Pizza and cheeseburgers are getting so popular in Asia that the U.S. is exporting more cheese than ever, boosting commodity costs for companies such as Kraft Foods Inc. and Costco Wholesale Corp.

According to Bloomberg, wholesale cheddar-cheese prices have increased an outstanding 53 percent this year as the U.S. shipped more than twice as much to Asia in the first four months of 2011 as it did for the same period in 2010. Additionally, the region's biggest buyer, South Korea, almost tripled imports while China's more than doubled.

From the story:

The cheese boom pushed milk futures to a four-year high this week and is increasing costs for Kraft, the world's second- largest food company, and Costco Wholesale Corp., the largest U.S. warehouse-club chain. Surging global demand for food will boost U.S. farm exports to a record $137 billion in the year ending on Sept. 30, the government said in May.

"Asians traditionally have not been big cheese consumers, but that's changing," Jon Spainhour, a broker and partner at Rice Dairy LLC, said by telephone from Chicago. ...

The export market for U.S. dairy products is growing eight times faster than domestic demand, according to the National Milk Producers Federation. The U.S. is the world's fourth- biggest cheese shipper, behind the European Union, New Zealand and Australia.

The increase in cheese consumption in Asia is creating prime opportunities for concepts such as Yum! Brands' Pizza Hut and KFC chains, which has a combined 4,000 restaurants throughout the country.

Yum experienced a 10 percent profit increase in its 2011 second quarter, boosted by a rise in customer-traffic at Pizza Hut and KFC restaurants there. Same-stores sales in the country also jumped 22 percent in the second quarter.

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