Even Smaller Stores Like Foster’s Also Feeling the Yogurt Sales Boom

The Recorder, September 7th, 2015, by Richie Davis

The entire dairy case at Foster’s Supermarket seems almost smaller than the 60-foot yogurt section of the gargantuan Market Basket in Athol.

But even with “onlay” its single 8-foot section of quart-size SideHill Farm, Commonwealth Dairy, Cabot Greek, Axelrod and other containers, and its multiple 3-foot rows of small-size Chobani, Fage, Yoplait and other yogurts, the selection can seem overwhelming.

“It’s very complicated to go to the store, so best when you don’t have the children, so you can think about what you’re buying,” says Gwyn Aras, a Greenfield nurse who’s poring over the Chobani choices and reaching for a couple of the few remaining containers before tomorrow’s expected replenishment of supply.”It’s import to me to have live culture and low sugar. Fruit on the bottom is not going to guarantee you low sugar.”

Aras, like many consumers today, likes the texture of Greek yogurt, which now dominates the market. “It’s thicker and creamier. Everything else seems watered down.”

As a nurse, she says, “Most of my patients, I find, like Greek yogurt better,” and adds, reaching to try Chobani’s Blood Orange flavor and Vanilla Blended for the first time says of the brand, “I used to buy Activa and Yoplait. But since this came out, I made the switch to this and only this.”
Foster’s co-owner Jason Deane shakes his head. “I can’t imagine all these yogurt companies are all vying for the space, the sales, for everything. From what I see, in the last five years, it’s been the biggest change. The demand is pretty brisk.”

Hawley-made SideHill FarmYogurt and Green Mountain Creamery’s Greek yogurt are the big sellers in this locally owned, 74-year-old grocery whose modest 25,000 square feet of retail space is less than half the local Super Stop & Shop and Big Y World Class Market. Foster’s also wholesales quite a bit of the locally made yogurt to schools and smaller grocers around Franklin County.

SideHill maple is the choice of Lou Potorski and Joanne Rybcyk as they pause in front of the dairy case to choose.

“It’s good stuff,” says Potorski, explaining that they typically get plain and flavor it themselves.

Rybcyk adds, “They just won an award for good farming practices. To me, that matters.”

The couple shy away from Greek yogurt because it’s pricier, although they acknowledge it also has more protein.

Chobani, which often goes on sale at 10 for $10, tends to attract a horde of customers.

“Sales will jump around. A lot of people come in and look at what’s on sale,” adds dairy manager Bob Malek, who says the availability of SideHill yogurt has hurt sales of Stonyfield, the Wilton, N.H., organic yogurt brand that was sold to the French-based maker of Dannon more than 10 years ago. “People have the yogurt that they like, but they’re willing to try a different one.”

Malek says that as yogurts multiply, they manage to push other dairy products out of the store’s refrigerator case, which like in any grocery is prime real estate because it has to be kept at below 41 degrees.

“Maybe 10 years before (Stonyfield’s dominance), Dannon was the big thing. It’s not here now. All the Greek yogurts have replaced it, though. They have a lot of area.”
At Foster’s that area, below the Swiss Miss pudding offerings, is concentrated on eight small shelves that includes individual size Dannon Light & Fit, Dannon Activia, Chobani, Fage, SideHill, Yoplait Light, an Icelandic-style strained “skyr” yogurt made in New York, as well as Green Mountain Creamery and Best Yet Greek.

Best Yet, Malek says, probably will be the latest culture wars casualty, since poorer sellers generally get pushed out. The large containers of Chobani on the bottom shelf will probably get thinned to make more room for Green Mountain Creamery.

”There’s a lot of moving around, trying to make everything fit.”

There’s also a large “overflow case” for less popular refrigerated products, including the squeeze-container products especially packaged for kids, including Go-Gurt with flavors like Turtle Power Punch and Booyakasha Berry.

But Foster’s, unlike bigger stores, doesn’t charge yogurt makers slotting fees to make room in its dairy case. And, says Deane, “If a customer asks, ‘Can you get this yogurt?’ we’ll try it, bring it in, and if it starts selling, eventually one that doesn’t gets slid out.”

Deane doesn’t bother worrying about trying to keep up with superstore selections.

“Space is always a premium for any department and any item, but sometimes there’s a lot of things get duplicated,” he says, “How many blueberry yogurts in one section do you need? With this size store, we’re always condensing, condensing, condensing into what customers really seem to want.”