Why Frozen Yogurt Chains Are Closing Down

Avocado toast, fondue, kale, quinoa, Sriracha, Crockpot meals, spiked seltzers, smoothies, Pumpkin Spice Lattes, craft beer — food and beverage items often experience a sudden surge in popularity. Some prove ultimately to be fads that fade into obscurity. Others have real staying power. Centuries-old Japanese sushi, for instance, first started to become a hit in Los Angeles by the late 1960s, particularly among celebrities (via Food52). The following decades saw a massive increase in the number of sushi restaurants in cities across America, and the dish remains a fixture on the food scene to this day.

By the 2010s, it seemed as though a ubiquitous dessert item billed as a healthy alternative to ice cream, was headed toward a similar trajectory. Frozen yogurt sweetened with milk and sugar had its heyday back in the 1980s, but when Pinkberry opened in West Hollywood in 2005, it became an instant success — pulling in droves of customers with its brightly colored interior, self-serve containers, and huge assortment of toppings. Celebrities including Charlize Theron, Oprah Winfrey, and David Beckham were photographed with Pinkberry cups, and copycat stores began to spring up across Southern California and beyond (via Taste Cooking).

Eat This, Not That! reports the number of froyo stores doubled from 2009 and 2014, and by 2015, as many as 2,896 had opened in the United States, according to Guidant Financial. However, in the years since, froyo's popularity started to decline as precipitously as it had surged. 

Customers say no to froyo as its popularity yo-yos.

Frozen yogurt shops have shuttered in cities across the country. According to Eat This, Not That!, Pinkberry closed its doors in 74 locations from 2014 to 2018, and the company now operates half the number of stores in Los Angeles than were open during the height of its popularity. 

To understand the fluctuations in customer demand for froyo, it is important to examine how the dessert maps onto diet trends in America. Frozen yogurt first rode the low-fat diet wave in the 1980s and managed to recapture that success in the early to mid-2000s with marketing that touted the health benefits of yogurt's probiotics and framed the product as a healthier alternative to ice cream. However, over time, and partially due to the abundance of sugary toppings offered by froyo stores, customers began to lose confidence in the industry's health messaging claims (via Taste Cooking). 

Another blow was dealt with the rise of dairy-free and vegan diets around 2015, as well as the emergence of low-calorie ice cream alternatives like Halo Top. And finally, another factor — one that has nothing to do with diet trends or health claims — is that a lot of people, particularly kids, just don't really like frozen yogurt's tart flavor. Perhaps we didn't need a froyo shop on every corner to meet customers' demand for the product.