Sales of natural cheese slices are growing at breakneck speed, or at least they are outpacing other forms of cheese.

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Sales of natural cheese slices are growing at breakneck speed, or at least they are outpacing other forms of cheese. Meanwhile, overall natural cheese sales are growing ever so slowly, while overall processed cheese sales are headed in the other direction fast-this according to the most recent data from Information Resources Inc.

Looking at the top 10 brands of natural slices, nearly all brands, including private label, made considerable strides in the 52 weeks leading up to Nov. 27. The overall category rang up $620 million, or an 11.1% jump from the prior year (8.9% by unit). These figures represent supermarkets, drugstores and mass merchandisers, but do not include Wal-Mart. Quarterly data for natural slices, (not shown here) shows that the overall category experienced double-digit growth, or close to it in each quarter going back to early 2004.

Natural shreds have a longer track record and a much bigger slice of the overall cheese sales pie, at more than $2 billion.

As competition among the top brands has increased, there are some winners and losers there. But overall, the category continues to grow.

When looking at both natural and processed slices compared to natural and processed shreds, it's interesting to note that slices still have a larger share, but it's shrinking, and shreds have a smaller share, but growing. That's based on year-to-date sales through Oct. 30.

Quarterly data for natural cheese shows that the rate of growth has slowed considerably from what it was in 2004. In fact, dollar sales were down a bit in the quarter ended Sept. 25. But overall, processed cheese has taken a hit for the last year, with a loss of sales by units in each for the last four quarters. Dollar sales and unit sales slumped by more than 7% in the quarter ended Sept. 25.

For more sales data, a forecast of 2006 cheese trends and a preview of April's Wisconsin Cheese Industry Conference, be sure to look for the 2006 Cheese Trends feature in the March issue of Dairy Foods. N

Clarification: A table listing the top ten brands of refrigerated coffee drinks appeared in the January installment of Dairy Market Trends, and included a listing for an Autocrat brand. Ingredient supplier Autocrat Premium Coffee & Extract does not produce and is not associated with a retail brand of coffee drinks.