Saturday, January 31, 2015

How To Beat the FroYo Bar

Apparently I haven't had enough to do this week ---or, more likely, I am just choosing to ignore the chaos going on around me.  (I really don't feel like dealing with the kids on roller blades and longboards who keep zipping through the kitchen.)

So, I decided to finally answer a nagging question I've had for some time now:
 "Which toppings are the best deal at the Frozen Yogurt places?"

When I find myself in front of the lovely line-up at Sweet Frog or TCBY, I am overjoyed by the possibilities, but, because my tendency is to interject at least a small amount of angst into every possible situation, I also end up being slightly concerned by the fact that I don't know how best to stretch my money!  Since it's a fixed price per ounce, should I load up on yogurt and get fewer toppings, or is it the other way around?  And among the toppings which ones are the best deal?  Obviously I should get coconut flakes because they're nice and light.... right??

A few years ago my friend Trey* wrote about "Salad Bar Arbitrage" showing how certain grocery store salad bar offerings were more of a better deal than others, when you consider that you could walk over to the produce aisle and purchase them individually.  THIS is the kind of information I find to be very helpful and soothing to know when I am at Harris Teeter's salad bar.

I had hoped Trey had parlayed this concept into the realm of FroYo, but as he has a real job that actually keeps him occupied, he has not.  So it was up to me.

I announced this project to the kids yesterday, and since it had the words "frozen yogurt" and "toppings" in it, they were all on-board.  Off we went to the grocery store to price the various toppings.  My thinking in this is:   If I wanted to make my own frozen yogurt sundae and went to the local grocery store to get the ingredients, how would the costs break down?**

After a quick lesson, which none of the kids listened to, about how we would find all of the prices per pound and then divide by 16 to get ounces, we went through the aisles with our trusty notepad and wrote everything down.

Now for the resulting spreadsheet... drum roll.....

Sorted by cost, from high to low, here are cost breakdowns, at the grocery store, for the various toppings we could find***:

After all the spreadsheet fun, I began to realize that this information really ranged from the slightly useless to the largely useless.

Here is why it's slightly useless:

1.)  We all could have probably figured out that berries and nuts would be the most expensive.

2. )This does not account for volume.  For example, whipped cream looks like it's not all that cheap, and it's not per ounce, but when you think about how much whipped cream makes up a whole ounce (12 tablespoons), you start to realize it is a good deal by volume.

Here is why it's largely useless:

1.  I am going to continue to get the toppings I like, regardless of cost.  Even though almonds are a great deal from the consumer's standpoint, I'm still going to choose Reese's peanut butter cups instead.

BUT STILL, here are my takeaways from all of this useless activity:

1.) Now I know.

2.) If I want some berries or nuts, regardless or whether or not I want some frozen yogurt, they are cheaper per ounce at Sweet Frog than they are at Food Lion.****  So I could go load up a big dish of them and bring them home.....  No, not really.  I can still hear my dad's voice in my head saying, "Now, Amy, don't take advantage of the system!"

3.) If they are smart, and I found evidence that they are, the FroYo shops are well aware of how the costs break down.  They know that the actual yogurt is much cheaper than the toppings, so they want consumers to load up on that first.  Then, they may be strategically placing the more expensive toppings at the end of the line or in the harder-to-reach back row, so you will have already filled your cup with the cheaper ones.  They may also be putting smaller spoons in the more expensive toppings....

4.) Yes, the lighter toppings are still a good way to go!

5.)  Anyone who puts bananas on their yogurt is crazy.

And with that I have now alleviated, or perhaps added to, my angst at the FroYo bar.  I will now return my attention to the young hooligans in my home.

Asterisk notes:

* In college Trey and I wrote a paper on Frank Gilbreth, of "Cheaper By the Dozen" fame, because we loved his ability to maximize efficiency. I think Frank would approve of our desires to maximize the value of our dollar in salad/yogurt bar settings.

** I realize there are other, cheaper sources for these toppings, and surely the FroYo franchises are sourcing them much less expensively.  But, if I as a consumer wanted to replicate a similar sundae at home, I would likely just go to the local store (as opposed to going to Costco to buy 12 lbs of blackberries, etc).

*** Not included on this list are those goofy little popper ball things.  We could not find them at the grocery store, but even if we had procured a cost for them, I am pretty sure no one would care.  They seem to be a pretty polarizing item on the FroYo bar:  you either love them or hate them.  No cost analysis will get the haters to include them or the lovers to abandon them.

**** Our local Sweet Frog store charges $.45 per ounce.  So, by my analysis, consumers are actually getting cheaper pecans, blackberries, raspberries, walnuts and almonds there than they could at the grocery store!

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