Sales indicate that consumers continue to prefer natural over processed cheese, with slices, shreds and cubes sales getting a boost. In the processed cheese category, cheese spreads/balls was the only segment with positive sales numbers.

The natural cheese category saw dollar sales increase 0.8% to $12.8 billion and unit sales were up 3.8% to 3.8 billion, according to Information Resources Inc. (IRI), Chicago, for the 52 weeks ended Dec. 25, 2016. In the processed cheese category, dollar sales dropped 3.4% to $2.9 billion, and unit sales decreased 4.9% to 780.3 million.

As measured by IRI, the natural cheese category includes these segments:

  • Shredded ($4.7 billion, units up 5.3%)
  • Chunks ($3.6 billion, units up 0.6%)
  • Slices ($2.1 billion, units up 9%)
  • String/Stick ($1.2 billion, units at 0%)

The processed cheese category includes these segments:

  • Processed/imitation cheese slices ($1.7 billion, units down 5.8%)
  • Cheese spreads/balls ($513.1 million, units up 4.5%)
  • Processed/imitation cheese-loaf ($420.9 million, units down 1.5%)

In the natural cheese-shredded segment, dollar sales increased 0.7% to $4.7 billion, and unit sales saw a 5.3% boost. Among the top 10, private label dominated the category with $2.7 billion sales. Dollar sales rose 0.3% and unit sales increased 4.7%. Kraft (Kraft Heinz) saw dollar sales increase 3.7% to $878.4 million and unit sales jump 9.1%. Sargento’s dollar sales were down 5.4%, but unit sales improved 0.6%. Dollar and unit sales were down for Crystal Farms, 5.1% and 0.7%, respectively.  Borden’s dollar and unit sales struggled, down 14.9% and 12.5%, respectively. While Kraft does not market Velveeta shreds as natural cheese, retailers often group it with other natural cheese products. IRI said Velveeta’s sales were $55.5 million — dollar sales increased 117.6% and unit sales jumped 138.7%. 

In the natural cheese-chunks segment, dollar sales were down 1.3% to $3.6 billion, while unit sales rose 0.6% to 957.2 million. Among the top 10, Kraft’s dollar and units dropped 4.2% and 0.8%, respectively. Tillamook struggled as well — dollar sales fell 5.2% and unit sales decreased 4.5%. Bel Brands’ Baby Bel saw dollar sales jump 5.8% and unit sales climbed 6.1%. Dollar sales rose 11.4% for Belgioioso, with unit sales jumping 14.9%. Boars Head’s dollar sales increased 12.7% and unit sales were up 13%.

Unit sales of natural slices rise 9%

The natural cheese-slices segment showed the biggest overall increases, with dollar sales up 4.3% to $2.1 billion, and unit sales improving 9% to 680.7 million. (See table.) Private label led the pack with $845 million — dollar sales increased 6% and unit sales saw a 15.9% boost. Sargento was next in line with $577.4 million. Dollar sales rose 3.5% and unit sales ticked up 4.6%. Kraft Cracker Barrel’s dollar and unit sales jumped 24.9% and 24.4%, respectively. Dollar sales for Belgioioso climbed 27.6% and unit sales increased 29.9%. Crystal Farms saw dollar sales improve 7.1%, with unit sales up 8.5%. Boars Head also saw success — dollar and unit sales increased 23.2% and 24.8%, respectively.

Processed cheese sales spread thin

The processed cheese spreads/balls segment saw dollar sales improve 5.8% to $513.1 million, and unit sales were up 4.5% to 127.4 million. But this wasn’t enough to lift the processed cheese category overall. The category’s dollar sales dropped 3.4% to $2.9 billion, and unit sales fell 4.9% to 780.3 million. The segment leader, processed/imitation cheese slices (at $1.7 billion), saw dollar and unit sales drop 5.5% and 5.8%, respectively.