The jury is in: Yogurt is the new black.
Sure, the current craze may be traced to the crude "fruit-on-the-bottom" 1970s when yogurt positioned itself in the emergent field of health foods. But who'd have guessed that those early days, when yogurt still had to shake off its associations with Bulgarian peasantry, would lead to the go-gurt 2000s?
Between 1998 and 2006 U.S. yogurt sales more than doubled to an estimated $5 billion, according to Euromonitor, a market-research firm.
And the trend shows no sign of abating. In 2006 the U.S. market witnessed more than 200 new yogurt products, a 61 percent increase from 2002.
But for all yogurt's success — you can find it in everything from new cereals like Life Vanilla Yogurt Crunch to fruit and yogurt parfaits at McDonald's — one portion of the market has proven itself impregnable to yogurt's considerable charms: Children, ages eight to twelve.
"We call [the tween demographic] the abyss," Yoplait president Bob Waldron told Fortune magazine earlier this year.
To crack this lunchable demographic, the country's two yogurt dynasties have taken radically different approaches, both of which bypass the spoon.
From Yoplait we get Go-Gurt, which is essentially good old Yoplait yogurt repackaged in a tube. (It's a snack, you see.)
From Dannon we get Danimals, a drinkable yogurt that's barely a step removed from that very non-Cartoon Network libation, kefir.
Both products, which arrive in kids' lunch pails in Xbox-inspired flavors like Berry Avalanche and Watermelon Meltdown, are attempts — in ad parlance — to adapt yogurt to the way kids live.
Still, such products fail to recognize the one irreducible fact that keeps yogurt from being a hit with eight- to twelve-year-olds: Namely, kids are smart, and to a kid, no matter how you package it, yogurt is a compromise.
If you drink it, it's almost like a shake — but not as tasty. If you eat it from a cup or tube, it's almost like an ice cream — but again, not so toothsome. In other words, dressing yogurt up as a snack for kids only reminds young palates of what it is not. And what it's not is junk food.
That's why I can't help but think Yoplait's latest offering, a carbonated yogurt product called Fizzix, can't but fail. Served in a 2.25-ounce tube (in this case in a flavor called Strawberry Watermelon Rush), Fizzix isn't so much carbonated as it is fizzy, like Pop Rocks.
Unlike Pop Rocks — or soda, for that matter — the fizz from a tube of Fizzix lasts for only a brief moment when it touches the tongue. It's surprising at first, but then the fizz fizzles, and you're left with a thick glob of Strawberry Watermelon Rush-flavored yogurt on your tongue.
Not that that's so bad, but wouldn't you rather have a soda?
Seen a foodstuff you're too timid to try? Malcolm will eat it! E-mail particulars to firstname.lastname@example.org