String cheese

For a child in the 1980s, string cheese was the ultimate must-have lunch snack. The simple act of peeling strings away from a cylindrical-shaped “stick” was both exciting and innovative and transformed the way consumers eat cheese.

Even today, cheese processors continue to revamp this $670 million category by introducing a slew of string cheese products that tout higher calcium content and less fat in a portable packaging concept.

For starters, private label remains No. 1 with $227.9 million in sales, according to Chicago-based SymphonyIRI Group, for the 52 weeks ended Oct. 2.

However, it was the Kraft Natural brand that experienced the most action with sales skyrocketing 364.3% and unit sales following suit with a 265.8% increase.

That’s because the producer of Kraft Natural, Kraft Foods Inc., Northfield, Ill., launched a jalapeño flavor to its team of string cheese products, says Angela Wiggins, corporate affairs, cheese and foodservice. This natural low-moisture, part-skim mozzarella string cheese option offers 80 calories per serving and comes 12 snack sticks to a 12-ounce package. This new flavor, which has proven to be popular with adults, is sold under both the Kraft and Polly-O brands, with the latter slotting in at No. 9 with a 39% jump in sales and a 39.4% rise in unit sales.

Sargento brand string cheese, produced by Sargento Foods Inc., Plymouth, Wis., garnered a 22.1% spike since last year, followed by a 14.7% increase in unit sales thanks to its Natural Light string cheese snacks, developed with 50% less fat.

Last year, Schreiber Foods, Green Bay, Wis., partnered with Weight Watchers International Inc., New York, to create a line of reduced-fat cheeses, including Natural Light Smoked and Light mozzarella string cheese options, as well as Natural Reduced-fat Colby Jack and Cheddar cheese sticks. As a result, sales jumped 12.9% since last year and produced a 13.2% leap in unit sales.

Meanwhile, Frigo Cheese Heads, owned by Saputo Foods Inc., Lincolnshire, Ill., placed third with a 4.9% rise in sales from last year, due in part to its lineup of light, low-moisture part-skim and whole milk string cheeses. However, it dipped 0.2% in unit sales.


Some brands come untied

While some string cheese items are riding the waves toward success, others are experiencing difficulty staying afloat.

For instance, Kraft Snackables line of string cheese products underwent a 55.3% dip in sales, while Kraft Cracker Barrel brand string cheese items dropped 15.6%.

Precious Stringsters and Sorrento Stringsters, both produced by Lactalis American Group Inc., Buffalo, N.Y., undertook a 3.2% and 1.9% drop in sales, followed by a 7.9% and 7.8% decrease in unit sales, respectively.

Whichever way they are peeled, string cheese snacks are here to stay. n


Editor’s Note: For more about cheese, see Dairy Foods’ Annual Cheese Outlook (October 2011) and “Raw is the Draw” in Dairy Foods’ State of the Industry report (November 2011).