It's gone beyond Cold War.
Now it's a Frozen War - ice cream vs. frozen yogurt, and a new struggle for supremacy among the yogurt makers themselves.The escalation pits Elsie vs. I Can't Believe It's Yogurt vs. The Country's Best Yogurt (formerly This Can't Be Yogurt) vs. Flamingo Frozen Yogurt vs. D'Lish and scores of other manufacturers and distributors who want to take advantage of the nation's growing taste for a frozen dessert that looks and tastes like ice cream but isn't.
Although frozen yogurt has been around more than a decade, it wasn't until the dawn of the more health-conscious 1980s that it really began to catch on, with shopping centers and malls across the nation sprouting yogurt parlors.
It is still too young a product to be tracked by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, but a spokesman for the International Ice Cream Association figures frozen yogurt sales accounted for about 5 percent of the $9.3 billion Americans spent last year on frozen desserts.
Other estimates say consumers may already be spending $1 billion a year on frozen yogurt.
The growth of The Country's Best Yogurt (TCBY) says something about how consumers are satisfying their taste for sweets.
TCBY opened its first store in 1981 in Little Rock, Ark., and two more the following year. Then came the explosion.
Sometime in the next month or so, TCBY - now the nation's largest yogurt franchise operation - will open its 1,000th store in the United States after already expanding into Canada, Europe and Asia, according to Becky Kerr, investor relations manager.
For the 12 months that ended last Nov. 30, the company had sales of about $70 million, a 72 percent increase over the previous fiscal year, Ms. Kerr said.
Denise Sizemore, an area supervisor for TCBY, said Yogurt's appeal is simple: "It tastes like ice cream, but it's a lot better for you."
Ms. Sizemore said that the toughest obstacle to overcome is yogurt's image problem.
"When we opened the new store, we gave out 500 free samples," Ms. Sizemore said. "You have to get it in their mouths because when they first hear about it, they hate it."
Greg Quinn, who has two I Can't Believe It's Yogurt franchises and plans to open a third, agreed.
"It's a product category that was thought to be limited to women or the health-conscious in the past, but it's a lot broader category than that," said Quinn. "You can instantly convert them from ice cream to yogurt, but the problem is to get them in to try it. The image is that it's sour."
Quinn said he is optimistic that frozen yogurt is more than a fad because sales are growing despite the fact that a huge portion of the population - perhaps as much as 70 percent - has never tasted the product.
He said the appeal is in the fact that yogurt has half the calories and half the fat of a premium ice cream.
But is it just a fad - an Earth Shoe of desserts?
No, said Quinn: "I think this is a real threat to ice cream - something people can enjoy more than once or twice a week without feeling guilty."