By Cindy Atoji Keene
Can Greek yogurt be frozen on a stick and turned into a dessert? When Amanda Klane first started exploring this idea, food scientists told her the concept wasn’t feasible – the thickness of the yogurt with its higher protein content would be a processing issue for the equipment. But Klane wasn’t deterred, and worked with the plants to develop formulas that worked. That’s when Yasso frozen Greek yogurt bars were born, which debuted in supermarket freezers three years ago. “We reinvented the yogurt category, creating the the first-ever line of frozen Greek yogurt bars,” said Klane, who co-founded the purveyor, Apollo Food Group, along with longtime friend Drew Harrington.
Q: You and Drew are young entrepreneurs – you’re both 25 now and founded Apollo Foods when you were just 23. How is your youth an advantage and a disadvantage?
A: Being young sort of worked against us initially because we had no track record. But there were a few people willing to give us a shot. They played a vital role in getting us to where we are now and continuing to help us grow. There will always be road blocks but when you figure out how to get around them, that’s how you succeed, no matter what your age.
Q: While researching and developing Yasso, one of your first steps was attending an ice cream camp. What did you learn there? A: I knew we wanted to do some sort of frozen novelty because I’m a huge ice cream lover and my grandmother owned an ice cream shop. But I also didn’t want a highly indulgent treat. We attended a dairy program at Penn State that takes you from ‘cow to cone’ as they say, including flavoring, refrigeration, and freezing and hardening techniques. Then we spent 18 months on research and development, trying to perfecting our recipe.
Q: How did you decide on a flavor profile for Yasso?
A: Originally we only had three flavors, blueberry, strawberry and raspberry. These are the best selling flavors in the yogurt category and the ones we wanted to translate to frozen. We went through 20 flavors of strawberry before we got to the one where we landed. For strawberry, like most fruity flavors, there is a spectrum of combinations, from earthy and fruity to fresh. We worked with flavor and fruit suppliers to target the flavor we wanted, which was a very fresh strawberry taste, since it’s an all natural product.
Q: Your family owns and operates SM Klane, a food distributor and you were previously a food broker. How did this experience help you in your new endeavor?
A: I grew up walking the grocery store with my dad, looking at the different lines he represented and hearing how to get they get into the retail store; how promotions work; and more. It was a huge help having that knowledge behind me. My father still gives us feedback every day. One of his biggest pieces of advice is make sure you don’t over-promise then under-deliver.
Q: Any idea why New York is the Silicon Valley of yogurt?
A: There are a lot of dairy farms in upstate New York; that’s we source our yogurt from as well. Greek yogurt leader Chobani started the boom and the rest of the industry followed.
Q: You’re a former Division 1 athlete – you played soccer at Providence College and were on a semi-pro team in Australia. Do you still play?
A: I am not as in good shape as I used to be, but we have a team here at the company, so I still play once or twice a week.