Insights: Surprise! Surprise!
Per capita cheese sales kept right on going higher last year. After hitting 30 lbs during 2001, usage moved up to 30.56 lbs during 2002, according to new U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates. Sales have doubled in 25 years.
If you know anything about the cheese business, these nice gains in sales should not come as any surprise. I looked back more than 30 years and per capita sales have increased during all but two. Cheeseheads have made a lot of good moves over the years.
Cheese is the Energizer Bunny of the dairy case. Everything from new package sizes to new package types to new varieties to new flavors to shreds to blends of shreds to slices to cubes to cracker-size cuts to...the list just keeps going and going.
I've only listed the obvious, some of the new happenings at retail. There are probably a greater number of innovations tucked away among the cheeses and cheese-based products going to foodservice and to food manufacturers for use as ingredients. The sales just keep going and going.
Is there an end in sight? Will the batteries go dead? I don't think so. Not as long as cheese makers and cheese marketers keep zigzagging through the maze called consumer interests/concerns.
Ninety nine percent of the households in the United States purchased cheese last year, according to data just released by Dairy Management Inc. Several varieties top the 50% household penetration threshold.
Is fat an issue? Maybe. The two most popular cheeses - Cheddar and mozzarella - traded ranking last year. For the
first time, per capita mozzarella cheese consumption was greater than Cheddar. Cheddar usage slipped down about as much as
per capita mozzarella sales climbed. But sales of other American cheese varieties - Monterey Jack and Colby - kept right
To wit: Among the ten fastest-growing foodservice chains last year were Quizno's Classic Subs with sales up 68%; Panera Bread/St. Louis Bread Company, sales up 43%; Carrabba's Italian Grill, plus 24% and California Pizza Kitchen, where sales grew by 21%. If Cheddar and mozzarella makers only had these four shops on their customer list, they might go broke.
But let's not read too much into the data. Burgers (many with a slice of American cheese) are still the most frequently ordered item when a customer walks into a restaurant. Mexican items come in third and pizza fourth. French fries captured second place. Breakfast sandwiches and chicken sandwiches - add the (American) cheese, please - also made the top-ten list released by NPD Group.
As I put the finishing touches on this column, two headlines moved across the wire.
Headline # 1: "Fitch (a researcher) Sees Eating Trends, Demographics Hurting Fast Foods." Two hours later, the same Dow Jones service carried Headline # 2: "McDonald's Reports August Sales Up 10%."
In my humble opinion, the Energizer Bunny called "cheese" will keep right on going and going and going.