many toppings as you want. At the cashier they weigh the cup and charge you by the ounce.You should see how big the portion sizes are – the stuff is just falling outside all the edges of the cup. Value for Money! That is what works in Middle America but is much too pedestrian for the folks in LA, San Francisco, and New York. They want the chic stuff. Give us the Pinkberry that Paris Hilton eats!

So make some money while the getting is good but you can be sure there will be a third wave of this frozen yogurt story and the next big idea may come from Japan, India or maybe even Brazil or Mexico. That is the globalization we are always talking about on this blog. I am hungry for a frozen yogurt myself now and I am going to Seoul this Sunday so I can’t wait. Unfortunately, I still can’t find a shop in Hong Kong. Maybe the rent here is just a killer!

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