Cheese is one of the most versatile foods around, with consumers enjoying it as a snack, as part of a meal and as an ingredient in countless dishes. So it should come as no surprise that per-capita consumption has grown tremendously in the United States over the past few decades.

But recent sales data show a growth slowdown, at least on the retail side. Dollar sales within the total retail natural cheese category rose a modest 1.1% to $12,961.5 million during the 52 weeks ending Oct. 7, 2018, according to data from Chicago-based market research firm IRI. Unit sales increased 2.0% during the same timeframe.

As for processed cheese, it continued on a downward trend at retail. Dollar sales dropped 3.5% to $2,874.8 million, while unit sales fell 4.4%.

A few overachievers in natural

A few natural cheese subcategories managed to post better-than-average growth. One of those is refrigerated grated cheese, which saw dollar sales jump 10.7% to $106.6 million. Unit sales climbed 13.7%.

Meanwhile, the slightly larger natural cheese cube segment realized a 9.1% gain in dollar sales, reaching $123.5 million. Unit sales rose 10.1%.

Making strong gains here among the top 10 brands were Ellsworth Cooperative Creamery, which saw 25.1% and 24.0% dollar sales and unit sales gains, respectively, and private label, which enjoyed 13.4% and 18.6% dollar and unit sales increases.

On the flip side, dollar sales of Kraft brand (Kraft Heinz Co.) natural cheese cubes fell 15.8%; unit sales were down 22.0%.

The much larger natural cheese slices subcategory also performed fairly well. Dollar sales for the total segment climbed 3.3% to $2,248.4 million. Unit sales rose 3.6%.

Two standouts among the top 10 brands were BelGioioso (BelGioioso Cheese Co.) and Cabot (Cabot Creamery Cooperative). BelGioioso’s dollar sales jumped 12.9% to $79.4 million; its unit sales were up 14.6%. And Cabot’s dollar sales skyrocketed by 58.0% to $18.9 million. The brand’s unit sales rose 88.1%.


Some natural segments see declines

A few natural cheese subcategories actually lost a bit of ground at retail. The giant natural cheese chunk subcategory saw a 0.3% decline in dollar sales (to $3,616.9 million), although unit sales were up 0.1%.

Faring better than the rest of the top 10 brands here were Boar’s Head (Boar’s Head Provision Co.) and Cacique Ranchero (Cacique Inc.). Boar’s Head saw a 10.1% increase in dollar sales to $84.0 million and a 9.2% gain in unit sales. Cacique saw dollar sales jump 13.1% to $74.6 million and unit sales rise 8.8%.

But two brands saw rather steep declines. Dollar sales for the Kraft brand fell 10.0% to $190.6 million; unit sales took a 7.1% dive. And the Kraft Cracker Barrel brand saw dollar sales decline 8.2% to $114.8; unit sales tumbled 7.5%.

Two smaller natural cheese segments also suffered. Dollar sales for natural crumbled cheese fell 0.2% to $341.6 million; unit sales tumbled 0.6%. And ricotta cheese saw dollar sales fall by 0.5% to $222.2 million and unit sales drop 0.9%.