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Frozen Yogurt and the American Dream

It goes without saying that the last four years have been remarkably tough on the foodservice industry. I recently took a walk around a once prominent shopping center and marveled at the shuttered windows and now-empty retail spaces embellished only by bright red “for rent” signs. And yet, amidst the many darkened doors stood a solitary frozen yogurt shop, brightly lit and bustling with customers. As I drove home, I passed no fewer than 9 frozen yogurt shops along a 15-mile stretch of highway.

When the first specialty yogurt shops began popping up in New York and L.A., I assumed that, like most trends, they would come and go with the rest. Wrong! The frozen yogurt craze is still going strong, apparently unaffected by the most recent economic downturn. So, what is it about frozen yogurt? What are they doing right, and how can the rest of us learn from them and subsequently incorporate a few of their unsinkable strategies?

Here’s how it works, for those of you who have been living under a shoe for the past five years. When you enter the magical yogurt emporium, you are given a fairly large cup. This cup is your canvas. Depending on which yogurt shop you find yourself, there may be twenty or thirty yogurt flavors alone. You are free to fill your cup with as much or as little yogurt as you want, in whatever combination of flavors you choose. If you like peanut butter with lemon and peppermint, go for it! There is no judgment in the enchanted yogurt forest. You will then be directed to the toppings section. Again, depending on the location, there may be fifty different toppings to choose from. You are free to mix and match in whatever quantity your heart desires. You are the master of your destiny at the yogurt shop.

Here is the part where I wax philosophical: There is something distinctly “American” about self-serve frozen yogurt. Stay with me. The options and choices available to customers at a modern frozen yogurt shop are virtually endless, and isn’t that the dream? A world of limitless possibility is precisely what Americans want and have come to expect. We want to be the masters of our own destinies: to pick and choose from the varieties and flavors that life in this country has to offer.

The recession has limited the choices for many Americans.  We don’t feel free to follow our hearts and dream big like the generations before us, and yet: there is frozen yogurt. In a way, these giant frozen yogurt shops are acting as a stand-in: satisfying the American need to choose. If we cannot have our dream jobs, if we cannot design our lives precisely as we wish, we can still play the role of master and commander when it comes to dessert. For this reason, self-serve frozen yogurt shops are perfectly tailored to thrive during an economic recession. Frozen yogurt gives patrons the ability to live out the American dream on a subconscious level that is both physically and emotionally comforting.

So how can the rest of us use this information? We’ve established that the primary appeal of the modern fro-yo joint is its endless array of choice. So how about giving guests more opportunities to choose? Perhaps this is the reason that places like Chipotle have thrived as well. Guests are presented with a list of ingredients and are granted the freedom to design their meals in a way that allows them to feel empowered and in control.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the frozen yogurt craze and how we can learn from their success. Please feel free to comment below.