Natural and specialty blended cheeses will pace future growth in a $14 billion retail market that is projected to be on fire by 2020, according to "Natural and Specialty Cheeses: The U.S. Market and a Global Perspective," a new report by market research publisherPackaged Facts.

The retail natural and specialty blended cheese market showed healthy growth from 2005 to 2009, posting a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 7 percent. Packaged Facts projects the market will approach $17 billion by 2014.

"Only in the last quarter of the 20th century did most acculturated Americans even know of cheeses such as asiago, feta, and romano. But the fact is that Americans are on board. They want to explore the world of cheese and this is the number one driver of growth in the retail sector," says Don Montuori, publisher of Packaged Facts. "Unfortunately, this curiosity synchronized with the recession, so exploration won't be as aggressive as it could be, but stay tuned."

Sales slowed in 2009 compared to 2008, a sign of recessionary times; however, dollar sales growth was still positive.

Packaged Facts attributes the positive growth to two trends. First, consumers were eating out less and prepared more foods at home, which benefited cheese and its usage as an ingredient or topping in many favorite entrees, sandwiches and side dishes. The natural cheese category -- which includes higher-price-point natural cheeses such as brie, havarti, and other imported varieties -- benefitted most from this trend, allowing unit sales to remain unchanged despite large price hikes.

Second, reflective of the higher CAGR in the traditionally upscale specialty blended cheese category (CAGR of 11 percent compared to 5 percent for the natural cheese category in 2009), is that consumers view cheese as an affordable luxury. Even during tough times, items such as gourmet cheese spread made it into shopping carts, often as a treat to enjoy at home.

Packaged Facts says "Natural and Specialty Cheeses: The U.S. Market and a Global Perspective" focuses on the varieties of natural cheese and specialty blended cheese produced from cow's milk and packaged and sold through U.S. retail channels. The report discusses key trends affecting the marketplace, analyzes trends driving growth and consumer demographics, and provides insight into the activities of key cheese marketers and up-and-coming players around the world.