It’s a cultural phenomenon.
With a near-60 percent spike in sales in recent years, Greek yogurt has become so popular that it’s not just a cottage (not to be mistaken with cheese) industry in the Empire State.
In fact, U.S. sales of Greek yogurt have more than doubled to $1.6 billion in the past five years and make up about 21 percent of all yogurt sold, according to Euromonitor International, which was cited in an Associated Press report last month.
Popular brands including Chobani and Fage have spent millions building plants in places like Batavia and Johnstown in western and upstate New York, making it a key source of economic growth.
And the state’s large dairy industry has to be loving it, too, since New York yogurt makers produce hundreds of millions of pounds of their product each year and rely on farmers for millions of gallons of milk.
The fermented favorite is growing so fast that Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo will convene a Yogurt Summit on Wednesday in Albany to address how companies and dairy farmers can keep up with growing demand. It might just be a hot August ticket. OK, maybe we’re reaching, but it’s sure to draw farmers and business leaders from around the state.
The Greek version, also known as strained yogurt because of the way it’s made, is thicker than its more traditional cousin. It’s also higher in protein and lower in sugar, which is why many people see it as a healthier option.
Perhaps that’s why so many people are betting on the higher-end dairy market. One of the top producers, Chobani, recently opened a yogurt bar in Manhattan's SoHo. Dannon opened The Yogurt Culture Co. on Park Avenue in July.
I had my first taste of strained yogurt during a trip to the Greek island of Santorini nearly a decade ago. After that, it remained more of an exotic treat in the United States. It was harder to find and far more expensive, making it a rare indulgence. But now, supermarket shelves are just as likely to have as large selection of Greek yogurt as the boring (I mean, nonfat, plain) kind.
The yogurt business is no soft-serve industry in this state. There are more than 49 plants throughout New York, according to Cuomo, so this growing industry creates needed jobs and helps dairy farmers.
And it could strengthen another one of New York’s strong, but lesser known, exports: honey. It’s delicious on Greek yogurt.
Pictured above: New York Lt. Gov. Robert Duffy and Hamdi Ulukaya, right, president of Chobani, at Chobani SoHo, a first-of-its-kind Mediterranean yogurt bar in Manhattan's SoHo neighborhood (Aug. 1, 2012)