Frozen yogurt heats up, again

Shops pop up around Vancouver as fans tout improved taste, texture

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Miriah Mallory might be tempted to blame pregnancy for her frozen yogurt craving. But Mallory, 24, discovered frozen yogurt during a visit to southern California about one and a half years ago, long before she became pregnant.

“There’s something about the texture and taste,” the Vancouver resident said, standing at the register of Yo 2 Go, a frozen yogurt shop in Vancouver’s Salmon Creek area that opened this summer.

Texture and taste that are closer to ice cream than the frozen yogurts of the past are selling points to a growing number of customers in Vancouver and nationally. So is the self-service system embraced by the new wave of yogurt shops that appeal to the wide difference in customer taste buds and appetites.

Mallory had built her own concoction, choosing from a bank of flavored frozen yogurt that dispenses like soft-serve ice cream, and then dishing up the toppings and syrups and finishing it off with a request for whipped cream on top. That’s the standard for frozen yogurt these days: Serve yourself, make your own sundae concoction and pay by weight at a register. The set-up gives customers control over portion size and extras.

“If I only want two bites, I’m only paying for two bites,” said Christine Borquez, assistant manager of Yo Licious in Hazel Dell. It’s one of two Yo Licious locations in Clark County, with the other in Orchards.

The local growth in frozen yogurt outlets matches national trends.

“It’s a bit of resurgence,” said Elise Cortina, interim executive director for the National Yogurt Association in McLean, Va. “I like to call it a renaissance.”

For year ending June 2011, there were 121 million servings of frozen yogurt ordered at food-service outlets, up 8 percent from last year, according to NPD Group, a market research company. Frozen yogurt serving sales rose 8 percent between 2010 and 2011, NPD reported.

Frozen yogurt had a heyday in the 1980s as a healthy alternative to ice cream. The resurgence started in the Los Angeles area about two years ago, Cortina said. But unlike the 1980s, when frozen yogurt was the guilt-free food du jour, today’s version is less tart, smoother and closer in texture to ice cream. In Clark County, at least eight shops sell frozen yogurt as their primary product, according to the county public health department, which inspects restaurants.

Several frozen yogurt shops have been in business for a year or less.

Ken Mork of Vancouver, opened a Menchies frozen yogurt franchise about a year ago. Mork, who lost his sales job in 2008, said bleak job prospects led him to open his frozen yogurt business, which had a startup cost of $370,000. The company’s website says typical startup costs are estimated at between $340,000 and $400,000.

“I was around during the ’80s,” said Mork, 54. “But the big difference was, and the reason it lost the momentum, was they (the frozen yogurt shops) made it for you.”

Mork’s shop offers about 70 toppings, including fruit and syrup. Kids make up a big part of his business, with parents rewarding good grades with a healthy treat and team sports gathering for a bite after a game or practice.

Mork estimates he sells some 660 cups of frozen yogurt each day during summer months, with sales dropping to about 250 cups per day in winter. Those sales figures already have Mork looking to expand. He’s planning to open a second franchised store by January and a third store sometime in 2012 — both in Vancouver.

Vora Dollar opened Yo 2 Go, an independent frozen yogurt shop, in Vancouver about three months ago. Dollar, who spent about $300,000 to start her independent shop, estimates some 300 customers quench their frozen yogurt cravings at her shop each day. Like Mork, she remembers the less appealing frozen yogurt of the 1980s.

“In the ’80s, it was gritty, tart, like yogurt that had been frozen,” Dollar said. “I think it’s a lot better (now) than in the ’80s.”

Dollar, who was previously worked as a federal government production control manager, said she rediscovered frozen yogurt in Portland, came to love the new and improved version, and was tired of driving across the bridge to get her frozen yogurt fix, all of which prompted her to open shop.

Hilary Jurgensen, of Vancouver was out to cool off with a frozen yogurt at Yo 2 Go recently. The 53-year-old Jurgensen, who pines for strawberry or coconut frozen yogurt, remembers the ’80s version of it, which she described as sour.

Besides the improved taste, Jurgensen points to probiotics in the frozen yogurt culture — something frozen yogurt sellers and industry experts cite as a benefit – as a reason for her weekly indulgence.

“It doesn’t fill you up like ice cream does,” Jurgensen said. “I think it’s a whole package deal to me — without the guilt.”