In 2003, and in the first half of this year, the cultured dairy product category has continued to grow, thanks entirely to yogurt. But yogurt has grown at a slower pace in more recent months. And its companion products have dropped into the red.

Nationwide, total yogurt sales were up 2.7% by pint volume and 3.6% by unit for the 52 weeks leading up to March 31. These figures are from Information Resources Inc. and reflect supermarket, drug store and mass merchandiser sales, but do not include Wal-Mart.

In this vibrant, competitive arena, the top brands were all over the place, with some posting sizable gains, some holding steady, and others taking their lumps.

A look at quarterly sales of yogurt through September of 2003 shows that a period of extremely robust growth took place in the last two quarters of 2002 and in the beginning of 2003. Yogurt was still showing respectable growth in the second and third quarter of 2003.

Backing out to look at growth in all cultured subcategories since 1999, it's easy to see that all cultured products took a hit in 2003. Yogurt carries the category, but its sales growth dropped from near double digits to a mere 1.6% positive growth. Meanwhile, cottage cheese, sour cream, cream cheese, and dips were all down slightly in '03 after several years of steady to outstanding growth.

Drinkable yogurt continues to grow at a remarkable pace off of its small base.

Stepping back a bit farther to look at historical growth for the past two decades, it's easy to see why yogurt is such an exciting category, and far from mature. The fever bar will take a dip when 2003 is added. But, with yogurt's track record, and with lots of low-carb products in the pipeline, yogurt is not likely to drop too far into the red in the year ahead.