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    EXPERT COLUMN: Going Greek

    The culture’s retail reach goes far beyond yogurt

    By Warren Stoll

    Anyone who’s been in a supermarket lately can’t help but notice that it’s suddenly hip to be Greek. Starting with the dairy section, where Greek yogurt varieties now occupy nearly as much shelf space as traditional yogurt, to the cereal aisle, frozen section and deli department, Greek yogurt and Greek brand imagery are finding their way into many popular foods.

    Greek yogurt’s biggest selling point, of course, is its higher-protein quality, along with lower fat, creamy texture and great taste. And today, more protein is definitely in.

    Yet the popularity of “Greek” is far bigger than that. The culture has a unique brand essence that captures the healthful, positive qualities of the Mediterranean lifestyle and diet.

    Ethnic is Cool

    As a brand image, what does Greek lifestyle mean to consumers?

    Over the past decade, many Americans became aware of modern Greek culture from the comedic movie "My Big Fat Greek Wedding," which conveyed an image of festive meals, abundance and family. Add to that most people’s current image of the Greek islands as a sunny summer paradise: sunbaked hills and whitewashed houses surrounded by sparkling blue water.

    Dannon has recently leveraged the lean, healthful and sunny image of the Greek lifestyle with its Oikos brand yogurt. “Oikos” in Greek means “family” or “household” -- a positive image that reinforces all of the best aspects of the segment. Dannon started running commercials in 2011 featuring “Greek God” John Stamos, contrasting his lean good looks versus overweight, less attractive men in an amusing series of ads.

    Ethnic-owned food companies such as Chobani, of course, have inherent credibility when it comes to promoting the Greek lifestyle segment. Since 2007, Greek yogurt has gone from 1 percent of the market to 36 percent, with Chobani taking the lion’s share, according New York-based Bernstein Research. The research suggests that the Greek yogurt market is expected to grow further, possibly reaching more than 50 percent of the overall yogurt market.

    Beyond Yogurt

    What’s really interesting about the Greek yogurt craze is how it’s made Greek lifestyle a better-for-you segment that stretches across several product categories of the supermarket, well beyond the yogurt case. In each example, companies are drawing customers in with the promise of great taste and higher protein.

    Starting with dairy, consumers can now buy a lower-fat variety of cream cheese from Green Mountain Farms that’s a mix of cream cheese and Greek yogurt, boasting twice the protein and half the fat of traditional cream cheese.

    Head to the cereal aisle, and you’ll see Post Honey Bunches of Oats Greek Honey Crunch with Greek yogurt-coated granola. The cereal offers 5 grams of protein, which is high for a breakfast cereal. The packaging is so Greek that you could almost mistake it for an imported product.

    Greek lifestyle -- with its high-protein nutritional profile -- is even making it into the bread category. For example in the deli department, you’ll find Kontos Greek Lifestyle Flatbread. It has a nutritional profile similar to Greek yogurt: 15 grams of protein, 2 grams of sugar and 190 calories per serving. The carbohydrate content, at 21 grams, is much lower than that of other breads.

    In all cases, Greek-inspired products are designed to appeal to protein-seeking, carb-conscious consumers who don’t want to sacrifice flavor.

    Attracting Customers

    Many consumers are aware that a Mediterranean-style diet is healthful, but until now, most Mediterranean food choices were more appropriate for dinner. Greek lifestyle foods across all categories have made it easier for consumers to incorporate a Mediterranean diet into breakfast, lunch and food on the go.

    For retailers, these foods provide an opportunity to attract consumers who are looking for everyday products with a specialty feel, offering them great taste, strong eye appeal and the chance to enjoy eating without worrying so much about their waistlines.

    Warren Stoll is marketing director at Kontos Foods, a manufacturer and distributor of traditional Greek and Mediterranean foods in Paterson, N.J.

    By Warren Stoll
    • About Warren Stoll

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