Pinkberry leads frozen-yogurt wave, faces lawsuit

Pinkberry leads frozen-yogurt wave, faces lawsuit

LOS ANGELES —Frozen yogurt is back, except this time with an Asian twist, and with a legal challenge hanging over the head of the brand that’s leading an emerging pack of rivals.

The new generation of frozen-yogurt concepts has emerged out of Los Angeles, following the high-volume success of a concept launched here in 2004 called Pinkberry [3]. With its first outlet still attracting as many as 1,600 customers each day, Pinkberry has grown so far into a 17-unit chain, including 15 franchised outlets, three of them in New York. —Frozen yogurt is back, except this time with an Asian twist, and with a legal challenge hanging over the head of the brand that’s leading an emerging pack of rivals.

Inspired by a style of frozen yogurt popular in South Korea, Pinkberry’s stylishly designed storefront outlets are believed to be the first in the United States to feature that particularly tart style of the dessert, in plain or green tea flavors only, topped with such options as fresh fruit or Fruity Pebbles cereal. —Frozen yogurt is back, except this time with an Asian twist, and with a legal challenge hanging over the head of the brand that’s leading an emerging pack of rivals.

Touted as a healthful alternative to ice cream, the treat won the hearts of cool-hunting snack seekers in Los Angeles who were happy to plunk down almost $10 for a large dish of Pinkberry’s specialty. —Frozen yogurt is back, except this time with an Asian twist, and with a legal challenge hanging over the head of the brand that’s leading an emerging pack of rivals.

Not surprising is the multitude of mom-and-pop copycats that have followed with their own versions of the concept, such as Kiwiberry, Berri Good [4], Beach Berries, Cantaloop and Milano Freezer. —Frozen yogurt is back, except this time with an Asian twist, and with a legal challenge hanging over the head of the brand that’s leading an emerging pack of rivals.

And soon, at least one of the giants of Korean-style frozen yogurt is slated to join the fray. —Frozen yogurt is back, except this time with an Asian twist, and with a legal challenge hanging over the head of the brand that’s leading an emerging pack of rivals.

The South Korea-based Red Mango brand, with 130 units open in Asia, has set up U.S. offices and is scheduled to open two units in Los Angeles this summer, with a third scheduled for Las Vegas and another seven to open in other U.S. cities this year, including New York. —Frozen yogurt is back, except this time with an Asian twist, and with a legal challenge hanging over the head of the brand that’s leading an emerging pack of rivals.

However, as the various brands gear up for nationwide expansion, a lawsuit targeting Pinkberry has raised questions about what can be called “frozen yogurt.” —Frozen yogurt is back, except this time with an Asian twist, and with a legal challenge hanging over the head of the brand that’s leading an emerging pack of rivals.

A civil action filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court earlier this month alleges that Pinkberry’s product is made with a powdered base that’s mixed in its stores, which doesn’t meet California state standards for frozen yogurt. —Frozen yogurt is back, except this time with an Asian twist, and with a legal challenge hanging over the head of the brand that’s leading an emerging pack of rivals.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has no specific standards defining frozen yogurt, but about 20 states do. California’s is one of the strictest, requiring, for example, that any frozen-yogurt mix come only from a licensed dairy manufacturer and must not be reconstituted. —Frozen yogurt is back, except this time with an Asian twist, and with a legal challenge hanging over the head of the brand that’s leading an emerging pack of rivals.

Mary Glarum, an attorney for plaintiff Bryan Williams, said the suit does not seek punitive damages. —Frozen yogurt is back, except this time with an Asian twist, and with a legal challenge hanging over the head of the brand that’s leading an emerging pack of rivals.

“We just want them to tell what’s in it and what it is,” she said. —Frozen yogurt is back, except this time with an Asian twist, and with a legal challenge hanging over the head of the brand that’s leading an emerging pack of rivals.

“Pinkberry is the biggest [chain] and leading the pack right now, so if we can get them to comply, the others will follow.” —Frozen yogurt is back, except this time with an Asian twist, and with a legal challenge hanging over the head of the brand that’s leading an emerging pack of rivals.

Nancy Lungren,a spokeswoman for the California Department of Food and Agriculture, said state officials have been working with Pinkberry and other operators of similar concepts to “help them come into compliance.” —Frozen yogurt is back, except this time with an Asian twist, and with a legal challenge hanging over the head of the brand that’s leading an emerging pack of rivals.

Pinkberry co-owner Hyekyung “Shelly” Hwang did not respond to questions about the lawsuit, but references to “frozen yogurt” are known to have been removed from the brand’s website in the wake of the lawsuit’s filing. —Frozen yogurt is back, except this time with an Asian twist, and with a legal challenge hanging over the head of the brand that’s leading an emerging pack of rivals.

However, Pinkberry spokeswoman Ching Hsieh said the franchisor would open its third corporate unit this summer, in Los Angeles’ landmark Farmers Market. Franchisees will continue to open branches, she said, though the company is holding off on signing new franchise agreements because it has received too many requests to process. —Frozen yogurt is back, except this time with an Asian twist, and with a legal challenge hanging over the head of the brand that’s leading an emerging pack of rivals.

Per-location startup costs are estimated to be between $200,000 to $400,000, according to the company’s franchise offering circular. Pinkberry’s original unit in West Hollywood reportedly serves about 1,300 to 1,600 guests per day. —Frozen yogurt is back, except this time with an Asian twist, and with a legal challenge hanging over the head of the brand that’s leading an emerging pack of rivals.

Other “frogurt” newcomers are skirting states’ restrictive standards for frozen yogurt by calling their products by other names. —Frozen yogurt is back, except this time with an Asian twist, and with a legal challenge hanging over the head of the brand that’s leading an emerging pack of rivals.

Donald Park, co-owner of Yolato [5], based in Edgewater, N.J., has developed a yogurt-gelato fusion that aims to capture the popularity of Italian-style gelato and frozen yogurt. With four Yolato stores in New York City and four more under construction, Park said he is developing a franchise program with plans for more growth. —Frozen yogurt is back, except this time with an Asian twist, and with a legal challenge hanging over the head of the brand that’s leading an emerging pack of rivals.

In addition to the namesake Yolato product, the concept includes an Asian-style frozen dessert that is low in fat and calories that Park has dubbed “Yoggi,” which has become the best-seller. —Frozen yogurt is back, except this time with an Asian twist, and with a legal challenge hanging over the head of the brand that’s leading an emerging pack of rivals.

“I didn’t want to get into the whole battle of ‘is it yogurt?’ so we just called it something else,” Park said. —Frozen yogurt is back, except this time with an Asian twist, and with a legal challenge hanging over the head of the brand that’s leading an emerging pack of rivals.

The first frozen yogurt that appeared in the 1970s was similar to the Asian style in that it was tart and considered health food. By the mid-1990s, frozen yogurt evolved into a sweet dessert that Americans embraced as a lower-calorie alternative to ice cream. Later, however, fat-fearing consumers moved on to low-fat and nonfat ice creams, and frozen yogurt fell out of favor. —Frozen yogurt is back, except this time with an Asian twist, and with a legal challenge hanging over the head of the brand that’s leading an emerging pack of rivals.

In recent years, however, nutrition experts have given credence to reports that the biologically live cultures in yogurt, called probiotics, can aid digestion and offer other health benefits. Enter the new frozen yogurts, many of which claim to include probiotics, though dairy experts say it’s not clear whether such cultures survive the product-handling process. —Frozen yogurt is back, except this time with an Asian twist, and with a legal challenge hanging over the head of the brand that’s leading an emerging pack of rivals.

Interest in probiotics, however, may be a boon to Red Mango, which is marketing its product as “real yogurt” with more live and active cultures than conventional dairy yogurt sold in grocery stores, said Dan Kim, president and chief executive of Red Mango Inc., based in Los Angeles. —Frozen yogurt is back, except this time with an Asian twist, and with a legal challenge hanging over the head of the brand that’s leading an emerging pack of rivals.

Red Mango opened its first unit in South Korea in 2003 with a simple menu of plain- or green-tea-flavored yogurt with fruit and other toppings. That debut occurred more than a year, Kim noted, before Pinkberry opened in Los Angeles in early 2005. Red Mango is the largest frozen-yogurt chain to emerge from South Korea. —Frozen yogurt is back, except this time with an Asian twist, and with a legal challenge hanging over the head of the brand that’s leading an emerging pack of rivals.

Kim said Red Mango would offer frozen yogurt that meets California’s strict standards and those of other states as well. —Frozen yogurt is back, except this time with an Asian twist, and with a legal challenge hanging over the head of the brand that’s leading an emerging pack of rivals.

“My challenge is educating consumers in America,” Kim said. “We don’t want to be known as a yogurt-ice cream company.” —Frozen yogurt is back, except this time with an Asian twist, and with a legal challenge hanging over the head of the brand that’s leading an emerging pack of rivals.