Processed cheese sales have been declining at retail for years as health-conscious grocery shoppers perceive that “processed” means unnatural and thus unhealthy. The category shrank 3.7% in dollar sales to $2.8 billion and 4.1% in unit sales to 737.8 million, according to according to data from Chicago-based market research firm IRI for the 52 weeks ending Jan. 27, 2019.

But it isn’t all good news for natural cheese, either. The category grew only 1.1% in dollar sales (to $13.0 billion) and 2.5% in unit sales (to 3.9 billion). According to “Cheese US, September 2018,” a report from global market research firm Mintel, sales in the cheese category have barely grown since 2015, “demonstrating a large but relatively stagnant category in need of expanding its usage.”


Slight growth in slices, shreds

The natural cheese slices category experienced decent growth: 3.0% in dollar sales to $2.3 billion and 4.1% in unit sales to 724.7 million. Leading the pack in growth among the top 10 brands was Cabot (Cabot Creamery), which grew 57.3% in dollar sales and 69.7% in unit sales. BelGioioso (BelGioioso Cheese Inc. ) rose 14.0% in dollar sales and 14.5% in unit sales. Another success was Boar’s Head (Boar’s Head Brand), which jumped 7.4% in dollar sales and 6.0% in unit sales.

But some top 10 cheese slice brands struggled. Kraft (Kraft Heinz Co.) fell 7.2% in dollar sales and 4.8% in unit sales. Crystal Farms (Crystal Farms Cheese) also lost ground: 0.6% in dollar sales; however, it gained 3.0% in unit sales.

Natural shreds expanded less than slices, with a 1.2% rise in dollar sales to $4.8 billion and a 3.5% jump in unit sales to 1.6 billion. The winner among the top 10 brands was Tillamook (Tillamook County Creamery Association), which climbed 46.6% in dollar sales and 50.3% in unit sales. BelGioioso was also very successful. It expanded 13.4% in dollar sales and 12.7% in unit sales. Frigo (Saputo Cheese USA Inc.) also grew, rising 9.1% in dollar sales and 6.5% in unit sales.

However, other top 10 brands didn’t fare as well. Philadelphia (Kraft Heinz Co.) fell 34.2% in dollar sales and 30.8% in unit sales. Sargento (Sargento Foods Inc.) also struggled. The brand declined 5.5% and 4.3% in dollar and unit sales, respectively.

Though they are smaller parts of the natural cheese category, refrigerated grated cheese and cheese cubes saw by far the largest growth. Natural cheese cubes expanded 8.5% in dollar sales to $125.2 million and 11.0% in unit sales to 31.1 million. Refrigerated grated cheese rose 8.2% in dollar sales and 10.4% in unit sales, to $107.8 million and 30.1 million, respectively.


Vegan cheese expands processed slices category

While processed sliced cheese is declining overall, some top 10 brands tell a different story. Vegan cheese brand Follow Your Heart grew 63.3% in dollar sales and 62.1% in unit sales. Daiya (Daiya Foods Inc.), another vegan cheese brand, also experienced big gains: 48.4% in dollar sales and 51.3% in unit sales.

Boar’s Head was the only non-vegan cheese brand among the top 10 to post substantial improvements. The brand rose 11.5% in dollar sales and 11.1% in unit sales.