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QSR Feature
Low-Calorie, High Profits

Each frozen yogurt serving provides at least 20 percent of the daily calcium and Vitamin D requirements, plus 12 percent of daily fiber and 8 percent of Vitamin A. That doesn’t include the healthful benefits of probiotics, the live microorganisms that are part of active cultures in yogurt. Studies have indicated that probiotics may help prevent infections, lower blood pressure modestly, and boost the immune system.

“The American consumer is understanding the benefits of yogurt, the attributes that make it good for us,” says Michael Ward, president of TCBY, which stands for The Country’s Best Yogurt. “So, with our frozen yogurt, you don’t have to make a choice, as you do with other products. It is good for you and it tastes incredibly good.”

Ward acknowledges there is a large increase in competition from established and new frozen yogurt chains, including Red Mango and Pinkberry, which feature South Korea–style tart frozen yogurt. However, he says that growth reflects the changing—and more healthful—eating habits of Americans.

“The government over the last five years has been trying to educate us as a people that we tend to be overweight, and that child obesity is a huge issue,” he says. “So, consumers are consciously choosing to cut back on fattening treats.”

At Souplantation and Sweet Tomatoes, which are salad- and soup-based buffet restaurants owned by Garden Fresh Restaurant Corp., chocolate and vanilla fat-free frozen yogurt makes it “easy to have a healthy indulgence after a healthy meal,” says Joan Scharff, executive director of brand and menu strategy at the San Diego–based company.

Among the other low-cal dessert items at the restaurants are fat-free puddings, sugar-free gelatins, and sugar-free mousses, including chocolate and raspberry, which have just 40 calories and 3 grams of fat in a half-cup serving.

McDonald’s made regular yogurt mainstream in 2002 when it introduced its Fruit ’n Yogurt Parfait and included it in the $1 menu. The 7-ounce dessert has 130 calories and 2 grams of fat, and the parfait with granola is 30 calories more.

Having healthy, tasty dessert alternatives is important in modern America, says Olivier Arizzi, brand marketing manager with Le Pain Quotidien, which has nearly 50 restaurant/bakeries in five states and Washington, D.C.

“With all the requirements in New York and around the country to make nutritional information more transparent, it forced us to take a closer look at calorie count on the menu,” he says. In addition, “people are so careful about what they eat.”

Le Pain Quotidien rotates low-cal dessert items, including a guilt-free lemon custard with 200 calories and a vegan apple canele that has 220 calories and uses organic ingredients, including apples, soymilk, wheat flour, and agave syrup.

Just as natural ingredients are growing in importance with healthy desserts, they are also key to smoothies, which are marketed as health drinks that can double as a dessert or snack.

A number of chains feature smoothies prominently, including Jamba Juice, Planet Smoothie, Robeks, and Smoothie King. Smoothies are also available at many frozen yogurt stores and in restaurants such as Atlanta Bread, Panera Bread, and Sonic.

“There are a wide range of options, and the nutritional value depends on how the establishment is creating a smoothie,” dietician Shertzer says. “Sometimes it is just sugar, syrup, and either milk or yogurt. Other places will take real fruit, using fresh fruit or 100 percent fruit juice. There is a huge difference in the amount of nutritional value.”

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Barney Wolf is an Ohio-based food writer for QSR.