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Ones to Watch | By Sabrina Davis

Yogurt is on the menu at quick-service concept Yovana.

When the marketing team at TCBY began searching for ways to reinvigorate its frozen treat concept in 2005, the research not only improved the current brand, it also led them to launch another: Yovana, a pioneer fresh yogurt concept.

“We stepped back and looked at consumer trends and discovered one of the fastest growing categories in a grocery store is fresh yogurt,” says David Hall, vice president of marketing for dairy at Mrs. Fields Famous Brands, parent company of Yovana. “Our research also showed an opening for light meals and healthy lunches, especially focused on working women—to give them options beyond salads and sandwiches,” Hall says.

Yovana has done just that by offering yogurt bowls, which can be topped with a variety of freshly cut fruits, organic granolas, and mixed nuts, as well as indulgent toppings. There also are yogurt parfaits made with layers of yogurt and toppings; drinkable yogurts made by blending fresh yogurt with fruit; and smoothies made with fresh yogurt, fresh fruit, fresh juices, nutritional boosts, and ice.

There are just two basic yogurt flavors: 96 percent fat free, which has a light vanilla taste; and a fat free, no sugar variety. Toppings enhance and customize the flavor profile. Yovana freezes its fresh yogurt to create more indulgent snacks and treats, which are popular in the afternoons and evenings.

While the TCBY/Yovana team was inspired by grocery store fresh yogurt sales, Hall is quick to point out, “This is a much better product than even your highest quality yogurt pre-packed for grocery stores.

“We looked for a gold standard in fresh yogurt and realized no one had really done that,” Hall says. “That’s what we’ve created with Yovana.” The team aimed to create a notion of quality and serenity when naming the new brand, and chose to combine yogurt and nirvana to create the unique concept name.

The yogurt is made in stores throughout the day using secrets Hall won’t disclose.

But he does point out that Yovana yogurt is highly nutritious and has more active yogurt cultures than grocery store brands. “Most yogurts have two types of yogurt cultures,” Hall says. “We have seven types of live, active, probiotic cultures.”

Yovana’s first store in the Phoenix area closed. Two locations remain in the Charlotte and Salt Lake City airports. “We gained some lessons there,” Hall says of the Arizona store, “but it really was the wrong location for us. We remodeled TCBY stores in those airports, and with the high traffic, have been able to gauge consumer behavior more quickly.”

Mornings are busiest with customers preferring the yogurt bowls and parfaits as light, healthy, on-the-go breakfasts. The smoothies, drinkable yogurts, and frozen yogurt treats are more popular later in the day.

Store signage promotes Yovana as a TCBY brand. Once a frozen treat powerhouse, TCBY opened in 1981 and eventually grew to 3,000 stores nationwide. “TCBY was at its height when trends were toward healthy eating,” Hall says. “Then people began to gravitate to the ultra indulgent—the Cold Stones and Maggie Moo’s came on the scene.” TCBY added ice cream to compete with premium ice cream brands, but revenue shortfalls continued and forced downsizing to its current 900-store count. Mrs. Fields acquired the brand in 2000.

“Now people are coming back and saying, ‘We want to be smart about how we eat,’” Hall says.

The 2005 research led TCBY to drop its ice cream offerings and focus on the core that once made it successful—frozen yogurt, albeit an improved recipe compared to the early days.

As consumers become more familiar with Yovana and recognize it as a TCBY brand, the marketing team intends for the separate concepts to strengthen one another.

After a few years honing the brand, Yovana is preparing to open four more stores this year. Some will be in airports, and Hall says company leaders are considering adding more traditional locations. Yovana plans to become an aggressive franchised brand, and more rapid expansion is planned for 2009.

CEO: Steve Russo
HQ: Salt Lake City
Year Started: 2005
Annual sales: $1.5 million
Total units: 2
Franchise units: 2

“We think the brand can grow to 500 or 1,000 units,” Hall says. “When you think about how many consumers eat yogurt and where they live. They are all over the U.S., and they are eating significant amounts of yogurt.”

Yovana, along with a few new fresh yogurt stores, might be getting a boost from smart marketing of grocery store brands. Yoplait and Dannon Activia are proving successful with print and broadcast ads convincing women of the weight-loss and digestive benefits of yogurt.

“We are benefiting from others doing well,” Hall says. “I hope that continues. It proves we’ve found the right niche.”