Photo courtesy of Dannon
The Bronx is home to your favorite European-sounding ice cream brand–and it’s also the place where a European yogurt was outfitted for American tastes. Back in 1919, in Barcelona, Spain, Isaac Carasso started making yogurt after learning about scientific advances fermenting milk at the Pasteur Institute in Paris. He founded the “Danone” yogurt company–named after his young son Daniel–and invented yogurt’s first industrial manufacturing process. Isaac’s son, Daniel, eventually brought the business to France, but then moved to New York in the midst of World War Two.
In 1942, Daniel Carasso changed the name Danone to Dannon to make the brand sound more American. It was the first American yogurt company located in the Bronx at a time when few Americans knew what yogurt was. The rest, as they say, is history, with hand-delivered yogurt making its way around the city, and the American taste preferences leading the company to invent fruit-based flavors you still see today.
When it opened its doors in the Bronx, Dannon intended only to sell plain, unsweetened yogurt, according to Food and Wine. Few Americans had ever tried yogurt–even though it was a dietary staple in Europe–so at first distribution remained limited and confined to the local New York area. In its first five years, Dannon remained a hand-produced business, with artisans supplying a few hundred cups a day out of a tiny one-room shop. Those cups were then delivered out to local cafeterias and pharmacies in the Bronx, Brooklyn and Manhattan.
While the product was enjoyed by the city’s Eastern and Western European immigrants, the majority of New Yorkers, and the rest of the country, proved to be a harder sell. American tastebuds at the time preferred sweeter food, so getting new customers to purchase the yogurt was difficult.
In 1947, Carasso changed the business plan to adhere to the sweet taste preferences. Inspired by something already around in Europe, fruit compote, he decided to place sweet fruit at the bottom of his yogurt. Its placement at the bottom, rather than the top, was to satisfy health regulations. At the time, safety standards for dairy production required that dairy products not be mixed with other things in it. Putting fruit on the top would have broken this requirement, but by placing the fruit on the bottom and the cultured milk on top, Carasso convinced health authorities that it would be safe to package and eat.
Flavors, from Dutch apple to apricot, proved to be a smart addition to the yogurt. By the 1950s, the company was growing rapidly. They moved out of the Bronx, to a larger facility in Long Island City, while also expanding the customer base to Philadelphia and Boston. Dannon added a low-fat yogurt–complete with cringe-worthy 1950s advertisements–to appeal to health enthusiasts and dieters.
Over the years Dannon grew in both America and Europe (where it is still known as Danone) and a merger in the 1970s created BSN Gervais-Danone, one of the world’s largest food manufacturers. But in 1986, Dannon said goodbye to its New York home in Long Island City. The company moved the factory to White Plains, where it remains today.
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Photos courtesy of Dannon
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