Aurora Magazine

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Fro-yo frenzy

Published in Jul-Aug 2012

Is frozen yoghurt a fad or a permanent fixture?

Regardless of the adversities we face, the citizens of Pakistan’s urban metropolises have always been guilty of deriving pleasure from a certain micro-trending frenzy. Now that the ‘coolness’ of coffee shops and lawn exhibitions has worn off, starting late last year frozen yoghurt (nicknamed fro-yo) hit the towns and became an instant success.

Internationally, the product has been in the market for decades (various sources quote different dates), but it only gained popularity and the status of being an ‘in’ thing in the last few years. Driven by the global trend of healthy eating, the frozen yoghurt fad started in the USA and then migrated to the rest of the world.

Essentially a sweet snack, fro-yo fashioned a new niche category in the frozen desserts retail market (which also consists of gelatos, ice-creams and snow cones) in Pakistan. November 2011 marked the arrival of the first fro-yo brand – Berrylicious – in Pakistan, as a minimalistic, grab-and-go set-up in Park Towers. Contrary to many people’s perception, Berrylicious is local in its origin, although the fro-yo mix is imported unbranded from California. Berrylicious recently opened its first flagship store on 26th Street in DHA, Karachi.

“Yoghurt has always been an essential component of our diet, and the taste is very familiar to our palettes,” says Durre Sameen Akhund, the owner of Berrylicious when asked about why she decided to launch a fro-yo brand.

A month after Akhund launched Berrylicious, a local café called The Upper Crust (TUC), nestled in one of the Zamzama lanes opened up, serving frozen yoghurt as part of its menu. TUC claims to serve frozen yoghurt that is 100% prepared in Pakistan.

A few months later, news of fro-yo’s success began to spread and the new year brought the first global fro-yo franchise, Snog to Pakistan. A premium London-based brand, Snog has two outlets, one in Zamzama, DHA and one at Dolmen Mall, Clifton.

“Pakistanis want quality items and are willing to spend on them,” says Saara Gheewala, owner of Snog Pakistan.

Although all the fro-yo brands established themselves in the upmarket commercial neighbourhoods of Karachi, the Los Angeles originated, Tutti Frutti’s franchise was started off at a rather unique location. It was strategically located in the small city of Bhera at the mid-point of the Lahore-Islamabad motorway. Soon after, Tutti Frutti opened in Lahore, Faisalabad and finally in Karachi in May 2012.

The massive acceptance of fro-yo as a dessert in such a short period of time made the ice-cream giants sit up and take notice. In December 2011, Unilever Pakistan launched a fro-yo variant under its Cornetto brand, called Cornetto Fruity-Yo.

“We felt that the time was right,” says Asmer Manzoor Saifi, Assistant Brand Manager, Cornetto at Unilever Pakistan, explaining that the company’s innovation centre began working on the product in December 2010. Similarly, Igloo launched its version of fro-yo in two flavours, in March 2012, calling it Igloo Frozen Yogurt.

Fro-yo is available to all consumer segments in the big metros. While fro-yo dedicated retail outlets are selling frozen yoghurt as a premium product, the ice-cream brands (Cornetto and Igloo) have widened the appeal of fro-yo.

Saifi explains that although the consumption of fro-yo will be driven by the big ice-cream brands, driving the popularity and aspirational value of the product is the job of the fro-yo retail outlets. However, price will be a major factor in making the product available to all SECs.

Snog sells a small cup for Rs 340 and charges Rs 50 for each of its topping. Tutti Frutti charges one rupee per gramme and the minimum serving size is 100 grammes (i.e. for Rs 100). TUC sells the small cup for Rs 160 and Berrylicious (perhaps the cheapest retail fro-yo brand) costs Rs 110-130 for the smallest serving.

Other than the price differential and the format in which the ice-cream brands and the fro-yo retail shops sell yoghurt, taste is a significant point of difference. Cornetto Fruity-Yo and Igloo’s Frozen Yogurt offer less tanginess, which is an important attribute of yoghurt.

Each fro-yo outlet has a distinct consumer following. Snog has a separate clientele due to its premium pricing; Berrylicious is preferred by the cost conscious; it also enjoys a slightly larger client base due to its first mover advantage. TUC has a huge following because of the Belgian chocolate flavour it offers while Tutti Frutti has won the vote of many for being the only self-serve format shop, offering a multitude of toppings and maintaining a reasonable price.

The future of fro-yo is seen to be positive by all players in the category.

“The market has just been created and there is scope for it to grow literally as big as the ice-cream category,” says Saifi.

Akhund, as the first entrant in the market, optimistically says that so far the customer base is increasing, and Berrylicious has not felt any dip in sales due to the mushrooming of other fro-yo shops. Gheewala highlights increasing health-consciousness as the reason for why the fro-yo trend will not fade away. On the other hand, Hamid Ali Khan, the owner of TUC, believes that because fro-yo is a niche product, it is unlikely that businesses will invest too much in it, and over time it will fade away like all other fads.

However, according to the internationally accepted wisdom about fro-yo, one can never have too many frozen yoghurt outlets in a city, and judging by the current growth pattern, it seems like fro-yo is here to stay.