Sweet Island Yogurt follows Southeast Michigan Froyo trend

By Brian Figurski

In a nation growing more health-conscious by the day, frozen yogurt is sprouting up all over Southeast Michigan. National chains like Menchie’s have opened stores in Shelby Township and Canton in the past year, along with the Sept. 1 opening of Sweet Island Yogurt in downtown Rochester.

Larry Winkelmann, owner of Sweet Island Yogurt, said the idea of bringing frozen yogurt to Oakland County came while dropping his daughter off at college in South Carolina, where frozen treats are a hot commodity in the warmer regions of the U.S.

An article published by U.S. News reports a 31 percent jump in retail frozen yogurt shops between the fall of 2010 and 2011 nationwide, all this before shops started opening their doors in the Metro Detroit area.


Serve yourself

Winkelmann was truly enticed by the self-serve froyo shops because of their health benefits over traditional ice cream.

“Even through the freezing process, you still get the probiotics (live microorganisms believed to provide benefits to the digestive system), and you also get the health benefits in that it’s non-fat,” Winkelmann said.

While there’s no denying there are benefits to eating yogurt, Julie Proctor, health and wellness coordinator at the Graham Health Center, said retail stores aren’t as healthy as they make out.

“The first five ingredients were sugars, so that’s all going to equate to calories,” Proctor said. “It really doesn’t matter if the calories are from dairy or if they’re from yogurt.”

While Sweet Island Yogurt displays their nutritional information on the wall, Proctor advised consumers to always read the nutritional facts. While the non-fat option may look good to weight watchers, frozen yogurt can hold similar negative effects to ice cream.

“There’s been a big push about yogurt being very healthy, which to a certain extent it is,” she said. “But when you add all the sugars in, it becomes unhealthy, so because it says ‘yogurt,’ we assume that it must be a healthy food.”

Winkelmann said the appeal of self-serve shops like his is that it allows the customer to choose to pile on the calories or keep them off, ranging from crushed cereal, fruits, nuts and fudge toppings.

“We tell (customers) you can make it as much as you want, you can make it as healthy as you want and as unhealthy as you want. You have all the choices there,” he said.

Even with all the power being in the customer’s hand, Proctor said yogurt is not an alternative to a healthy meal.

“When we pile on coconut and chocolate, all of that stuff adds calories,” she said. “It’s not the yogurt we buy in the dairy aisle.”


Surviving the bitter chill

While health benefits may be a concern for some customers, many people just have a sweet tooth to satisfy time and again. But how will serving ice cold treats stack up in a state known for its dramatic winters?

“I think (frozen yogurt has) been a bit slower to come here because of the cold weather, but I think you’re starting to see them because they still are going to work,” Winkelmann said.

Winkelmann said he thinks frozen yogurt shops in Michigan will survive through the colder months, with the spring thaw getting more customers to come out and indulge. In the meantime, the island theme is designed to feel like a vacation.

“Being in a colder state, having the island theme is fun and warmer,” he said. “People still like sweet stuff year-round, so we figured if they had an island spot to go to, then maybe it will help keep the draw during the winter.”

Sweet Island Yogurt’s sales can attest to that, with Winkelmann and business partner Bill Brandreth proud of the amount of customers coming in so far.

“Sales have been steady, but not too crazy or over-the-top, and without doing any advertising yet,” Winkelmann said.

While there is certainly a slow season with snow on the ground, the summer surge will make up the difference.

Frozen yogurt stores in warmer climates “can go year-round without a dropoff, but they don’t get that big insurgence in the summer like we do.”

For more information about Sweet Island Yogurt, visit www.sweetislandyogurt.com

Contact Copy Editor Brian Figurski via email at [email protected]