Take a quick look at the data, and you will observe that dairy product sales across the industry have seen good year-over-year (YoY) dollar growth at retail. The dairy industry is a strong, $86 billion market in the United States, per Chicago-based research firm Circana, as tracked by the Dairy Foods’ State of the Industry coverage. Every category we cover in our annual report saw YoY dollar sales growth.

However, that inflationary watermark rose for everyone. Dairy processors have endured cost input increases due to rising prices across the supply chain, as those companies in turn face their own cost input increases. It is a vicious chain reaction. As a result, this year, it is important to look more closely at YoY unit sales increases to discover pockets of innovation and market strength.

Dairy company diversification into dairy-free product offerings helps broaden revenue streams that overlap with prevailing trends related to better-for-you eating. Talenti, a Unilever brand since 2014 known for its gelato and sorbet, saw growth for the year up 69.9% in unit sales to 9.7 million in its dairy-free segment. In early 2023, Talenti released a new line of Mini Gelato Bars that control calories at anywhere from 45 or 50 calories per bar for the Alphonso Mango and Roman Raspberry flavors, respectively. The slightly more-indulgent Vanilla Caramel and Dark Chocolate desserts contain 80 calories per bar.

In early 2023, Talenti released a new line of Mini Gelato Bars. The Dark Chocolate desserts offer 80 calories per bar. Photo courtesy of Unilever.

Unilever continues to diversify its frozen dessert offerings, most recently acquiring Yasso Holdings, a frozen Greek yogurt brand with better-for-you positioning. In the frozen novelties category, Yasso accounted for 16% unit sales growth, with sales hitting $267.7 million, while Talenti increased its units in that category by nearly 12% to 105.7 million in dollar sales. Processors can offset some of the costs related to better-for-you product development through higher-priced premium positioning at retail. Unilever’s premium Yasso joins other premium brands in the portfolio that now include Yasso, Talenti, Ben & Jerry’s and Magnum.

Other better-for-you brands likewise fared well for the year. Halo Top, a Wells Enterprises brand — now owned by Ferrero Group as of December 2022 — saw strong growth for its sorbet line, now a $2.6 million segment for the brand. In August 2023, Wells announced the expansion of its Dunkirk, N.Y., facility to accommodate growth. The facility manufactures Halo Top products, as well as lines under the Blue Bunny, Bomb Pop and Blue Ribbon Classics brands.

In the $8.2 billion ice cream and sherbet category, the Blue Ribbon Classics brand saw strong growth, with unit sales up nearly 50% with the brand accounting for $72.7 million dollar sales in the category. Hudsonville saw its ice cream business grow by 54% over the past year, now accounting for $111.1 million in dollar sales.

The natural cheese category, an anchor of dairy, had $17.5 billion in dollar sales for the year. While the category overall was flat, at 0.3% unit sales growth and 7% dollar sales growth, select companies and lines saw elevated performance:

  • Tropical Cheese Industries, aligned with the Hispanic market, grew its cheese chunks line by 11% to $82.8 million, through products like its Queso de Papa Cubes.
  • Marquez Brothers International, another important dairy company serving the Hispanic market, grew its El Mexicano crumbled natural cheese business by just under 20% to $28.7 million.
  • Also in crumbled natural cheese, Saputo’s Frigo brand grew 18% in unit sales to $21.9 million, and in the shredded natural cheese category, Frigo grew 12% in unit sales to $48.7 million in dollar sales.
  • Snacking cheese performed well, with Wisconsin Cheese Co. enjoying just about 14% unit sales growth for its natural string/stick cheese business, and dollar sales rising to $4.8 million for the segment.
  • In the catch-all “all other forms” of natural cheese category, as tracked by Circana, Sartori Cheese saw its flagship brand grow over 13% to $17.4 million in dollar sales.
  • Elsewhere in the “all other forms” category of natural cheese, Sargento Foods grew unit sales by just under 30% to 12.8 million. 

These examples are just a few of the many great success stories of the past year. Throughout our 2023 Dairy Foods’ State of the Industry report, you will find stories of innovation as the dairy industry continues to broaden its consumer reach, build diversity into its product sets, and reach new markets.

As you consider recent company milestones of note, and as you look at growth plans for the coming year, I would invite you to share your success stories with us so we can continue to shine a spotlight on the best of that the world of dairy has to offer.