How the Frozen Yogurt Industry Has Mastered Branding

American food crazes work in boom and bust cycles. Over the past half-century, our palates have experienced dozens of culinary fads like Jell-O, sushi, and fondue. All of these foods are certainly eaten today, but they owe their popularity to mostly short-lived fads that exploded into the market.


Today, we find ourselves in the midst of another trend in American cuisine – self-serve frozen yogurt. Of course, we all remember TCBY popularizing the dessert in the 80’s, but the 2000’s have reinvented frozen yogurt as we know it.

No more are the days of waiting in line for an employee to scoop yogurt for you. Today’s dessert shop is a wonderland of sweet-toothed ingenuity. Simply pick up a cup and begin crafting your own dessert creation, mixing and matching flavors and topping it all off with your favorite sprinkles and candies.

What a tame idea it might seem to integrate the idea of self-service into frozen yogurt, but this industry has taken our collective appetites by storm over the past decade. From college towns to big cities, frozen yogurt shops are popping up at every street corner.

To put the popularity of frozen yogurt (or “froyo”) into perspective, the industry pumps out nearly $2 billion in revenue each year. What’s more is that these businesses report a combined 130 million servings annually – that’s more than 1/3 of the entire US population buying frozen yogurt at least once a year.

It’s even more important to note that the industry has grown by 22.7% since 2009, fueling the expansion of nearly 400 independent frozen yogurt chains.

Despite the thousands of froyo franchises that exist, there is surprisingly little variation from one store to the next. They serve a nearly identical product, yet they are somehow able to capture a group of devoted customers.

Why is frozen yogurt so popular and how are businesses setting themselves apart from the rest? The answer lies in branding.

With oddly similar names like Yogurtini, Yogurtland, and Yogurt Mountain, there is immense competition in the frozen yogurt industry. Businesses need a creative way to help customers remember their name and forge a sense of brand loyalty. But in a niche market that doesn’t offer much proprietary value, brand recognition has been especially difficult.

While frozen yogurt shops might be similar in name, they distinguish themselves with unique logos and slogans. So, by printing their distinctive design on the side of a paper dessert cup, these companies have conjured a simple solution to their branding needs.

In essence, these paper cups are nothing special. The white, double poly-lined containers are manufactured by the thousands, compiled into stacks, and sealed in a plastic bag. But, as soon as they’re printed with a store’s logo, they become a powerful marketing device associated with a specific brand.

We know that people crave frozen yogurt, but why should they choose one brand over another?

The average consumer can’t taste the difference between your vanilla flavor and the competitor’s. They probably don’t even care too much about what toppings you do or don’t offer. The product itself clearly isn’t what is being sold – it’s the brand that customers are buying into.

Developing a frozen yogurt brand doesn’t happen overnight though, and it all started with those little paper cups. As the frozen yogurt industry began taking off in 2007, businesses recognized that the best way to build their brand was displaying their logo on simple items like napkins, cups, and straw wrappers.

The idea is that whenever someone is carrying a cup with your logo, they’ll start casual conversation with a potential customer. As soon as froyo-touting customers leave your store, they become mobile advertisements for your brand, showing friends and family where they just bought a delicious treat.

According to Neal Ballard, the owner of an independent yogurt franchise in Dayton, Ohio, “most of our sales come from word-of-mouth.” Tim admits that he faces enormous competition even within a few blocks of his own store, so the secret to his success has been an active social media campaign called “What’s in Your Cup?”

Every week, customers submit photos of their favorite frozen yogurt creations and Neal’s team selects a winner for a $15 gift card. Every time someone tweets a froyo picture, they are inconspicuously advertising Neal’s company all over Facebook and Twitter.

As Mr. Ballard puts it, “it’s a win-win… We get tons of free advertising and somebody else gets free yogurt.”

Neal’s business plan is based on brand recognition, asking customers to share why they love his product. People began recognizing his logo not only as a frozen yogurt shop, but as a social media craze, as well. Within two years, Neal was already opening up another store across town.

While branding takes many forms, it is a business imperative to have in-store supplies that are printed with your logo. It’s the same reason fast food restaurants have customized labels on napkins, to-go cups and paper bags – it’s a classic and effective advertising technique.

Frozen yogurt companies simply adopted this strategy as a marketing fundamental, showing that successful branding initiatives are a catalyst for business growth.

The froyo industry didn’t do anything new; they simply perfected the age-old strategy of out-of-home advertising. The frozen yogurt craze shows that branding is a slow process, but one that starts with purchasing custom frozen yogurt cups wholesale from places like Your Brand Cafe.

If you too work in a restaurant or even own a new froyo store, then custom printing should be high on your list of priorities.

Alex Warner
Alex Warner