The launch of The Country’s Best Yogurt (TCBY) in 1981 was met by a very receptive public. The idea that yogurt could be as delicious as ice cream—yet healthier—was the panacea that America craved in the 1980s and early 1990s. TCBY grew via franchising to 1,000-plus stores, expanding the frozen-yogurt phenomenon with every new market opened.
Then, a few years before the turn of the century, cravings changed. Healthy eating segued into indulgent consumption—and TCBY suffered for it.
Franchisees faltered. Stores closed. To try and stop the losses, Salt Lake City-based TCBY altered its focus, allowing ice-cream treats to supplant the yogurt products that had been the hallmark of the concept’s earlier successes.
Three years ago, TCBY’s owner—Mrs. Fields Famous Brands, which also owns Mrs. Fields and Great American Cookies—hired David Hall to lead a turnaround of the yogurt chain. As VP of marketing, Hall was charged with identifying the problems within the brand—and fixing them. Under Hall’s leadership, TCBY has returned to its yogurt roots by revamping the menu, refining the messaging and redesigning the stores. Chain Store Age senior editor Katherine Field talked with Hall from his office in Salt Lake City about the changes that have been made and the ones still to come.
Chain Store Age: What are some of the changes that TCBY has gone through since it was founded in 1981?
David Hall: We’ve gone through cycles in our business, like many companies do. We opened and expanded rapidly as we created and leveraged this whole frozen-yogurt opportunity. And we did well as The Country’s Best Yogurt. But the frozen-yogurt category peaked around the mid-to-late 1990s, and was followed by a trend toward indulgence. Indulgence meant forgetting about healthy nutrition and heading for the most-decadent, highest-calorie, highest-fat treat available. As that wave hit, it impacted our business.
CSA: What happened then?
Hall: We started closing stores. We were in decline. To combat the downward trend, TCBY brought ice cream into the stores, and began promoting that as well as frozen yogurt. But the end result was that we lost our point of difference and our key focus as a company. TCBY was founded on frozen yogurt being the healthiest and smartest treat. It wasn’t supp