While cheese sales have slumped to some degree in the past year, natural cheese has fared better than processed cheese. Now, according to the latest figures from Information Resources Inc., the natural cheese category has absolutely taken off. Meanwhile, flavored milk may be losing some steam.

For the 13 weeks ended June 29, natural cheese sales grew 10.1% when measured by dollars and 11.5% by units. Growth represents sales vs. the same period in the prior calendar year. IRI's data reflects sales at supermarkets, drug stores and mass merchandisers.

Looking at the previous four quarters, natural cheese growth had been steady, if not spectacular. But second-quarter sales this year totaled $1.32 billion compared to $1.20 billion in 2002.

Now let's look at flavored milk. For the 13 weeks ended June 29, dollar sales grew just 1.1% and unit sales a mere .04%. Is the shining star of the fluid milk category starting to plateau? Dollar growth has been steadily slower for the past five quarters. Perhaps the low raw milk prices have even affected value-added flavored milk, but that doesn't account for the measly unit sales numbers.

Meanwhile, yogurt continues to move at a brisk pace. Dollar sales were up 8.3% for the quarter, and unit sales grew 6.2%. After three quarters of double-digit growth, that's still pretty impressive. More than 802 million units were sold during the period, compared to 755 million in the same period last year. Imagine what will happen when all the kids raised on Danimals start buying their own groceries!

Finally, for something completely different. Dairy processors in certain parts of the south and the northeast enjoy a very healthy market for refrigerated tea. A look at the refrigerated tea category shows strong growth for the past four quarters. Dollar sales have shown consistent growth of more than 5% each quarter, with unit sales not far behind. For the most recent quarter, sales were up 6.2% by dollar and 4.1% by unit.

Bottoms up!