There's no doubt about it; cultured dairy is the rising star of the industry. That's great news for the health conscious, and for those processors who are seizing the opportunity.

Just look at the quarterly figures from Information Resources Inc. In the food, drug, and mass merchandiser channels, yogurt and yogurt drinks have shown double-digit growth in each of the past three quarters. And that's on top of some pretty impressive growth in 2001.

Dollar sales went from $653 in the first quarter of 2002 to $726 million in the first three months of 2003.

A look at the top 10 brands from January is rather surprising however. The biggest brands showed little or no growth, while private label jumped 11.1% by dollars and 4.7% by units. There's obviously also some big growth going on in the second-tier companies including organic yogurt makers like Stonyfield Farms, Londonderry, N.H.

A comparison of 2002 sales with 2001 sales shows positive numbers in all of the cultured product sub-categories. Even old standards like dairy-based dips are up by 5% or more. This graphic is based on data from ACNielsen, and includes Wal-Mart sales numbers. It also shows just how much dairy market share the world's largest retailer has captured.

Finally, a look at the real sprinter in cultured dairy, refrigerated drinkable yogurt. Sales have grown 630% since 1999, and yogurt drinks now account for more than 15% of the yogurt sold in the United States.

Cultured dairy is gaining popularity, because it's healthful (arguably the most healthful of the dairy segments), because today's consumers have grown up with or grown accustomed to it, and because processors are doing amazing things to make it more desirable.