Modern culture: Yogurt's unstoppable rise

July 17, 2012: 5:00 AM ET

It's the fastest-growing food segment in the nation with many more spoons to fill.

By Beth Kowitt, writer

FORTUNE -- Any way you want it, that's the way they make it: Swiss, Greek, drinkable, probiotic, nonfat, cream top, crumble top. At McDonald's (MCD) it's served as a parfait, at the farmers' market it's made out of goat milk (from local goats, natch). Yogurt's growth has outpaced the rest of the U.S. food industry, and U.S. sales are up 15% from 2010, according to Nielsen.

Have we finally hit our limit? We're likely not even close. A Barclays analyst report notes that of the current largest production capacity projects in the U.S. food industry, at least seven are in the yogurt sector. Dannon is increasing the capacity of its Minster, Ohio, plant, while PepsiCo (PEP) has a $206 million joint venture underway with Germany's Theo Muller in Batavia, N.Y.

Two of the projects come from Greek yogurt maker Chobani, whose founder and CEO Hamdi Ulukaya says he thinks that the U.S. market could double in size over the next few years. "America is considered to be an underdeveloped market when it comes to yogurt," he explains.

He may be right: According to Euromonitor International, Western Europeans eat more than twice as much yogurt as U.S. consumers.

A shorter version of this article appeared in the July 23, 2012 issue of Fortune.

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