Friday, September 23, 2011

Beware Of Greeks Bearing Too Many Promotional Claims

About four years ago there was a small window of time, maybe six months, during which I felt special. I feel a little bit "special" pretty often—when I'm trying to balance my check book, for example—but for that brief stretch of time it was more of a sophisticated and superior kind of special. At the beginning of that period I had discovered Greek yogurt, a pleasingly thick and creamy version of the jellied glop that's usually consumed here in the New World, where most of the things we have are overprocessed, ersatz approximations of better things that we don't even know about. At least that's how I felt, having become an overnight connoisseur of Mediterranean dairy products.

The truth is, while gloating about this mythical, non-gelatinized yogurt, I was more like a Conquistador discovering the "new" world, or a 21st century 8th grader boasting of his favorite band, the Violent Femmes, as if it was a never before seen precious metal that he himself had dug up from the earth.

Nonetheless, for those several months I drizzled farmers' market honey over my yogurt and reveled in my refined taste. And then, as always happens, everybody else started catching on to the thing whose very existence I was taking credit for by dint of having known about it slightly first. It started off as a few flurries, but soon turned into a Greek-style milk product avalanche. What was once the provenance of imports from over-sees, and small progressive-minded (not to mention overpriced) brands became just another feather in the cap of the major food behemoths.

Yoplait, for example, has thrown their hat in the ring. And they have left every metaphorical marketing feather on that cap: it's Greek-style, it's fat free, and it's even got twice the protein of other yogurts. Companies like this are so jazzed about harnessing trends that they trot every one of them out every chance they get. I'm sure there was at least one guy in the boardroom asking if they could slap a Caffeine Free sign on there somewhere. (He's probably the same guy who's responsible for putting "New Look!" on every product on the shelf. I hate that guy.)

Yes, they've crammed every gimmick possible into that little cup. And they're not the only ones to debase their new knock-off in the name of marketing: Dannon's Greekish yogurt is fat free as well:

Introducing Dannon Greek, the most delicious yogurt imaginable! Rich, and creamy-thick, it’s an indulgent eating experience that you’ll want to savor and enjoy. Plus, with 0% Fat, you’ll feel good knowing this heavenly taste is good for you.

It seems to me that "fat free" is entirely missing the point of Greek yogurt. There's a reason Greek yogurt is creamy, thick and awesome, and that reason is not supposed to be gelatin, corn starch, or guar gum.

There we have the ingredients of a container of Dannon's Greekified yogurt in the honey varietal (found on Snack Girl's website), and for good measure, here's one from Yoplait:

(Also from a Snack Girl review.)

When I see products like these, with labels awash in marketing fads, I don't feel I'm being particularly cynical by saying that advertisers are wild-eyed, auto-piloted buzz-word generators who mindlessly market all grocery store items to hypothetical soccer moms. Fat free. Healthy for your kids. But also indulgent, so you can be taken away, Calgon-style, to a chocolate covered cloud where you might have an orgasm.

(Don't miss the video on the Dannon page—delicious!)

Well then. Now that I've gotten all that griping out of my system, I'm starting to think it might be unfair of me to denigrate Dannon and Yoplait like that without even giving their entries into the market a try. To be honest, I'm mostly just bitter that they had to ruin my moment of specialness. It'd take me what, like 4 seconds to eat a cup of yogurt? I mean, they're probably not all that bad—as long as they don't have any feathers in them.