Did you know that the company behind the international trend of Greek yogurt is Fage, who started making the dairy delight back in 1926? Athens is a city replete with ancient history, and it is also the city where Fage set up its first business. But it was not the straightest path to success, as will be revealed in the following list of 10, along with a few other interesting fast Fage facts.
1. The originator’s name was definitely Greek and started small.
Athanassios Filippou and his family started the once ubiquitous mom and pop store, a dairy shop in the Athens neighborhood of Patisia. Their yogurt soon became popular among the local people, which was especially noted for its richness and creamy texture. Remember, we are talking 1926 standards of creaminess! But it took 28 years and Athanassios son Ioannis to help create the national company that would soon become known, first throughout Greece, then around the world.
2. The company name is not what it seems.
Business names get weird these days, but Fage actually has several unique features about it. First, it is actually an anagram in Greek for Filippou Brothers Dairy Company (Filippou Adelphoi Galaktokomikes Epicheiriseis). Second, the word fage is Greek for “eat.” Life can be simple sometimes.
3. Fage remains a family business after more than 90 years of operation.
We heard about Papa Filippou’s sons and their influence on the business. In 2006 his grandchildren joined the company and are learning to continue the family tradition and business of making the world’s best yogurt. The parent company of Fage, Fage International S.A., is completely family owned.
4. It was the leading brand before it became the leading brand.
Fage wasn’t the only yogurt maker in Greece, but it was the first to be branded. The Filippou brothers decided to open their first production plant back in 1964, but even after that it took another 11 years before marketing “Fage Total” yogurt as a brand. You have to wonder how these guys would have managed in today’s global market after taking so long to brand their product. Their first exported batch was to the U.K., and that took another 8 years.
5. Fage didn’t know about the adage, if you make a great product they will beat a path to your door.
Yet that’s exactly how the Fage brand got introduced to the United States market. Queens grocery store owner Costas Mastoras went to Greece to visit Fage to buy some cheese. He folded under the pressure to try some of Fage’s yogurt and had 120 containers flown back to Queens. Those containers were only 6 ounces each, so it wasn’t as if Mastoras was planning on cornering the Greek yogurt market. Marketing majors, take note.
6. Mastoras actually ended up cornering the Fage brand in the United States – at the beginning.
Fage and Mastoras agreed to terms to create Fage USA in 2000. This allowed Fage to have a wider U.S. distribution, despite the fact Americans would be paying a bit more for the yogurt. The Fage Total brand requires 4 pounds of milk for every pound of yogurt, one reason for its creamy texture. Another is it doesn’t contain whey, which results in a watery consistency.
7. Not all Fage products are available in the U.S.
Remember that Mastoras went over to Greece to buy cheese from Fage, not yogurt. Cheese and milk are two other products manufactured by Fage, but neither are available in the U.S. Fage expended its basic yogurt line to include cheese in 1991 and milk in 1993. If their milk is anything as creamy as their yogurt, Americans are definitely missing out on something.
8. Fage moved to open a production plant in the United States.
Only 8 years after entering the U.S. yogurt market, Fage built and opened a production plant in Johnstown, New York. That original facility was expanded only 6 years later to allow its current annual production of 160,000 tons of yogurt. That fills enough 6 ounce containers for every man, woman, and child in the U.S. to have 2 each – and a ton left over for thirds.
9. Fage moved its headquarters, but not to the United States.
The company still operates yogurt, cheeses, and milk production plants in Greece, but the ups and downs of the Greek economy had its executives looking for more stable business environments. They decided on Luxembourg in 2012 after Greek politicians could not stop the downturn of the economy and political instability.
10. Fage saw its decision to make Luxembourg its headquarters as a wise one.
The reason is more interesting than it appears to be on the surface. In the United States, a class action lawsuit was filed in 2014 because: a) it is alleged that Fage misled customers into thinking its yogurt has no sugar, and b) that by saying it was “Greek” yogurt customers believed it was made in Greece. Yes, it’s stupid, but this is America. Part of the lawsuit was dismissed, but the part about the no sugar issue grinds on. And people wonder why U.S. companies want to move overseas.