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Behind The Hype: Costs And Benefits Of Greek Yogurt

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- Greek yogurt is a product that's taking a huge scoop out of the yogurt industry.

Besides its taste, some yogurt lovers think it's a healthier choice for their families, but it can cost twice as much as the regular kind at your grocery store.

We went comparison shopping to add up the value in going Greek.

From the moment Rachel Wells discovered she was pregnant with twins, eating became more important than anything else.

"I wanted to make sure I was still putting the best things into my body, so I ate a lot of walnuts and a lot of Greek yogurt," Wells said.

She said she eats Greek yogurt at all hours.

"I eat Greek yogurt for breakfast, I eat it for lunch, I eat it in between," Wells said.

And Wells isn't the only one drawn to the creamier, thicker Greek yogurt.

Michael Harad, Yoplait's marketing director, says much of the public thinks the same.

"It does appear that Greek yogurt is one of the fastest growing segments in food history," he said.

Its popularity has made it a $1 billion-a-year industry.

Those profits made it so that Yoplait – a General Mills brand -- had to jump into the market, Harad said.

General Mills launched its own Greek yogurt in 2010, and it didn't stop with one product.

"We quickly launched our four packs, and we added a lot of the flavors and the parfaits to differentiate and stand out," he said.

General Mills used its variety to compete with Chobani, the industry leader.

Chobani makes more than half the Greek yogurt sold in the U.S. In just three years, the brand has grown substantially: it now accounts for nearly 10 percent of all yogurt bought in the country.

However, the price of going Greek is close to double that of regular yogurt.

Harad says the higher cost is because of the milk used to make it.

The Cost Of Going Greek

We shopped four stores -- Target, Lunds, Cub Foods, and Walgreens -- looking at six-ounce yogurt containers.

Generic store brands of regular yogurt ran about 50 cents. Most name brands didn't cost much more than 65 cents.

The most popular Greek variety, Chobani, averaged $1.34, which is about twice as much as regular yogurt.

Fage, another Greek yogurt brand, averaged slightly higher prices. On the other hand, Dannon's Oikos and General Mills' Yoplait were the cheapest Greek yogurts, about $1.25 per container.

"Greek yogurt does have a higher cost of ingredients," Harad said. "It has more milk. That's what gets you a lot of protein."

Is Greek Yogurt Healthier?

Is Greek yogurt a healthier choice? For the same amount of calories as regular yogurt, it can pack up to double the protein, because half the sugar has been removed through straining.

Nutritionists believe more protein keeps you fuller longer, which combats overeating.

As a new mom, Wells thinks it's helped her get back in shape.

"I'm at my pre-baby weight, and I've been eating this consistently," she said.

Tonya Schoenfuss, a food and science professor at the University of Minnesota, said she uses Greek yogurt as a substitute to other dairy products.

"I've used it as a substitute to sour cream, replacing cream cheese in recipes," she said.

Besides being a Greek yogurt fan, Schoenfuss knows a less expensive way you can make it yourself. All you need is a cheese cloth and the natural sugar from plain yogurt.

You can add fruit, honey or granola, to Greek yogurt as well, but companies aren't banking on you doing this yourself.

Harad said companies have added manufacturing capabilities, product lines and advertising to the Greek yogurt market. And many yogurt lovers have already bought into that market, despite the higher price.

"It's not about me I'll pay whatever I need to pay to make sure the kids are growing well," Wells said.

General Mills says this is just the beginning for Greek yogurt. It's planning product announcements this summer.

But General Mills doesn't think Greek yogurt will replace the traditional kind. The company says Greek is another variety like Lite Yogurt or Gogurt.

A Word On Labels

You want to read the label. Fat content may vary depending on whether the brand uses 2 percent or skim milk.

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