Yogurt is a food celebrity. Not only has the cultured dairy delicacy conquered increasing real estate at retail, in refrigerators and lunch bags, it’s now a double-digit growth category for many food service operations, according to The NPD Group, Port Washington, N.Y.

Per capita consumption has more than doubled this past decade, and now nearly one in three individuals eats yogurt, according to NPD’s ongoing consumer market research. The primary driver of the growth is Greek yogurt, the protein star of the category, followed by yogurts designed for children.

Retail sales of yogurt in the United States will approach $9.3 billion by 2017, up from $7.3 billion in 2012, according to the report “The yogurt market and yogurt innovation: Greek yogurt and beyond” from Packaged Facts, Rockville, Md. Even with its recent market growth, yogurt continues to be consumed at a much lower per capita rate in the United States than in other countries where it is a staple, which presents a great deal of opportunity to innovate to increase consumption.

Further, innovative marketers are driving Greek yogurt into other food categories. Yogurt’s popularity and health halo have propelled a spill-over into product categories such as smoothies, frozen yogurt and novelties, cream cheese and butter, salad dressings, dips and spreads, and granola bars, among others, said David Sprinkle, publisher of the Packaged Facts report.

Made in the U.S.A.

What exactly is Greek yogurt? According to British authorities, it’s not yogurt made in the United States, regardless if the term Greek refers to a style of product. On Jan. 28 of this year, a British court upheld a March 2013 judgment that Chobani, New Berlin, N.Y., cannot label its products “Greek yogurt” in the U.K. because the yogurt is made in the United States.

While french fries, Italian dressing, Polish sausage and Swedish meatballs long have been accepted as everyday foods around the world despite their geographical reference, Greek yogurt is not being given the same liberties, at least in the U.K. The original lawsuit against Chobani came from Fage, a Greek company and one of Chobani’s competitors.

Fage makes its Greek yogurt in Greece and imports it into the U.K., where it reigns as the leading Greek yogurt brand. Fage argued in the case against Chobani that the Greek yogurt label misled customers to believe the product had been made in Greece. Interestingly, in the United States, front labels of Fage yogurt describe the product as “Greek strained yogurt,” yet it is produced in Johnstown, N.Y.

While Chobani is a major contributor to Greek yogurt’s rise in the United States, recent months have been challenging for the brand. In December 2013, Whole Foods Market, Austin, Texas, announced it is phasing Chobani out of its stores because of concern over bioengineered ingredients as well as to make room for more exclusive, artisan and organic products.

Most recently, Russian authorities refused Chobani’s request to deliver 5,000 single-serve cups of blueberry, strawberry and peach Chobani, and multi-serve containers of plain Chobani yogurt for smoothies, to Team USA athletes in Sochi for the Winter Olympics.

Russia’s refusal of the shipment was not personal. Rather, it was because the Russian government requires a veterinary certificate used for the importation of all dairy products from cattle, and one was not filed.

Innovations continue

None of the setbacks are slowing innovations in the Greek yogurt category … even from Chobani. In early December, the company introduced Simply 100 Greek Yogurt, a 100-calorie authentic-strained Greek yogurt. To keep calories at 100, the yogurt is sweetened with a blend of three natural sweeteners: monk fruit, stevia leaf extract and evaporated cane juice. Each 5.3-oz cup is an excellent source of protein (12 grams) and fiber (5 grams), with the latter achieved through the addition of chicory root fiber.

Tillamook County Creamery Association, Tillamook, Ore., is giving Greek yogurt a new spin with authentically strained Farmstyle Greek Yogurt, a thick, creamy and less tart yogurt made with buttermilk cultures. To make the Greek yogurt distinctively “Farmstyle,” Tillamook slow churns milk with seven active yogurt and buttermilk cultures. Most ingredients for the new line are sourced from the Pacific Northwest. Each 5.3-oz cup provides 14 grams of protein.

Just in time for Valentine’s Day, Ehrmann USA, Irvine, Calif., the American subsidiary of the like-named German dairy manufacturer, introduced Americans to its popular European trio-compartment heart-shaped container. New Ehrmann Mixim Fat Free Greek Yogurt gives consumers permission to play with their food.

“Mixim is a fresh and exciting way of enjoying Greek yogurt ... your way,” said Chris Solly, chief executive officer of Ehrmann USA. “Our heart-shaped container, with its three separate chambers, is the first difference you’ll notice. Then you peel back the lid and see that our creamy Greek fat-free yogurt comes with two perfectly paired toppings that can be added a little at a time or all at once.”

Each 5.3-oz container is approximately 150 calories and delivers at least 10 grams of protein.

Wallaby Yogurt Co., Napa Valley, Calif., gives consumers permission to indulge with the addition of a whole milk variation to its Greek yogurt lineup. After enjoying success with the introduction of low-fat and nonfat Greek yogurt lines in 2012 and 2013, respectively, the company now offers the whole milk variety in five blended flavors — blueberry, cherry, raspberry, strawberry and vanilla bean — in 5.3-oz cups. Plain and vanilla bean also come in 32-oz multi-serve containers.

The Brown Cow brand takes whole milk Greek yogurt to a new height by keeping the cream on top. Making yogurt with non-homogenized milk has been the signature trait of this brand of Stonyfield, Londonderry, N.H. Now the tradition continues with its whole milk Greek yogurt. The brand also is rolling out a non-G.M.O. non-fat Greek yogurt, the first in the U.S. market. It’s thick, creamy and authentically strained and is only sold through Whole Foods Market.

The Stonyfield brand continues to grow its Greek line. The company recently announced it has reformulated its nonfat Greek yogurt to be creamier, as well as added two new flavors: black cherry and cafe latte.

Alpina Foods, Batavia, N.Y., expands its Alpina Greek with Artisan Granola line with Pineapple with tropical chia granola, raspberry with granola, and black cherry with granola. Made with authentically strained Greek nonfat yogurt, the certified gluten-free granola mix-ins are a proprietary blend of nuts, grains and seeds created by a health and wellness chef and prepared by Udi’s Healthy Foods L.L.C., Denver.

Greek yogurt has been frozen by most major national and regional brands. The next generation of products is getting more sophisticated through the addition of flavorful ingredients. For example, Turkey Hill, Conestoga, Pa., is introducing a limited-edition dessert-flavored line up. During January through March the company is offering Baklava, which is vanilla Greek frozen yogurt with baklava pieces and a honey cinnamon swirl. Lemoni Biskoti will be available April through June. It is lemon cream Greek frozen yogurt with a lemon shortbread swirl. From July to September, consumers may purchase Raspberry Chokolata, which is raspberry Greek frozen yogurt with chocolaty slivers. Sea Salt Caramel Truffle will be offered October through December. As the name suggests, it contains caramel Greek frozen yogurt with sea salted caramel truffles.

Ingredient innovations

In an effort to assist formulators with their new creations, suppliers are offering ingredients designed specifically for Greek yogurt, both strained and protein-enhanced, as well as refrigerated and frozen.

For example, in response to growing consumer interest in authenticity, Chr. Hansen Inc., Milwaukee, has introduced an authentic Greek yogurt culture series sourced from a strain collection at the Agricultural University of Athens. The university visited small producers and families around the Aegean Sea to sample homemade recipes. The culture was isolated from an artisanal Greek yogurt from Crete some 20 years ago.

“The new cultures make it easy for Greek yogurt producers to obtain optimal taste and texture. They also perform extraordinarily well in low-fat milk,” said Mirjana Curic-Bawden, senior scientist-application manager, fermented milk and probiotics cultures and enzymes.

The new cultures are available with or without the company’s well-documented probiotic Bifidobacterium animalis ssp. Lactis known as BB-12.

“The cultures are designed to help solve a number of issues for producers,” Ms. Curic-Bawden said. “They deliver a smooth texture and fresh and balanced flavor in fortified yogurt and allow strained yogurt to maintain a low post acidification in the production process, ensuring a tasty mild flavor.”

Joe O’Neill, president and general manager, Beneo Inc., Morris Plains, N.J., said, “We offer rice starch, which can support Greek yogurt manufacturers in the production of fat-reduced alternatives with the same creaminess as its full-fat equivalent. Rice starch is characterized by its neutral taste and small starch granules, which mimic the feeling of fat globules in the mouth without altering the original taste of the product. It also gives the product a glossy appearance while reducing fat content.

“The chicory root-derived prebiotic fiber inulin acts as a fat replacer in low-fat dairy products such as Greek yogurt, providing creamy mouthfeel and body. The white, odorless, soluble powder has no off-taste and can stabilize water into a creamy structure. It has a similar mouthfeel to fat and it helps to reduce the calorie content of food products.”

For fruit-flavored versions of Greek-style yoghurt, chicory root fiber may be added to the fruit preparation to allow for “no added sugar” or “light” formulations.

Glanbia Nutritionals, Fitchburg, Wis., offers functional dairy-derived protein formulated to enhance the nutritional profile of low-fat Greek-style yogurt applications.

Yogurt in food service

All types of refrigerated yogurt are experiencing double-digit growth though the food service channel, according to The NPD Group, Port Washington, N.Y. Total dollar volume of all yogurt shipped through broadline food service distributors to food service outlets grew 10% and units shipped by 7% in the year ended Sept. 30, 2013, compared to a year ago, according to NPD’s SupplyTrack, which is a monthly tracking service that codes, aggregates and tracks every product shipped from a group of broadline distributors to each of their food service operators.

Dollar sales of cup yogurt shipped to colleges and universities increased more than 11%. In addition to its growth at schools, total dollars of yogurt shipped to hospitals/health care, eating and drinking establishments, government, recreation and retail food service also increased by double-digits in the year ended Sept. 30 compared to a year ago, according to SupplyTrack.

“Yogurt is a good example of how combining the knowledge of a category’s market dynamics and performance metrics with consumer consumption behavior can be the edge food service distributors, manufacturers and operators need to gain share,” said Annie Roberts, vice-president of SupplyTrack.

The food service category also is using more yogurt, usually Greek yogurt, in recipe development. And big-brand yogurt marketers are opening up their own cafes. For example, at Chobani SoHo in New York City, guests experience a variety of unexpected flavors and textures. The menu takes visitors beyond the yogurt cup and on a journey through sweet and savory creations made with Chobani Greek yogurt. New to the menu are simits, a traditional Turkish street bread with seasonal ingredients and yogurt spreads, artisan soups infused with Chobani Greek yogurt for texture and flavor, as well as new sweet and savory yogurt creations handcrafted and made-to-order by in-house yogurt masters.