After Greek and Icelandic, is French the Next Trendy Yogurt?

By CANDICE CHOI, AP Food Industry Writer

NEW YORK (AP) — There’s Greek yogurt, Icelandic yogurt and Australian yogurt. Now, the U.S. maker of Yoplait is hoping to revive its declining sales by marketing yet another culture in the yogurt section.

Enter “Oui,” which General Mills is hailing as the arrival of “French-style” yogurt in the United States. Like the yogurts that channel the heritages of other countries, however, the company says there is no official definition for French yogurt.

“French is more a standard we have created,” said David Clark, head of the U.S. yogurt unit at General Mills.

The attempt to cultivate a trendy new yogurt comes as overall U.S. sales are slumping. Yogurt sales are down 3 percent so far this year compared to a year ago, according to Nielsen. General Mills Inc. has been particularly hard-hit, with its yogurt sales down 20 percent in its latest quarter. The company attributes the industry-wide weakness to a lack of exciting new options since Greek yogurt upended the market.

Though Yoplait’s usual yogurts also have French roots, they come in flavors like key lime pie and contain ingredients such as modified corn starch and sucralose. That may not be exactly what comes to mind when people think of authentic French food.

To create the pricier Oui, General Mills said it imagined how yogurt might have been made in “French farmhouses 100 years ago.” The resulting product has a simpler list of ingredients and is cultured in the glass jar in which it is sold. The company says the jars preserve the yogurt’s texture and are a nod to the desire for “artisanal” foods.

It would be the latest option in the yogurt case that promises a taste of faraway lands.

Greek yogurt, for instance, is widely known for being strained to have more protein and a thicker texture. Icelandic yogurt, or skyr, is strained to have an even thicker consistency, says Siggi Hilmarsson, the founder of Siggi’s yogurt. Another skyr maker, Icelandic Provisions, says it uses “heirloom cultures” from Iceland and doesn’t even consider its skyr to be yogurt.

Wallaby features a kangaroo on its containers and says it is Australian-style yogurt. Parent company WhiteWave declined to specify what makes it Australian, though Wallaby’s website says the product was created after its founders traveled to Australia.

Yet another popular version is Noosa, which plays up its Australian roots online. But co-founder Koel Thomae says Noosa doesn’t reflect an Australian yogurt tradition, and that the product is based on a local Australian brand she discovered that is made with whole milk and infused with honey.

“The Australian-ness is me, and the fact that the recipe came from Australia,” she said.

As with the other newer yogurts, General Mills plans to charge more for Oui. A 5-ounce jar will sell for around $1.49. Yoplait Greek has 5.3 ounces for around $1, while regular Yoplait has 6 ounces for around 70 cents.

And while yogurt makers spin the globe, what would define an American yogurt? Clark notes that many yogurts sold in the United States have artificial sweeteners — something he said he could “never envision” for a French-style version.

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Follow Candice Choi at http://www.twitter.com/candicechoi

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