Along with syrup on bacon, and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, frozen yogurt is one of those American concepts which has struggled to find popularity in Europe, at least to the same extent as it’s enjoyed in the US.

It’s long been considered an area with huge potential in Europe, given consumers existing familiarity with yogurt and its low-fat positioning. Yet it remains under developed, despite widespread agreement among Europeans that it is healthier than ice cream.

The initial craze for frozen yogurt was channeled through parlours, with brands such as Snog, Yog and yoomoo creating an indulgent, fun and fashionable image for the segment. UK consumers are the most likely to think that frozen yogurt is a healthy alternative to ice cream, falling across Europe, to reach a low point in Germany. This attitude is important considering consumers across Europe are increasingly reducing their ice cream intake in order to lose weight.

In the UK, however, growing awareness is beginning to translate into the retail segment. According to Mintel research, UK value sales of frozen yogurt increased by 117% between 2011 and 2014. However, the actual usage of frozen yogurt remains low in most European markets, with consumption peaking at a fifth of consumers in Spain. This suggests that manufacturers have untapped opportunities to boost usage of the product in a region where obesity and health concerns are front-of-mind issues.

16% of women in the UK have bought frozen yogurt, compared to 9% of men

So what has been holding the category back?

1. Reluctance to compromise on indulgence
The inherently indulgent nature of the dessert occasion has been one of the major factors limiting further uptake of frozen yogurt, with many consumers not willing to compromise on taste or indulgence for health. In fact, 28% of UK consumers would rather eat less ice cream then switch to lighter versions, a view also held across Europe. The trend for ‘permissible indulgence’ will help to mitigate these attitudes going forward, particularly if frozen yogurt brands can successfully market products that fulfil consumer desire for indulgence, without the accompanying fat content of ice cream. This is already being done by frozen yogurt players, such as Kissyo and yoomoo.

2. Natural sweeteners can overcome negative sugar image
Another stumbling block comes from the sugar content of products. This is problematic for frozen yogurt as while it has significantly less fat than ice cream it usually has comparable levels of sugar. No small thing considering sugar remains public enemy number one in the health world. This reaffirms the opportunities for natural sugar alternatives, such as stevia, which has been used in a number of ice cream launches in recent years.

3. Lack of interest from over-55s
As well as this, the category’s appeal and consumption is currently skewed to younger consumers. In all the reviewed European countries, over 55s are somewhat deterred from frozen yogurt, partly relating to lack of awareness but nevertheless offering an obvious avenue for expansion. Over 55s tend to suffer from a wider range of age-related conditions, and therefore are typically more health aware than their younger counterparts. This includes diabetes, which can be exacerbated by excessive sugar intake, suggesting strong interest in products made with natural sweeteners. Importantly, older consumers are attracted to frozen yogurt with functional benefits, such as added vitamins, calcium and probiotics, with interest in this format actually higher in Poland among the over-55s than younger Poles. Such launches are currently still extremely niche in the segment compared to other dairy categories, like yogurt and milk. This is despite the fact frozen yogurts are a good vehicle through which to provide nutrients.

4. Men want protein
Men are also slightly less likely than women to eat frozen yogurt in most European markets, with the greatest disparity recorded in the UK, where 16% of women have bought frozen yogurt, compared to 9% of men. The recent introduction of Greek-style frozen yogurt in Europe could have particular appeal among men, given its high protein content. Men are more likely to agree that there is a lack of high-protein ice cream in every reviewed market, with demand strongest in Poland and Spain.

Overall, with consumers unwilling to sacrifice taste and indulgence and the primary appeal of frozen yogurt based on its low fat content, brands need to find a delicate balance between indulgence and health. If manufacturers act on these consumer insights, frozen yogurt could be more of a go-to dessert for Europeans, one heck of a lot sooner than peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

Alex was promoted to Global Food and Drink Analyst at the end of 2013, having spent nearly three years writing UK-based consumer reports on a wide variety of food and drink categories. Prior to joining Mintel, Alex was Food and Drink Editor of the highly-regarded food industry magazine, The Grocer.

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