It is no secret that the economic problems enveloping many of the world's developed markets is having a serious impact on the food industry, long held up as that most recession resilient of sectors. 

Fears over unemployment and falling consumer spending now mean even food sales are under pressure, with volumes in markets like the UK heading south.

There are, however, categories that remain in growth and even sectors that are booming - and the fledgling market for yoghurt in the US is one. According to data from Euromonitor, US yoghurt sales are estimated to have increased by 7-9% in 2010 to around US$6.57bn. Per capita consumption, meanwhile, remains low compared to markets in Europe. When measured at fixed exchange rates, US per capita consumption of yoghurt was worth GBP13.90 in 2010. In the UK, consumers ate GBP26.80 on average. In Germany, the figure stood at GBP27.70 and in France it was GBP35.30.

A number of factors are driving yoghurt in the US. Consumer demand for healthier products and companies' success in pushing the healthy attributes of their yoghurt is seen as a key factor for the growth in sales. Convenience is seen as another key underlying trend driving the category, with consumers taking to the ease of eating yoghurt. And General Mills, which owns the Yoplait brand, says US consumers are looking to the yoghurt sector for "permissible indulgence".

Some of the food sector's heavyweights - Kraft Foods, General Mills and Danone - are investing more in the sector, while smaller, independent companies like US yoghurt maker Chobani has stolen a march on its larger rivals in sub-categories like Greek yoghurt. The growth in the overall US yoghurt sector and its potential - Danone chairman and CEO Franck Riboud labels the US an "emerging market" for yoghurt - is reportedly attracting others, some renowned for yoghurt in Europe and others more experienced in selling chips and cola. 

PepsiCo and German dairy processor Müller are rumoured to be set to launch a move into the US yoghurt sector. Not entirely unexpectedly, PepsiCo and Müller have refused to be drawn on the reports, although the US company did say it remained committed to building its "nutrition" business.

Last year, PepsiCo set up what it called a "global nutrition unit" in a bid to triple sales of healthier products to US$30bn by 2020. Since then, the company has made a number of moves, notably the acquisition of Russia's largest dairy company Wimm-Bill-Dann earlier this year.

In December, when PepsiCo announced its initial agreement to buy Wimm-Bill-Dann, it said it would look at organic growth, ventures and more acquisitions to hit that $30bn target. Given the growth in demand for yoghurt in the US and the potential that those in the sector believe the product has in the market, PepsiCo would have been short-sighted to say the least not to be looking at ways to enter the category.

The pace at which the US yoghurt market is growing means it can absorb new entrants. A deal with an industry player like Müller should give PepsiCo the expertise to gain a foothold in the category. However,  The likes of Danone and General Mills - which earlier this year acquired a 50% stake in Yoplait - are investing heavily in the market and building brand awareness. PepsiCo will need to act quickly.