I have a former boss who used to say that whatever food a consumer liked, chances are they would like it even more if it were topped with cheese. Considering all of its dairy splendor, it’s no wonder that cheese is big business. In its “What’s in Store 2017” report, International Dairy-Deli-Bakery Association (IDDBA) notes retail cheese sales in the U.S. reached over $23 billion in 2015. This reflects an astounding 24 percent growth over a five-year period. If cheese continues its upward trend, the report notes category sales would reach almost $28 billion by 2020. Per capita cheese consumption in the U.S. for 2014 was a whopping 34 pounds per year. The top cheese varieties, based on volume sales, are Cheddar, American, cream cheese, mozzarella and Colby/Jack blends. Of these top 5 varieties, the biggest increase in volume is in mozzarella, showing a 7.7 percent growth in the first six months of 2016.
What are some of the purchase drivers for cheese? In the age of increased protein, the high protein content of cheese makes it a go-to food for many consumers. The IDDBA report indicates consumers have positive attitudes toward dairy fat. Other reasons consumers cite for buying cheese are high quality ingredients, affordability, increase calcium intake and variety of formats. And Rachel Kerr, public relations manager, Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board, Madison, notes that the increase in snacking behavior, in general, also contributes to the popularity of cheese. “Sales of cheese snacks like string cheese, cheese sticks and cracker cuts continue to grow in part due to consumers looking for high-protein, healthy and convenient snacks, like cheese, that fit a busy lifestyle,” she says.