Taco Bell selected Three Happy Cows' vanilla bean yogurt for a breakfast test.

DALLAS — Three Happy Cows is a small Greek yogurt brand on the brink of big growth. The company recently was selected by Taco Bell as a supplier for a new breakfast item. The Power Greek Yogurt, which is currently being tested in the chain’s Omaha restaurants, features vanilla bean Greek yogurt topped with granola and has 17 grams of protein and 240 calories per serving.

“We could have easily (gone) with a mass national yogurt brand, but we wanted to be different,” a spokesperson for Taco Bell told Food Business News. “The hand-crafted quality Greek yogurt has no sour aftertaste and is self-described as ‘ridiculously delicious.’”

Beyond taste, Three Happy Cows said its yogurts offer better nutrition than other products on the market.

“Our yogurt has the best-in-class leanness ratio of Greek yogurt, which is the ratio of protein to sugar,” said Brian Twomey, marketing director at Three Happy Cows, in an interview with Food Business News. “Our taste is unique in that it’s a very mellow yogurt taste; it doesn’t have a lot of that tartness.”

The flavor comes from a set of cultures used in Three Happy Cows’ products. Currently available in five varieties, each cup contains 160 calories, 15 grams of protein and 12 grams of sugar. Many other flavored yogurts contain more sugar to mask Greek yogurt’s typical tanginess, Mr. Twomey noted.

“We get the comment so often, ‘I don’t like Greek yogurt, but I love yours,’ specifically because it does not have that tartness that I think turns a lot of people off,” he said “Because our culture set produces such a mellow yogurt base, we don’t have to add a lot of sugar and sweetness to overcome that tartness. Some of the other Greek yogurts on the market may have to struggle with that a bit.”

Drinkable yogurt is set to debut from the brand this fall.


On the verge of expansion

The company is testing new flavors and fat-free products with plans to expand this fall. The current lineup includes vanilla bean, caramel, strawberry, blueberry and honey, all made with 2% milk. Drinkable Greek yogurt products also are set to debut in five varieties, which include pina colada and mango. Future innovation focuses on stretching the boundaries of the Greek yogurt category.

“Overall, really where we’re taking the brand is going to be focusing our flavor development on taking the lead on chef-inspired, culinary-driven,” Mr. Twomey said. “We want to have unique and interesting flavors that are a little bit more elevated with combinations of things you would more likely see in a fine dining restaurant or a food magazine versus what you’d expect from a yogurt. We’ll continue to deliver on really luscious, decadent flavor profiles but also expand into savories and things that would stretch one’s perception of what a yogurt flavor would be.”


Growth of Greek on menus

Based on the dramatic rise of Greek yogurt in retail, the company expects more growth in restaurants, not only in place of traditional yogurt in parfait products, but also as an ingredient. Starbucks recently began testing Dannon Greek yogurt in fruit-based smoothies, but many savory applications also exist for plain Greek yogurt.

“One of the things we’re excited about  for restaurants, is that we hear a lot from people that they are looking for ingredient substitution options for things that could potentially be thought  of as less healthful — sour cream, mayonnaise, as a base for dressings, etc.,” Mr. Twomey said. “We think long term that’s going to continue to increase as restaurants and other food service outlets focus on what consumers are looking for. Overall, consumers are looking for better nutrition, real food, fewer ingredients, and I think Greek yogurt is going to be one of those things that fits all of bills and be a real utility player.”

Using nonfat plain Greek yogurt, Three Happy Cows has created recipes for such items as spinach artichoke dip and Alfredo sauce that may be used in food service outlets. As operators make the switch to Greek, they should communicate its benefits over traditional yogurt to justify a higher cost, Mr. Twomey said.

“There needs to be some education, I’m guessing, with food service outlets that Greek is more expensive, but the reality is, for a cup of regular yogurt it takes one cup of milk, and for a cup of Greek yogurt it takes four cups of  milk,” he said. “It is a more expensive product, but it does offer a lot more, too. As consumers demand and seek out a Greek yogurt solution in restaurants, the value equation needs to be effectively communicated.”

A chance to rebrand

Three Happy Cows began in 2010 with an origin in drinkable yogurt products, which it sold mostly to mom-and-pop stores and farmers markets. The brand soon expanded into Greek yogurt and in 2012 won an award from the American Cheese Society for best flavored yogurt. Last year, the company suffered a setback when a fire at its production plant ceased operation for six months.

“But it gave us time to rebrand and refocus on the overall strategy,” Mr. Twomey said. “It’s kind of been a blessing in disguise because it allowed us ample time to build the brand the way we wanted to. Ever since, it’s been onward and upward.”

The brand has national distribution in Sprouts and Fresh Market stores, as well as regional presence in Texas retailers, including Safeway. Three Happy Cows parfaits and cups also are offered in an Atlanta school district with more than 169,000 students.

As for the Taco Bell test, the chain said it will collect consumer feedback and evaluate different flavors and toppings in the future.

“We are thrilled at the opportunity, and we think it’s going to be a great thing for our brand and a great thing for Taco Bell,” Mr. Twomey said.