Published March 24, 2014
When it comes to yogurt, it’s all Greek to – well -- the Greeks.
Greek yogurt is the latest diet fad to take over Europe and the United States, with millions of fans across two continents gobbling up the creamy foodstuff that is rich in protein and low in fat.
Yet in Greece, many people have never heard of Greek yogurt. In fact, the popular term is basically a fluke.
"What is known abroad as 'Greek yogurt' is called 'straggisto' (strained yogurt) in Greece," Prokopis Ploumbis, a cheesemaker in the rural outskirts of Athens, told AFP.
Straggisto is used throughout Greece as a key ingredient for staple dishes like tzatziki dip. But the yogurt, made from cow's milk, has never been patented by the Greek state or any Greek company, unlike feta cheese which is now a protected EU term.
Therefore the term “Greek yogurt,” while it has never been used in Greece, was up for the taking when Turkish entrepreneur Hamdi Ulukaya decided to label the yogurt from his company, Chobani, as “Greek.”
Over the course of seven years, Chobani became the best-selling yogurt brand in the United States, with Greek yogurt taking up 35 percent of the U.S .yogurt market, up from only four percent in 2008.
But Chobani was not the first brand to introduce straggisto into the U.S. and European markets. The Greek company Fage has been selling “Greek strained yogurt” in the U.S. and Europe for decades.
"Fage is the one that made known to the world the creamy texture of Greek yogurt, its protein concentration, its rich taste," said the company's commercial director Alexis Alexopoulos.
But Ulukaya contended that calling his product “Greek” was just giving his yogurt a label that customers would understand, regardless of whether or not the product actually comes from Greece.
"It doesn't matter whether it's Greek yogurt or Turkish yogurt, as long as it's a good yogurt," Ulukaya told Fortune magazine in 2011.
In an effort to lay claim to “Greek yogurt,” Fage, an 88-year-old Athens-based family company, took Chobani to court for falsely labeling its products as “Greek.”
While the company conceded defeat in the United States, it argued in British courts that unlike Chobani, its yogurt is actually made in Greece.
Fage won the case on appeal in January and now markets its product in Britain as “authentic Greek yogurt.” Whereas Chobani has to label its yogurt as “strained” in Britain, but can call it “Greek” in the U.S.