Froyo Felony

Move over Pinkberry, there's a bigger thief in town!

Yogen Fruz, a do-it-yourself frozen yogurt bar, recently opened inside the new Le Mall Dbayeh, and they're charging an arm and a leg for their frosty treats. Upon entering, you are greeted by a friendly waiter, who ushers you over to the froyo machines, where you can choose amid a vast array of flavors. You proceed to the toppings bar, piling on fruits, nuts, granola, and other goodies, before you make it to the cashier. You're so mesmerized and distracted by the opportunity you had to participate in the making of your own bowl that you forgot to glance at the prices--oh, wait, they're not even posted! The cashier smiles at you, utters the words "Pay and Weigh," and places your bowl on a scale. Weight and price suddenly appear, and your heart sinks.

25,000LL ($17)?! You start fumbling in your purse, fishing for cash, as you stammer out, "How much is it by the kg?" Unabashedly, the waiter says 44,000LL ($30). You just paid $17 for a little more than half a kilo of frozen yogurt. That could have been two movie tickets to see "The Dark Knight Rises", eight falafel sandwiches at Arax, or a bottle of Johnnie Walker's Red Label. Hell, that'd have bought you two kilos of Bachir's Arabic ice cream, together with a dozen sugar cones! Worse yet, you know intuitively that frozen yogurt should be cheaper than real ice cream.

My gaze followed customer after customer as each doled out large sums of cash for froyo. Technically, each cardboard cup has some mass, but the balance is not tared to account for it, so you're also paying for paper. Joy. Imagine being a parent, your child tugging at your shirt, begging for froyo. You accede, figuring it's healthy and calcium-rich, and look on as your child dispenses a little bit of each flavor in the cup and then adds every topping, confection, and syrup in the book. The bowl looks like a monument by the time it reaches the cashier, and you stare wide-eyed as he plants it on the scale. You can't suddenly decide you don't want it, or that you'd rather not have it all, because you had a hand in your own downfall, and for that you must pay. I saw grief cross each parent's face last night as they forked over their money.

If memory serves me right, Pinkberry's most expensive, large 15-oz. cup, including as many toppings as your heart desires, is no more than 15,000LL ($10). And I recall customers' reactions when Pinkberry first debuted in Lebanon a year ago--they decried their scandalous rates. In no way am I condoning Pinkberry's prices, which are still exorbitant by froyo standards, but Yogen Fruz is a certified con artist. They are experts in theft, and they're out to swindle you.

Comments

  1. A very interesting observation Danielle.
    I see a universal and a local aspect of the phenomenon.
    All across the globe, novelty is a desired item by itself. Anything new, regardless of inherent value, causes a certain level of hype. The hype is magnified by the factor of 'coolness' that obtaining/consuming the novel product has.
    Frozen yogurt, being the novelty cold treat of the times, with all the 'coolness' attached to consuming it is overpriced everywhere (all the other alternatives you mentioned are old/uncool).
    Recently Yogurtland raised their prices a good tad in California, and reduced the fruit and 'good' toppings collection(I'm not having any frozen yogurt since, cheap me, lol).
    I believe a business is successful when it can retain the 'coolness' factor of its product/brand when the novelty becomes a thing of the past. Starbucks is an excellent example, and as you mentioned in your previous posts, they can still charge you an arm and a leg for the same muffin that they buy from the mom-and-pop bakery. I really respect them for that (nevermind that I personally don't like their products, especially the 'blended' coffees that separate right away, I feel cheated on for every dime I spend there, for the difference see Peet's coffee, do you have it in Lebanon?).
    Now the local aspect for the phenomenon is the distance the Lebanese are willing to go for the novel/cool products. Who in their right mind would price a Kg or frozen yogurt at $30??????. Yogurtland's price until they raised it was $0.3 per ounce, meaning one Kg set you back $11.29. Meaning that Pinkberry was comfortable pricing their Kg at 29.39, but were being generous with toppings, while Yogen Fruz took away even that and made it a round $30.0. Three times the price in California! Businesses wouldn't feel comfortable doing this, unless they knew that in Lebanon people are willing to pay THAT much for novelty/coolness. And I'm sure you can find examples in pretty much every arena, not just frozen yogurt.
    What I am burning to find out, is why, why it this the case with the Lebanese? and how can the economy take this? what makes life still affordable? any clue Beirutista?

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  2. Intriguing contribution, Tsolag. Lebanon is certainly a country of mysteries, but my theory is the following: any place that draws out a large crowd here--malls, shopping strips, the downtown souks, the latest bord de mer restaurant row--can get away with outrageous prices. That's because these locales are frequented by rich Arab tourists and rich Lebanese socialites. Not only are they used to paying a pretty penny, they demand it because they associate price with quality and importation from the Western world. Little do they know these things have lost the luster of novelty abroad and have become rather commonplace.
    I can give you a million examples, beginning with frozen yogurt: two decades ago, my parents used to take us to Golden Spoon froyo, and even then a small cup was around $1 or $1.50. Hot dogs, burgers, cupcakes, and sushi--all of which have become the rage in this part of the world and carry a hefty price tag--have been around for ages in the US and are so cliched, they're considered cheap.
    Now this news is a gold mine for any Lebanese entrepreneur: what's successful in the US but hasn't yet made it to Lebanese shores? Burritos, tacos, gyros perhaps, ice slushies...with the proper marketing and sales strategies, these could be instant hits and highly lucrative products.
    What makes life still affordable here? Well, for locals, there are still the traditional wood-fired ovens that churn out mana2ish, sbenegh, and all kinds of Lebanese pasties; there are still shawarma and falafel stands; there are still Arabic ice cream outlets like Sea Sweet and Bachir. Locals thrive on these, and because of the ubiquity of such outlets, competition is fierce, and prices are rock bottom low.

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    Replies
    1. I agree, Danielle. And may I add, the reverse is just as prevalent. The mana2ish, sbenekh, falafel, middle-eastern pasteries, hummus, shawerma, and the latest sar3a of "Greek Yogurt" which is nothing but good-old labneh are the "novelty"
      items in the US market which drives consumers crazy (proof being in the outrageous and improportionate prices; who, in Lebanon, would not laugh at a falafel sandwich costing the same as a shawerma).

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    2. Totally valid, Tsolag. But what if the reverse were to happen? Consider this: typical Lebanese fare that can be had at a steal throughout Lebanon suddenly becomes glamorized and sold at outrageously high prices IN LEBANON! Ever heard of Zaatar W Zeit? Get a load of their heinous delivery menu here: http://www.zaatarwzeit.net/#menu/
      And the latest excuse to bump up prices is this new "light" diet-friendly obsession that's taken the country by storm.

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  3. Good argument you're pulling here guys. I went today to check out what Le Mall is and I was disappointed because I set my hopes high. It is nicely structured and clear, not to mention the beautiful sunlight beaming from the glass roof, but it didnt feel any special.
    Ok Hisham, focus back. FROYO!
    Yes, the place is excellent at ripping you off with your complete will. I got there, took the HUGE and only size paper cup, filled it with a little bit of 3 different flavors and exactly 4 pieces of pineapple and a spoonful of strawberries. I paid 16500 L.L. and I was shocked but as you said, you can't just leave it there and say I don't want it.
    It was ok, not that good either. But what do I know, I just love the plain yogurt flavor with no added flavors, maybe just some fruit toppings. And Pinkberry has got that covered and in less than 10$ (a little bit less)
    I dont like how you would substitute real ice cream with bouza from Bashir. The last time I've had it, it was ice with additives (colors and flavors.) I have had a tradition of each time i'm passing by Jounieh, I have to get to Gelato Show and grab a 4-scoop cup of my favorite flavors in less than 5$

    Anyways, a slow clap to Yogen Fruz on how they have figured a way to take the most out of their costumers (who would very well consider their second visit like I would.) As long as people are willing to pay for those over-priced so-called-luxuries, companies would drool over the amount of cash flooding in and other companies would invent new ways to top their competitors.

    Damn, I feel so pessimistic and dramatic after this LOOONG comment. To bring out the light side of me, I LOVE UNICORNS! :)

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    Replies
    1. If you need a froyo fix at very affordable prices, try "From the Tree" in Beirut Souks. It's owned by Ant Ventures (same group of Casper & Gambini's). Prices start from as low as 3,000LL. Check out the place and menu here: http://beirutsouks.com.lb/fnb/tree
      Bon appetit!

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  4. Here is the shocker in numbers.
    To rent a space in a mall in Lebanon, costs around $3000 per square meter per year. A shop like the one you reviewed is approx 60sqm that's $15,000 per month in rent alone, $180,000 per year
    Malls are popping up at every corner. Businesses have to desperately compete at attracting the same umber of population (and reducing due to lack of tourism and Lebanese fleeing the misery), yet rent show noooooo sign of dropping.
    Curious of the prices of the machines, I asked around... Each costs not less than... Now hold your pants... Euros. 17,000 and can reach as high as Euros 25,000 for heavy duty nicely designed ones, and yes, in Lebanon, these machines are priced in euros because they come form Italy or Germany. It's the price of a 2 small cars damn it! I don't recall that place how many of those machines they had lined up.
    Add to that wages, overheads, decor, refrigerated transport, franchise and licensing fees and eventually some profit and there you go... You'd have to sell a kidney or a lung to afford an ice cream at a mall.
    Many old well established businesses are paying old (peanut) rent. My neighbor in the same building has a space FOUR times bigger than mine with 3 massive windows on the corner of a building pays $100 in rent every month. I pay $2000 per month for my tiny space. It is now due for renewal, landlord is asking for double from me (new rent law!!!) so I have to either close or accept! While my old rent neighbor is still paying $100 for his huge space!!!
    Lebanon imports 95% of its goods. Hardly producing anything! All is subjected to VAT %10 and import tax that can reach as high as %35 . I will not add the corruption factor that adds salt and pepper to the total bill. The country is getting crushed by this factor, businesses have to pay and eventually the consumer will fork out the bill. If the consumer doesn't, the business folds under bankruptcy and you see outlets that opened a year ago are disappearing.
    For businesses there is the Kafalat loans that you must have already heard of... Investigate a little and you will see the damage those easy loans are creating for young entrepreneurs of your generation who are hit by the reality of establishing a business and ending up with loosing more than what they betted for. I would love to see if anyone can get his hands on Kafalt internal statistics.
    In short, it would be fair to talk to the owner of an establishment to get a balanced opinion before bashing them in public from a one sided view. Maybe then you can write a more constructive opinion blog.
    Thank you.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks for your valuable input, Arab Bear. Truth be told, Yogen Fruz is no underdog. It is a worldwide chain with over 1300 locations in 35 countries. I think they’ve mastered the art of turning a profit, and a good one at that. Opening an outlet in Lebanon I would argue is more a reputational move than a financial one—they’re out to establish presence in the Middle East.

      What you’re saying—essentially that life is unfair in Lebanon thanks to a very austere inequality—is 100% true. However, I’d be willing to wager that every square meter inside Le Mall Dbayeh is priced more or less in the same range, but you don’t see Classic Burger Joint, Zaatar w Zeit or Burger King obliging their customers to absorb these high rents. They’ve retained their standard price structure across the board. That’s the cost of doing business. Desirable and highly-sought after locations inside malls are nabbed, even if their rents are high, because the supremely amplified exposure is almost sure to create customer traffic (case in point: Wrapsody was a dying café in a tiny corner location tucked behind USEK. Today, its Le Mall location is always bustling with diners). But that doesn’t mean a chain should or does charge more based on the location. It’s the overall profit that the company cares about, after all. And despite those grand capital costs you noted that go toward the equipment, one must realize that they are one-time. Every business expects a period of operating in the red before transitioning into the black: it’s class payback.

      In brief, I’m sure Yogen Fruz is doing very well for itself, worry not. My rants are on behalf of myself and young professionals my age whose salaries are as restrictive as they are, despite our credentials and degrees. With the standard of living as high as it is in Lebanon, I don’t understand how we’re supposed to save money, let alone get by. I’d say few could empathize with that injustice as well as you, seeing as you pay 80 times what your neighbor pays for living space in the same building.

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