Over the past year or so nothing as intrigued me more than the appearance, sudden rise, and equally sudden demise of certain eateries in Mumbai. Places like the western suburbs of Bandra and Andheri have seen a sudden surge in the number of places opening up, with one of the key growth segments being that of stores specializing in desserts and confectioneries. As Antonie Lewis points out in his brilliant piece Mumbai’s extreme restaurants which appeared in HT Brunch few days back,

The sweetest section of the city
It’s 400050 or Bandra West.Burrp.com lists 86 eateries that either specialise in desserts, confectioneries, cakes or devote a substantial part of their menu to sweet affairs. From mithai to muffins, cookies to cupcakes, Bandra’s got most places to take care of your sugar fix.

I am assuming atleast of these 86 would have appeared in the year or two. Among these the most prominent category which is attracting equal attention of entrepreneurs, consumers, an investors alike is that of Frozen Yoghurt. According to Burrp there 9 exclusive Frozen Yoghurt shops in Bandra (with others such as Ci Gusta, Quiznos Sub, and Cuppa Joe also serving Frozen Yoghurt)*.

To be honest, I am not a big fan of the category. This frozen dessert with a pleasantly sharper flavour than ice-cream is usually served in berry or fruity flavors. The tart in the dessert is complimented with toppings ranging from crunchy nuts to fresh and canned fruits. It is obviously a healthier option than ice-cream with its lower fat content, but I am still to acquire a taste for it.

Personally I have been a big fan of yoghurt since my childhood. While as a kid the thick Kesar-infused Shrikhand or the aamrakhand (Mango Pulp mixed with Hung Yoghurt) captured my taste buds, I discovered the slightly softer matho with a variety of flavors and toppings in Gujarat. I have had the best matho  at Surat but as one of my friend insists, nothing beats Rajkot in matho. One of my favorite flavors of matho back in Gujarat is the American Dry Fruit- a unique mix of chocolate chips, nuts and jelly whisked with a hung yoghurt (I feel matho has a slightly thinner consistency than Shrikhand, which means it has a relatively higher water content).

And then there is Mishti Doi, malaidar curd which is at its best when sweetened using Date Jaggary, a product popular from those earthen kulhads in Durga Pujas to  Mother Dairy plastic cups on the Delhi University campus.

To understand the difference between these two distinct usages of yoghurt (eastern and western) one needs to understand the differences in culinary cultures. We as Indians (and lot of parts of Asia including the middle east) have been consuming yoghurt for a long time. But for the western world, Yoghurt was an alien concept. People hardly appreciated its sour flavors and it was difficult to get it. It first gained popularity during the hippie movement as simpler food habits were being encouraged as part of their communes. Later on some genius added sugar and fruits to the sour yoghurt and started marketing what we call “Flavored Yoghurt”. They sold it on promise of health and taste. With the growing consciousness towards healthier foods and emergence of functional foods, brands like Yakult and Danone became household names, and LactoBacillus, a bacteria which makes yoghurt what it is, was embraced for its perceived health benefits by millions around the world.

You can watch a detailed documentary on the emergence of this category (presented from the perspective of UK markets) and others here:

Documentary on the emergence of Yoghurt

I haven’t got to read and watch much about Frozen Yoghurt’s origins, but the Wikipedia entry traces it to New England region in North East U.S.A.

Frozen yogurt was introduced in New England, north-east USA, in the 1970s as a soft serve dessert by H. P. Hood under the name Frogurt

So while the western world had to go through a series of manufacturing and marketing innovations to make yoghurt mainstream, we have always had it as part of our natural diet. And hence the opening of Frozen Yoghurt shops (and the stocking of Flavored Yoghurts pods in supermarkets) is slightly confusing.

Are companies trying to sell us a fancy concept, a new experience, a differentiated dessert or a functional food item?

I have been looking for answers myself. So when earlier this year I was at B-School in Mumbai helping a batch of students with their placement preparation, I thought of throwing the question to them. Here is a summary of the case study, with a structure to approach the problem, and few ideas from my end:

I don’t know if I have been able to solve the problem or make it simpler. All I know is that I will always prefer an American Dry Fruit Matho or a Kesar Shrikhand or a Mishti Doi over frozen yoghurt.

So FroYo makers, do you have anything better to offer?

*Specific input from Anuja Deora