(WASHINGTON POST) - Democracy, the Olympic Games and thick and creamy yogurt are among Greece’s greatest contributions to humanity.
And when it comes to the latter, the Greek Ministry of Agriculture is sick of impostors. The country wants people to know that true Greek yogurt is made in Greece and prevent anyone making it elsewhere – in Europe, at least – from calling it Greek.
The ministry has assembled a group that plans to apply to register “Greek yogurt” in the European Union Register as a term with a protected geographical indication (PGI) or protected designation of origin (PDO), according to DairyReporter.com. If accepted, it would prohibit companies in other countries from calling their yogurts Greek.
The initial process for making Greek yogurt and regular yogurt is the same, but the difference lies in the texture: Greek yogurt is strained to remove liquid, making it thicker and creamier, and giving it more protein and fewer carbohydrates a serving.
But some brands do not follow this technique and take shortcuts by adding thickeners and protein.
Last year, a dispute between Greece and the Czech Republic over the latter’s “Greek-style yogurt” resulted in a scolding from the European Commission.
“Using the term ‘Greek yogurt’ for products produced outside Greece would deceive consumers and would create unfair competition in the EU market,” one EU official noted to Euractiv.
But those rules will not apply in the United States, where makers are free to label their yogurt as Greek (and where the distance from Greece makes consumer confusion less likely).
There are dozens of “Greek” yogurts in grocery stores, from popular brands such as Chobani, Yoplait, Dannon and Fage (a Greek company).
Greek yogurt became a huge hit in the US 10 years ago, when consumers gravitated towards it for its protein, probiotics and “good” fat.
Its rise to prominence in American grocery stores was meteoric: Chobani saw its sales go from just over US$3 million (S$4.1 million) to more than US$1.1 billion in its first five years. The brand overtook Yoplait, which is owned by General Mills, last year to become the country’s biggest yogurt brand.
The yogurt category is worth US$84 billion globally.
But the US market for yogurt has been waning recently. General Mills reported a 20 per cent drop in yogurt sales in March. Millennials are gravitating towards convenience yogurt drinks, rather than spoonable yogurt, according to consumer research firm Mintel.
And Greek yogurt is being challenged by other, more exotic yogurts.
Have you not heard that Icelandic yogurt (fun fact: technically, it is cheese) is the hot new thing?
No, actually, we are all about French yogurt now. What is French yogurt? It is a yogurt that comes in a cute glass pot, with a cute brand name - Oui -made by Yoplait.
According to the Associated Press, “the company says there is no official definition for French yogurt", though one thing that distinguishes Oui is that it is cultured in its own glass pot rather than in large batches.
The story is enough to hook yogurt-weary consumers because that is the key to winning the yogurt wars, as Charles Duhigg wrote in the New York Times: Yoplait “has finally figured out how to look beyond the data and embrace the narrative. Yoplait may have figured out how to fake authenticity as craftily as everyone else".
And that narrative is why it is important to Greece that everyone knows: Greek yogurt is made in Greece.