Women and frozen yogurt: ‘Like a glass of wine, but for the daytime’

Petula Dvorak
Columnist August 23, 2012

As another sticky-hot summer comes to a close, a summer that became even more dog-breath gross thanks to power outages and the stinky run-up to a presidential election, I have to take a moment to pay tribute to the one item that is helping so many of us make it to Labor Day: frozen yogurt.

And, yes, it’s a chick thing.

Petula is a columnist for The Washington Post's local team who writes about homeless shelters, gun control, high heels, high school choirs, the politics of parenting, jails, abortion clinics, mayors, modern families, strip clubs and gas prices, among other things. View Archive

Go to just about any of the many new froyo places across America — especially around that 3 p.m. coffee-break hour — and you’ll see us there.

One woman in a group of federal workers described it this way: “It’s like a glass of wine, but for the daytime.”

I asked a man (one of the few) behind the counter of a downtown Washington froyo place what he would guess the male-female customer breakdown would be.

“Broads. It’s mostly broads,” he said, borrowing from the same era of language as Rep. Todd Akin, only more harmless.

So it isn’t just me guessing that when guys are wrestling with a relationship or a job decision, they don’t say, “Hey, bro, let’s go get a cup of nonfat mango tart and talk it over.”

But it’s where we double-Xs go when we want to complain about the boss, the friend, the husband, to another sister.

We get the four-ounce nonfat, but then we sully it with the crumbled Oreo topping, employing fuzzy math that says calories don’t count as much when someone eats it with you.

And we skim the glop on the spoon over and over, lick it down to nothing and wave that spoon in the air to emphasize how stupid that boss’s decision really was.

“Frozen yogurt and manicures — that’s what girlfriends do,” said Renee Haskett, 21, of Gaithersburg.

“It’s definitely a girl thing,” said Danielle Moore, 18, an Agriculture Department intern from Silver Spring who met a girlfriend for an afternoon froyo the other day.

The friend, Philice Cowan, an 18-year-old Environmental Protection Agency intern, explained, “We talk about everything when we eat this.”

They had sprinkles and chocolate sauce and an explosion of flavors. This is what frozen yogurt 2.0 looks like.

Y’all remember the first frozen yogurt craze, right? At TCBY, which still has hundreds of stores across the country, the really exotic flavors were cookies and cream or raspberry, and we ate gallons of it for lunch while wearing banana clips in our teased hair and totally unironic leg warmers.

I was so sad when frozen yogurt fell out fashion. How would I decide on breakups or job offers or anything without froyo to help me through?

I found a document that showed the death and rebirth of froyo in America: “A Cross-Sectional Analysis of U.S. Yogurt Demand” by the Journal of Food Distribution Research. It showed a dramatic drop (22 million gallons!) in U.S. frozen yogurt consumption in 1997, the year I got married.

Those were dark years, when Ben & Jerry’s Chubby Hubby simply wasn’t enough to help a woman work through a crisis.

But then, in Southern California in 2006, I ventured into Pinkberry, which featured a gloriously perfect, tart frozen yogurt (a Philippe Starck aesthetic), and I knew immediately that a froyo resurrection was underway.

Since then, frozen yogurt revenue has grown 5.9 percent in the past five years. Frozen yogurt shops raked in $1.6 billion last year, according to an IBIS World research report.

And this iteration of froyo has a feature for the On-Demand generation: Many of the stores are self-serve. They offer no small cups, only huge tubs and flavors such as taro root, green tea, birthday cake, maple bacon doughnut (seriously) and dulce de leche. You pay by the ounce (or pound, in some cases).

The gender thing may be generational this time around, though.

I found this recent inquiry by a confused young man who sought help on Yelp:

“What is it with middle-aged white women and frozen yogurt?” asked Jeremy W.

“I’m a young, 21-year-old male dude. I hit up Penguin’s frozen yogurt a few times a week. . . . Now, just about every time I visit a frozen yogurt joint, there are middle-aged white women (note: they’re not overweight or anything either, most are in good shape for their age) also enjoying frozen yogurt. . . . What’s with this particular crowd’s constant affection for it?”

Ah, Jeremy. You weren’t around when we were at TCBY, deciding whether to dump your father over a cup of nonfat peach.

Perhaps you represent a new and improved version of manhood, able to appreciate the tangy pleasures of Red Mango or Mr. Yogato or the Yolly Molly Cafe. A reassuring thought at a time when phrases like “legitimate rape” are being tossed around. Frozen yogurt to the rescue once again!

Follow Petula Dvorak on Twitter: @petulad. For previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/dvorak.

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