US company launches imported ‘authentic’ Greek yogurt
Olympiana Tsantila Imported Greek Yogurt debuted at the International Dairy Deli Bakery Association (IDDBA) show in New Orleans on June 10.
Olympiana contains just two ingredients, milk from grass-fed cows and live yogurt cultures, and packs 20g of protein per 6oz. serving. It’s handmade in north western Greece through the traditional process of cheesecloth straining and shipped to the US weekly.
According to founder Paul Hatziiliades, these factors qualify it as an authentic Greek yogurt. Many mainstream dairy companies mass-produce their yogurt in the US with machines, thickening it with added proteins. But others do use a straining process similar to Olympiana at a larger and more automated scale.
However, other dairy companies aren’t breaking any rules. The European Union mandates origin provisions for milk used in dairy products, but the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has no set regulations for naming, origins or geographical indications for yogurt. Some global brands work around the rules by labeling yogurt as ‘Greek-style’ while others don’t bother.
Yogurt Labels in Europe
- Greek: must be produced in Greece and traditionally strained, usually twice
- Greek-style: produced outside of Greece, sometimes high in sugar with added artificial thickeners like gelatin and gum blends
Yogurt Labels in the US
- Greek: at company discretion, may use a straining process
- Greek-style: at company discretion with additives and thickeners similar to Europe
“The FDA is just looking after food safety, which I understand because they’re spread very thin. But there isn’t much regulations on naming things, and certainly not for origins,” Hatziiliades told DairyReporter.
Because of this, Hatziiliades said, it’s very difficult to get authentic food in the US of any origin, citing extra virgin olive oil as an example. In 2015 several of Italy’s leading brands of olive oil were found to be mislabeling their product as ‘extra virgin’ when they were actually the lower-quality ‘virgin’ varieties.
Hatziiliades says the problem all comes down to the poor regulations, and hopes to raise awareness of it by finally introducing real Greek yogurt to the US market.
“We’re trying to bring the authenticity, and I think that’s the direction of the consumer right now,” he said.
Greek yogurt has grown into a multi-billion dollar powerhouse sector of the dairy industry over the last 10 years, but Hatziiliades sees it as part of the trendy health-conscious movement. Consumers are increasingly looking for products marked as organic, sustainably-sourced and clean label, with Greek yogurt being touted as a healthy alternative to many high-fat foods.
“Greek yogurt has become this fad. Everything is ‘Greek-ified’, from cereal bars to energy bars, you name it. And it’s just a fad, it’s just people trying to get on the marketing bandwagon,” he said.
Chobani, founded in New York by Turkish immigrant Hamdi Ulukaya, refers to its plain whole milk Greek yogurt as “Triple strained to be thick and creamy. Made the old-world way, locally sourced and authentically crafted, batch by single batch,” according to its website.
But Hatziiliades doesn’t plan on challenging the likes of Chobani or Fage because he knows that the traditional production process is rare to find in the mainstream.
“It’s extremely difficult to do what we’re doing, that’s why nobody does it. You can’t scale it up that easily,” he said.
He plans to remain a specialty brand with limited national distribution. Olympiana will hit the shelves at Demoula's Market Basket Supermarkets and Hannaford Supermarkets in New England in the first week of July.
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