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Merrimack Valley

January 29, 2010

General Mills to discontinue producing Colombo Yogurt

Family started brand in Andover kitchen 80 years ago

ANDOVER — Goodbye, Colombo.

Born in Andover some 80 years ago, General Mills will stop production and distribution of Colombo Yogurt in the spring.

Colombo, which claims to be America's first yogurt brand, was started in 1929 by Robert Colombosian's Armenian immigrant

parents, Rose and Sarkis, in the family's home in Andover.

Robert Colombosian, 84, has been a part of the company, now in Methuen, since he was 12.

Yesterday, Colombosian said he was disappointed with the decision by General Mills.

"It is a big part of my life," he said. "It is all of it really."

"The worst thing (General Mills) can do is drop the brand," he said. "It is the oldest yogurt brand in the United States."

Heidi Geller, manager of corporate public relations at General Mills, said yesterday in a statement that the company decided to drop the Colombo brand to concentrate on the growth of Yoplait, also owned by the company.

"The Colombo brand has a rich, celebrated Northeastern heritage; however the yogurt category is being led by national brands like our popular Yoplait Yogurt brand," Geller said. "We are grateful for the partnership and friendship we've shared with the Colombosian family, and we thank them for their support throughout the years."

Colombosian yesterday showed off old packages of Colombo Yogurt from his Andover home and told the story of how it became a popular regional product.

Colombosian's mother would cook the yogurt using the family recipe, while he and his father and his brother John dealt with other aspects of production and distribution. The company later moved from the family home to a factory on Argilla Road in Andover, and Colombosian later took over as president of the company around 1966.

At first, the product would only be bought by certain ethnic groceries, but sales took off in the early 1950s when Reader's Digest popularized yogurt in a series of nutrition articles. Soon the Colombosians were supplying supermarket chains and dairy distributors across New England.

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