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Shop Owners Hope Yogurt Smooths A Path Out Of Greek Recession

Aug 19, 2012
Originally published on October 22, 2012 11:23 am

Greeks used to take their yogurt for granted. This year, at anti-austerity protests, they even threw it at their politicians. But Greeks are finally realizing yogurt might actually help the country during its worst recession in half a century.

In Athens, dozens of entrepreneurs have opened yogurt bars. The first one, called Fresko, opened last year on a pedestrian street near the Acropolis. It features four types of rich, strained yogurt kept cool in traditional ceramic pots.

"It's not like the yogurt you can buy in a supermarket. We take the yogurt from small producers around Greece, from villages and farms, and it's totally different than the one you taste [there]," says manager Georgia Ladopoulou.

Luis Felipe, a tourist from Bogota, Colombia, polishes off a cup of thick, sharp yogurt made from sheep's milk and slathered in thyme honey and walnuts. "I love it, it's really good. I've been tasting it in different flavors," he says.

The exploding popularity of Greek yogurt has turned yogurt into a growth industry in the United States. As we've reported, there are passionate disagreements over the identity of "real" Greek yogurt.

And last week, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo held a "yogurt summit" in Albany to discuss easing some environmental restrictions that some say make life hard for dairy farmers. Greek yogurt takes more milk to make than regular yogurts do, and New York state is home to the Chobani brand, "the country's undisputed market leader in Greek-style yogurt," according to The New York Times. Interestingly, it's technically run by a Turkish immigrant.

And now the Greeks are finally realizing the food staple they long took for granted might actually be a little goldmine.

Konstantinos Laskos opened a Greek frozen yogurt shop called Snoyo four months ago. He says at least 70 shops advertising Greek-style frozen yogurt have opened in Athens this year alone. "And the number is growing up every day," he says. "Because in Greece it's a new idea. So you can make some money from this."

But starting up a business is still a risk, he says. The economy is expected to contract by 7 percent this year.

If they survive, Laskos hopes Greek yogurt replaces souvlaki — the tasty but high-calorie kebab wrapped in pita bread and french fries — as the new Greek fast food.

It's healthier, he says — the perfect food for lean times.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

It's thick and creamy, it comes in all kinds of flavors, and it's good for you. Greek yogurt has been gaining in popularity all over the world, while the Greeks took it for granted. But what if yogurt might actually help the country during its worst recession in half a century? Joanna Kakissis sends this postcard from Athens, where dozens of yogurt bars opened this year.

GEORGIA LADOPOULOU: (Greek spoken)

JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: The first yogurt bar opened early last year on a pedestrian street near the Acropolis. Business is now booming at Fresko, which means fresh. The small shop features four types of rich, strained yogurt kept cool in traditional ceramic pots, says manager Georgia Ladopoulou.

GEORGIA LADOPOULOU: Not like the yogurt that you can buy in a supermarket. We take the yogurt from small producers around Greece, from villages and farms, and it's totally different than the one that you taste.

KAKISSIS: Luis Felipe, a tourist from Bogota, Colombia, polishes off a cup of thick, sharp yogurt made from sheep's milk and slathered in thyme, honey and walnuts.

LUIS FELIPE: I love it. It's really good. I've been tasting it in different flavors.

KAKISSIS: The exploding popularity of Greek-style yogurt has turned yogurt into a growth industry in the United States. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo even held a yogurt summit in Albany this month. Now, the Greeks are realizing the food staple they long took for granted might actually be a little goldmine. Konstantinos Laskos opened a Greek frozen yogurt shop called Snoyo four months ago. He says at least 70 shops advertising Greek-style frozen yogurt have opened in Athens this year.

KONSTANTINOS LASKOS: And the number is growing up every day, because in Greece it's a new idea. So, you can make some money from this.

KAKISSIS: There's practically a new yogurt bar on every block, he says, and he's not sure they will all survive the recession. The economy is expected to contract by 7 percent this year. But if they do survive, he hopes Greek yogurt eventually replaces souvlaki, the tasty but high-calorie kebab wrapped in pita bread and French fries, as the new Greek fast food.

LASKOS: It's healthier, of course, with 2 percent fat.

KAKISSIS: And low sugar. The perfect food, he says, for lean times. For NPR News, I'm Joanna Kakissis in Athens.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

WERTHEIMER: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.