Yogurt Wars 3

Traditionally, yogurt’s been kind of a woman thing. Low fat, no fat, fruit-on-the-bottom, probiotic digestive aid. Sometimes yogurt will be green and flavored “watermelon” and pumped full of sugar and put into weird packaging. That’s for kids. But yogurt’s mostly for women, because it’s considered healthy, or a diet food, and women love to diet. Actually, I’m sure most women hate to diet but most “diets” seem to be marketed towards women because, even though the developed world’s obesity epidemic is gender neutral, women really hate being fat. It makes them ugly and undesirable. But women also have an irrepressible sweet tooth, and so we have nonfat yogurt.

Recently people have realized that most nonfat or low fat diet foods are just filled with sugar, and that it’s not fat per se that’s making you fat, it’s the 6 teaspoons of sugar in your Yoplait that’s making you fat. A few years ago my mom started buying Fage Total because it is high in fat and low in sugar and she thought this would help her lose weight. I don’t know if this is true or not or if she lost weight but she still eats it and it’s been at least 5 years so maybe something’s working for her.

I don’t like Fage. I like Greek yogurt because I like how thick it is. I think a lot of women like how thick it is. The reason I don’t like Fage is not because of how it actually tastes (I can’t tell the difference between Fage and Chobani) but because I really don’t like its packaging. I know that fruit-on-the-bottom yogurt signifies healthy with real fruit, rather than blue-flavored sugar milk with bacteria in it. But I’d rather they just mix the fruit for me. I don’t like mixing the fruit. It gets messy and gets all up the handle of my spoon. And Fage takes this inconvenience one step further and completely removes the fruit from the yogurt and puts it into a separate compartment that you have to flip over into the yogurt and there’s not enough room to mix everything without it spilling over and you inevitably can’t get all of the fruit out because the shape of the fruit compartment doesn’t fit with the shape of normal spoons.

So, I’ll take Chobani. They even have some flavors that are blended, like coconut. That might be the only one, actually. But I really like the coconut because it’s real coconut and not coconut flavor or pina colada I’m not really sure how people can eat/drink that shit it’s disgusting.

I really like Chobani. I used to just get plain yogurt and mix in some bananas and almonds and honey. Occasionally jam. But then I got a full-time job that started early in the morning and I didn’t have time to make breakfast at home and I realized that buying the individual serving cups is actually cheaper than buying a tub of plain yogurt. Which doesn’t really make sense to me but economics isn’t really my strong suit so okay. Plus I really love the cherry kind, it’s the first cherry food I’ve liked besides actual cherries because it is actual cherries and not cherry flavor, which tastes nothing like cherries but just tastes red, but a fuller, rounder red than the red of strawberry or fruit punch flavor.

While Fage was the first Greek yogurt to enter the American market on a mass level, Chobani has overtaken Fage and propelled Greek yogurt out of its niche market and now 1 in 3 yogurts sold in the US are Greek yogurts. Yogurt powerhouses Dannon and Yoplait have taken note and introduced Greek yogurts of their own. Yoplait’s is just called Yoplait Greek Yogurt because everyone knows that Yoplait is the junk food of yogurts, the public school lunch of yogurts and who knows who will even buy that because Greek yogurt is for discerning palates.

Dannon’s Greek yogurt is called Oikos, which in Greek means house which seems benign enough (Fage means eat, Chobani means shepherd) until you consider where oikos comes from. In ancient Greece, oikos meant house, but the house of a citizen. And the house was divided into specific spaces that were segregated by gender. Women rarely left the house and the part of the house designated as the oikos was the women’s sphere of domesticity, where food was cooked and clothes were made, children reared and slaves managed.

I consider this a bold move by Dannon. Yes, we all know yogurt is for women. But Dannon’s laid bare the patriarchal mechanisms behind the marketing of yogurt. They’ve straight up confessed. Yogurt is for women but it’s made by men (Dannon, Fage and Chobani were all started by men). Naming your yogurt Oikos reminds women where their place is.

Chobani’s marketing strategy appears to be gender neutral, focusing on natural ingredients rather than a woman’s desire. Oikos knows that women don’t care about natural ingredients, they want a hot Greek man (John Stamos) to bring them yogurt. In one commercial, two average looking women (they’re pretty but not hot and they’re on the slenderer side but probably want to lose ten pounds) sit outside a cafe, one with a donut in front of her (carbs!!) one with a slice of chocolate cake (women cannot resist chocolate cake and will order it for breakfast). One says to the other, “In a perfect world, every man would look like John Stamos.” And then all the average looking men turn into John Stamos and the women start squealing (okay, natural reaction I guess). John Stamos then brings them cups of Oikos on a silver platter. Dannon leans back on the tired trope of sexual desire. To get women to buy yogurt that will help them eat healthily, associate that yogurt with a charming handsome man. Note, a 50 y/o man fully clothed, not some young shirtless beefcake. Perhaps Dannon thinks this is a stab at gender equity, by objectifying a man (tastefully).

Another commercial is a woman sitting in a kitchen with John Stamos, who is eating Oikos seductively in front her. He pretends to feed her but just feeds himself. She gets fed up and up headbutts him and steals his yogurt. I’m always happy to see a woman get one over on a man, but not through violence. Violence is not the answer.

“2014 is the year of the yogurt wars,” says Chobani’s chief marketing officer. Chobani and Oikos both had ads during this year’s Super Bowl, the annual ritual where 100 million people watch a couple dozen men give each other concussions. This is Chobani’s first Super Bowl ad; it stars a bear. The bear comes out of hibernation (early, because global warming [this was clearly written before the polar vortex]) and tries to find something healthy to eat. I guess it only finds Chobani.

John Stamos again stars in Oikos’s Super Bowl commercial, this time bringing it home to something familiar. Oikos has abandoned women, apparently in favor of marketing to men with a series of videos they are calling “bromances,” the term favored by a segment of 20-40 y/o American heterosexual males to designate homoerotic friendships (but no homo). Stamos reunites with the other two men of Full House, a 90s sitcom that followed 3 adult men laying down the law for 3 girls in 1 house (hello patriarchy?). Generously describing Dave Coulier as a TV legend (pretty sure he is better known for being the inspiration for Jagged Little Pill than anything), Oikos follows the three men around their frat house (what it’s become now that DJ’s married and super Christian, Stephanie’s a meth addict and Michelle’s become two women) doing manly things like playing air hockey and feeling inadequate to John Stamos.

Dannon’s parent group does have a yogurt line specifically for men, Danone for Men, which seems to be only available in Bulgaria. It comes in a square pot that is round on the top, called a “squaround.” I’m assuming this sounds better in Bulgarian than in English because that word gives me a squirmy feeling, kind of slippery. Which I guess makes sense for yogurt but the packaging company that developed the squaround aimed to come up with something that reflected “the masculine need for clear structures” (squares most certainly have a clear structure I guess). The result is basically a square peg in a round hole with a squeamish name and a color scheme that makes it look like deodorant.

Actually, the yogurt sounds kind of like deodorant. It is very thick. So thick it may even be consumed with a fork.

A ha. Men love thick yogurt. That’s why Greek yogurt marketing is becoming masculinized, aggressive, turning to war. Men love a good cup of thick, fruit-on-the-bottom yogurt.

My favorite thing about Chobani is that it sounds like “Serani,” the dancehall artist who sings in every song “It’s it’s it’s Serani, just in case you never know.” I sing this to myself every time I crack the foil of a Chobani cup. If Chobani ever feels like it’s losing the yogurt wars they should make a parody video of Serani’s ‘No Games’ with a Chobani cup as Serani trying to get back his girl, who’s been seduced by John Stamos to Oikos Greek yogurt.

However, Chobani still holds the biggest market share of Greek yogurt and will no doubt continue to stay classy and feel no need to gender or sexualize their yogurt.


Illustration by Eliza Koch. See more of Eliza’s work here.


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