The past year saw reduced demand for cheese on the foodservice side, thanks to widespread pandemic-related restaurant closures and indoor dining bans. However, the picture was much brighter on the retail cheese side.

Dollar sales for the natural cheese category jumped 20.8% to $16,417.6 million during the 52 weeks ending Jan. 24, 2021, according to data from Chicago-based market research firm IRI. Unit sales rose 12.8% to 4,588.8 million.

Dollar sales for the processed cheese category, meanwhile, climbed 17.8% to $3,329.4 million. Unit sales increased 10.8% to 798.7 million.


Natural shreds, grated cheese impress

Within the natural cheese category, the largest subcategory, natural shredded cheese, and the smallest, refrigerated grated cheese, posted the strongest growth.

Natural shredded cheese saw a 26.6% rise in dollar sales (to $6,394.0 million) and a 17.1% upswing in unit sales (to 1,930.5 million). And dollar sales for the refrigerated grated cheese segment rose 27.0% to $149.6 million. Unit sales realized a 24.7% lift, reaching 41.4 million.

Within the natural shredded cheese subcategory, two of the top 10 brands saw sales really skyrocket. The combined brands of V&V Supremo Foods Inc. posted dollar and unit sales gains of 58.1% and 36.8%, respectively. And dollar and unit sales for the Tillamook brand rose 55.2% and 45.8%. It is worth noting that all of the top 10 brands within the subcategory realized double-digit sales growth.


Two subcategories underperformed

Most of the other natural cheese categories — including natural cheese chunks, natural cheese slices, natural cheese/all other forms, natural crumbled cheese and ricotta cheese — also saw double-digit growth. But two subcategories, natural cheese strings/sticks and natural cheese cubes, were underperformers in comparison to the total category.

Both categories did realize dollar sales growth, however. Dollar sales for natural cheese strings/sticks increased 3.5%, although unit sales were down 7.5%. And natural cheese cubes posted an 8.5% upturn in dollar sales and a 13.7% hike in unit sales.


Strong growth for all processed cheese subcategories

All of the processed cheese subcategories — processed/imitation cheese slices, cheese spreads/balls, processed/imitation cheese loafs and “all other” processed/imitation cheese — realized double-digit growth. The largest of these subcategories, processed/imitation cheese slices, saw dollar sales rise 18.9% to reach $2,084.6 million. Unit sales jumped 10.4% to 534.0 million.

Among the top 10 brands within that subcategory, Boar’s Head posted the most impressive growth. Dollar sales for the brand climbed 41.8%, while unit sales increased 34.0%.

Four other top 10 brands — Kraft Deli Deluxe, Borden, Daiya and Field Roast — posted dollar sales gains in excess of 30%. Moreover, only one of the top 10 brands, Kraft Singles, fell short of double-digit dollar sales growth — but it was close, at 9.9%.