Yogurt warmongering in the States
This summer, as we mark the centennial of a war that entangled many of the world’s countries in horrific bloodshed, the world’s most peaceful nation has been dragged into a very different kind of war, an ugly war besmeared with thick, creamy carnage and leaving behind a trail of plastic detritus—Iceland has become implicated in the Yogurt Wars. If you’re embarrassed that you aren’t familiar with what seems to be an international dairy dispute, no need to worry. Yogurt Wars is simply a column by Hamilton Nolan, appearing every now and then in the milk aisle of the online magazine Gawker.
Hamilton seems to have an axe to grind (butter to churn?) about his yogurt preferences—or, more accurately, his preference: Fage, a Greek yogurt produced primarily in the US. Writing with his tongue in his Fage-filled cheek, he tries to take down any would-be challenger on the American Greek yogurt scene in curt, caustic, prose. Normally, he levels his aim at Chobani, a sugary, mediocre brand of American Greek yogurt, and at Yoplait, one of America’s largest yogurt brands (who have recently dared to venture into the Greek yogurt market). But last week, Hamilton had Iceland in his crosshairs and fired shots in a foul-mouthed, 161-word article (if we may call it that) to ward off a potential skyr invasion onto the American Greek yogurt shelf.
In all fairness, Hamilton’s aggression is defensive: a YouTube ad released last week by Siggi’s, a US-based skyr producer, explicitly proposed Icelandic as the new Greek. In the commercial, a milkman hawks free Greek yogurt on the streets of New York. When curious passersby open their cups of Chobani, they are shocked to find that they are filled with sugar. He then offers Siggi’s, explaining that it only has 4 grams of sugar. The pleased passersby smile and eat their interesting foreign treat, making canned, scripted comments about how good it tastes, how it’s not too sweet.
Not only is the ad tacky, but it is also misleading—it compares the sugar content of plain Siggi’s to that of flavored, fruity Chobani. In reality plain Siggi’s has 2.5 fewer grams of sugar than plain Chobani or Fage—hardly worth nitpicking about. Moreover, those grams of sugar come from the milk itself and are not added. Hamilton accounts for the slight disparity between the sugar contents of Fage and Siggi’s through the rather crude (albeit amusing) suggestion that skyr is not made from milk, but from Icelandic horse piss. The disparity is slightly more pronounced when comparing the fruity yogurts: flavoured Siggi’s has about five fewer grams of sugar than flavoured Chobani or Fage. Sure, Siggi’s wins the sugar-counting game, but it’s a smaller margin than the ad would have us believe. Maybe that’s why the ad has since been removed from YouTube…
“Okay—go back to Iceland!” Nolan signs off. One problem: Siggi’s skyr comes from Upstate New York, not Iceland. In fact, of the three brands of skyr available in the States, only one of them—MS’s Skyr.is—is produced in Iceland, and they’re looking to find a manufacturer in the States. The third brand, Smári’s, is produced in Petaluma, California, and if you have any suspicion that that might be made with Icelandic horse piss, check out their website and meet six of their happy cows with non-Icelandic names. Sorry, Hamilton, skyr is here to stay. Icelandic yogurt is now just as American as apple pie or, say, Greek yogurt.
Eli prefers whole milk Narragansett Creamery yogurt from Rhode Island, to be perfectly honest.