Thomas Knight has gone to YogaBerry nearly every day since it opened in mid-September.
“It’s totally, awesomely delicious,” the economics Ph.D. student said while eating his typical order — a small, fat-free strawberry frozen yogurt.
Knight used to indulge in dessert once or twice a month, but he doesn’t feel guilty frequenting the newest frozen yogurt place in town. At YogaBerry, inside Target Copy on West University Avenue, a small frozen yogurt has no fat and 125 calories.
Knight is one of many Gainesville residents catching on to the national trend toward frozen yogurt.
According to a 2009 Ice Cream Business Trends report from Franchise Direct, the snack has been gaining popularity.
“Tart frozen yogurts have made a major come back… with a focus now on the healthier aspects of the dessert,” according to the report. “These include lower levels of fat, pro-biotic properties and ‘healthy toppings’ like fresh fruits and cereals.”
Gainesville has proven to be an ideal breeding ground for the craze.
“College towns are much more aware of health and nutrition, and [students are] much more interested in learning and taking care of themselves,” said Verna Groger, a dietitian for Haven Hospice.
Mochi opened in May, and three more frozen yogurt shops are coming soon. A second Mochi is scheduled to open in January in the new Hampton Inn and Suites downtown, and another YogaBerry opened in November in The Oaks Mall. Tutti Frutti is scheduled to open soon at 1232 W University Ave. Lollicup, which opened in 2006 on Southwest 34th Street, also sells all-natural, fat-free frozen yogurt.
All of these stores offer fruit toppings and flaunt the nutritional benefits of their yogurt on their Web sites.
YogaBerry claims to be “as tasty as it is healthy.” Mochi calls its nonfat, low-calorie frozen yogurt a nutritional dessert alternative that promotes good health.
“I wouldn’t say it’s good for you, but it’s better as a dessert than so many other things,” Groger said.
While frozen yogurt contains live cultures — good bacteria that boost your immunity — Groger said sugar reduces immune response for up to six hours after it is consumed by promoting free radicals and inflammation, canceling out the benefits of the live cultures. Mochi has a lot of regular customers and makes about 700 sales on a typical Friday, which is higher than expected, manager Sarah Papa said.
“A lot of students have moved from regular ice cream to frozen yogurt,” Papa said. “I think more people are being health conscious because there is a rising rate of obesity in the U.S., plus in Gainesville, college students want to look good.”
After looking at the nutrition information, Groger said Mochi and YogaBerry are good alternatives to high-fat ice creams, and they’re a lot lower in calories.
“But you might caution that these aren’t healthy on their own,” Groger said. “These also still have a lot of sugar and are still damaging to your body and promote heart disease, among other things, and are best for an occasional treat.”
YogaBerry’s small, 5-ounce serving has 125 calories and 25 grams of sugar, and Mochi’s 4-ounce serving has 110 calories and 22 grams of sugar. Groger said the calorie counts are reasonably low for a dessert, but the amount of sugar is relatively high.
UF freshman Allison Archer goes to Mochi once or twice a week. Although she said she wouldn’t eat two ice-creams in one day, she wound up eating at Mochi and Ben & Jerry’s within a few hours of each other because she considers Mochi to be healthy.
“This is the bad thing about these places — they promote themselves as healthy, but they’re just healthier than the worst thing,” said Groger. “All these things are a lot healthier than other alternatives like ice cream, but they themselves are not health foods…they are healthier treats…If someone has a good diet and has one of these treats one or two times a week, they are a better option than ice cream.”
But Gainesville residents haven’t lost their taste for traditional ice cream.
Pete Zimek, co-owner of Ben & Jerry’s, said sales for the University Avenue store have remained the same and sales for the Archer Road store have increased since last year, despite Mochi opening up nearby.
He doesn’t think Ben & Jerry’s will be driven out of business by the new frozen yogurt stores because it serves a different purpose.
“People come to Ben & Jerry’s for that vacation,” Zimek said.
UF political science freshman Breanne Palmer went to Ben & Jerry’s with a friend as a reward for studying before taking a statistics exam. “We’ll probably go into a sugar coma (during the test),” she joked while eating the Brownie Special.
But even Ben & Jerry’s altered its menu in response to customers’ increased health-consciousness. The store reformulated its smoothie line in 2008, reducing the calorie count to 250 calories or fewer per smoothie and making them low- or no-fat.
Zimek said he discussed customers’ shifting demands toward wanting healthier options as a member of the Franchise Advisory Council representing Ben & Jerry’s in the U.S. and Canada.
“It’s definitely a global trend,” he said.
Correction: A story that ran in the Dec. 9 issue of the Alligator offered a look at Gainesville’s yogurt industry but excluded TCBY, which has three Gainesville locations.