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What's inside your Greek yogurt?

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With projected annual sales exceeding $1 billion, Greek yogurt has gone from being just a simple snack to a money-making meal in a container.

Grocery stores have been making extra shelf space and just about every dairy manufacturer is trying to get in on the craze.

Before you stock up, here's what you need to know about what's really inside those containers labeled 'Greek.'

While the Greeks know a thing or two about delicious yogurt, Chef Robert Brener with Johnson & Wales University says it's "like nothing they'll ever replicate here." 

In America, food manufacturers know a thing or two about marketing, like turning a simple snack into the new darling of the dairy aisle.

Food purists say most of the Greek yogurt available at the grocery story is far from the real thing.

While both are a richer, creamier, more nutrient-packed product than traditional yogurt, true Greek-style yogurt involves a time-consuming, expensive straining process of draining out excess water, which delivers a very dense dairy product.

"You're waiting for something to evaporate, that takes time. Time is money. The American food system isn't set up for time; it's set up for how many units [you can] pump out," Brener says.

Many manufacturers are using shortcuts like thickening agents and additives such as milk concentrates, gelatin and corn starch to save time in order to create the same "old country" texture, Brener says. 

So, how do consumers know what they're buying?

"As always, the best thing you can do is read the label," Brener says. "You should have nothing in it. You should have milk, milk cultures and that's really it."

Compared to regular varieties, Greek-style yogurt is packed with protein because to get that thick, concentrated creaminess, it takes up to four times the amount of milk compared to regular varieties. 

Look on the container for the "made with live and active cultures" label. Those good-for-you organisms are what make yogurt, yogurt. They're also what makes yogurt a healthy food choice that can improve your digestive and immune systems.

Be sure to double-check to see what's added into the product as a "filler."

Chef Brener recommends eating full-fat yogurt, instead of the non-fat varieties. There will be more calories, but full-fat yogurt is denser and richer and more likely to fill you up and keep you satisfied longer.

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Additional Information

Chef Robert Brener says during hard economic times, manufacturers often turn to marketing styles using an "old fashioned" theme, denoting comfort and familiarity. Brener believes the "Greek" old-world idea plays into this.

The following information is from The American Council on Exercise in an article entitled "The Truth Behind the Greek Yogurt Craze" (Source: http://www.acefitness.org/certifiednewsarticle/1550/the-truth-behind-the-greek-yogurt-craze/)

  • Sales have increased more than 100 percent every year for the past three years.
  • Old-fashioned Greek yogurt is made with goat's milk while American yogurt is made from cow's milk.
  • "Greek-style" yogurts may also contain thickening agents like condensed milk or gelatin.
  • With Greek yogurt, the milk and culture combo is strained with a filter to remove the liquid whey part of milk. The straining process also removes some of the lactose sugars, salt and water. This leaves a thicker, creamier product that is higher in protein, but lower in sugar and carbohydrates than American-style yogurt.
  • To get the same amount of product as other American-style yogurts, more milk is needed.
  • American yogurts have a milk:yogurt ratio of 1:1. For Greek it can be as high as 4:1. So it can take up to four gallons of milk to make one gallon of Greek yogurt.

The following is from USA Today (Source: http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/money/industries/food/story/2012-08-03/greek-yogurt-craze/56620858/1)

  • Projected $1.2 billion in sales by the end of 2012, according to market researcher Mintel.
  • In June of 2012, Greek yogurt represented 36% of all yogurt sales vs. 24% last year.
  • Since launching in 2007, Chobani has gained half of the Greek yogurt market in the US and is the Number 1 selling yogurt brand overall in stores.

The following is from the Chicago Tribune (Source: http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2012-03-16/business/ct-biz-greek-yogurt_1_greek-yogurt-chobani-tula-foods).

  • In 2011, Greek yogurt accounted for 20 percent of total yogurt sales, according to market researcher SymphonyIRI, and 15 percent of volume sales. In each of the last three years, sales of Greek yogurt have surged more than 100 percent, while non-Greek yogurt has grown at a single-digit pace, according to consumer data tracker Nielsen.
  • Usually 30 cents to 50 cents more for a single-serve container.
  • Berlin, N.Y.-based Chobani is the leading branded yogurt product by dollar sales, with 13.5 percent of the market, up from a 2 percent share in calendar 2009. Sales increased 144 percent over the last 52 weeks, to $626 million.

The following is from the Huffington Post(Source:http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/20/greek-yogurt-thickening-agent_n_1689183.html).

  • The Wall Street Journal reports that Greek yogurt represents 28% of US yogurt. Its estimated to increase to 40% over the next year and 120% over the next five.
  • Some companies use thickeners called "milk protein concentrate" which is made by filtering skim milk to remove non-protein elements.
  • The FDA established a "standard of identity" for yogurt 30 years ago not allowing the use of thickening agents. The standard was "stayed" when the industry protested.

The following is from the website Mother Nature Network (Source:http://www.mnn.com/food/healthy-eating/blogs/what-is-greek-yogurt).

  • Greek yogurt is created when the yogurt is strained so that the liquid whey is removed, resulting in a thicker, cheesier texture.

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