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Lifeway Foods CEO Preps for the Post-Greek Yogurt Boom

For those of us who might be behind the curve, where is the market opportunity for kefir and probiotics?

Smolyansky: Lifeway controls 97% of the Kefir market between a few of our brands, Lifeway Helios and Fresh Made, along with private labels that we do. The market has been growing consistently.

The market is tremendous and our job is to continue to talk about how probiotics can help. The U.S., compared to the global market, is tremendous, but we haven't even scratched the surface in terms of consumption rates. In Europe, for example, the consumption of cultured dairy is 28 cups per person per month, whereas in the U.S. the consumption rates are at 8 per person per year. So we have a tremendous opportunity to capture more of that and continue to tell the story of why probiotics are really beneficial, the impact it has to our health and the impact that it has to the health-care budget.

What we here in the United States do is take a quick fix with a pill. So we have these folks with irritable bowel syndrome or Crohn's disease or ulcers, and we medicate them instead of teaching them the power of food and how it can make us healthy and well. It's a really low-cost solution. With more people seeking out medical and health-care advice, probiotics will be one of those things that are recommended as a daily habit that we should all be using for our immune system.

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Shares of Lifeway Foods are up substantially this year. Is that a result of more awareness of the industry? Is it because of the distribution partnership with Target announced in 2012? What's contributing to investors' interest in Lifeway?

Smolyansky: It's all part of those things. Bottom line, our results have been great. We're growing by 20% in revenue. There's this demand for healthier food choices, we're really starting to make the connection between what we eat and our health, and how that impacts the financial health of the country.

We're seeing people in convenience stores, gas stations and airports, which are the last frontiers of healthy food choices, and we're getting them on board to offer consumers healthy choices because they are demanding it.

The company was started by your father, who passed away suddenly. You jumped into his place. Had you ever run a company before? What was your management experience before stepping into that position?

Smolyansky: No, I had never run a company. I was 27. My brother was 23, and he hadn't run a company. He had just graduated from college. I spent five years working side-by-side with my dad, so I did have that experience. I also had the support of my dad. He did a really good job of pointing out female role models and encouraging me and telling me that I could do it.

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