Can Greek yogurt be categorized as a dessert or a healthy snack? Is it a viable breakfast food, meat alternative and cooking substitute? The answer is ‘yes’ and ‘yes.’ Greek yogurt (yogurt strained to remove the whey) fits into almost every category seamlessly and consumers are devouring the not-so-new product by the spoonful.

While strained yogurt has been a staple in many countries besides Greece, the Western marketplace was only officially introduced to Greek yogurt in the past five years. Fage, Oikos and Chobani brands executed successful marketing strategies and blew open the Greek yogurt space.

According to Innova Market Insights, Greek and Greek-style products made up 29 percent of U.S. yogurt launches in 2012. The undeniable growth in the space has been heavily attributed to Greek yogurt’s health qualities. It is lower in sugar, fat and carbs than unstrained yogurts. The thick and creamy product has also been marketed as an alternative to sour cream and mayo. Some even swear that adding a scoop of Greek yogurt will make baked goods more savory and moist.

Greek yogurt is also high in protein which is a key differentiator among today’s health-conscious consumer. Many American households have embraced natural and organic retailers and are choosing vegetarian and organic foods over processed Consumer Packaged Goods.  As consumer consumption and curiosity for Greek yogurt grew, the competition increased. Traditional yogurt brands Yoplait and Dannon pushed Greek options to the shelf to capitalize on the hot trend and remain competitive.

An article in USA Today recently reported the USDA is working on a pilot program which would serve Greek yogurt in New York schools as an alternative to meat. The objective is to boost nutritional options for student lunches as well as support business for dairy farmers and Greek yogurt manufacturers. Interestingly, New York is home to processing facilities operated by Chobani, Fage and Alpina.

Retailers are also cashing in on the 4.1 billion dollar yogurt industry. Pinkberry, known for its frozen yogurt, added Greek yogurt snacks topped with veggies to its menu. Even Ben & Jerry’s, the ice cream specialist, is hitching its wagon to the trend by offering Greek frozen yogurt by the pint.

Despite rapid growth and increasing maturity, Innova Market Insights believes there is still further capacity for development in Greek yogurt internationally. It will be interesting to watch if the trend burns out or if Greek yogurt will become a staple item in refrigerators across North America.