Americans can’t get enough cheese. Nearly 100% of them say they eat it. And, 30% of adults, led by Millennials and Gen Xers, are eating more than they were a few years ago. Consumption of natural cheese has increased over the last 10 years, while processed cheese has declined. Adults and kids eat cheese by itself, on sandwiches, salads, pizzas, burgers, on tacos and numerous other food items. And, they eat it at home, in restaurants and as an on-the-go snack.

Total U.S. retail sales of natural and specialty cheeses were $17.4 billion in 2015, according to Packaged Facts, Rockville, Md. And, the market is relatively mature with sales growing by a CAGR of 4.1% since 2011. While the market has yet to fully recover from the recession, Americans’ love of cheese and the wider availability of quality natural cheeses at more affordable prices have helped drive growth. Marketers have continued to promote cheese as fundamentally nutritious and good tasting, despite its high fat content. A fast-growing segment of consumers loves cheese not only for its taste but also its nutritional value. Portion control sizes and packs, as well as organic cheeses and cheeses made from healthier milk are meeting the demand for better-for-you products. Organic cheese sales continue to boom with sales estimated at $570 million in 2015. The segment grew by about 15% in 2015, and by a CAGR of 14.5% between 2012-2015. It should continue to outperform the market in the future.

In addition to better-for-you products, U.S. marketers are actively trying to fill demand for what many consumers look for in cheese—great taste, indulgence and new flavor experiences. Flavors continue to be bolder, artisanal and specialty products keep expanding and authenticity is desired as a sign of higher quality. Today’s busy consumers demand convenience, and manufacturers continue to offer products and packaging that are portable and easy to use and store. Cheese manufacturers are capitalizing on the snacking and on-the-go eating trends with a slew of new products in special cuts, sizes and packs.

The vast majority of natural and specialty cheese sales in the United States come from mass retail outlets, and successful retailers have upgraded their cheese departments to offer more cheese-shop quality products. They’ve also continued to expand and promote sales of their own private label cheese brands, which are significant in the natural cheese market, accounting for over 40% of dollar sales.

Retail market product trends often start in foodservice, especially in restaurants. Many menu items use cheese liberally as do shelf-stable or refrigerated and/or frozen meals and snacks. Cheese-filled breakfast sandwiches are hot items, as Americans increasingly skip cereal or eat on the go. Breakfast handheld items and restaurant breakfast sandwiches are booming, being consumed throughout the day and purchased everywhere, including fast food chains, convenience stores and the grocer’s refrigerated and freezer cases.

Outside of the United States, overall demand for dairy products continues to grow, with most growth coming from developing countries where growing populations, rising incomes and expansion of the middle class, urbanization and greater adoption of western diets is driving consumption. New product development around the world is focused on healthier cheese as well as more indulgent products that deliver more intense or unique flavor experiences. Products for snacking remain important, and messages promoting cheese and dairy as good sources of nutrition resonate with consumers in developing, fast-growing markets like India and China.

Scope of report
This report presents a detailed analysis of the U.S. consumer market for natural and specialty cheese sold directly to consumers through retail outlets, including brick-and-mortar stores as well as catalogues, internet sites and more. It outlines key issues and trends affecting the overall market and analyzes all product categories and segments of natural and specialty cheeses. The report also discusses major players and brands, and analyzes their key activities and performance. Market size data are provided for 2011–2015 and projections for 2015–2020.

Retail channels that sell consumer natural and specialty cheese are covered and considered in arriving at market size and trends and competitive analysis. Information and insight is provided for processed cheese and non-dairy cheese products, as well as the foodservice and global cheese markets to add context and perspective. Data from these markets is not included for market sizing/projections, marketer/brand and retail channel shares of the core U.S. consumer natural and specialty cheese market.

The information in this report was obtained from both primary and secondary research. Primary research included consultation with industry sources and on-site visits of retail stores. Secondary research entailed gathering data from relevant trade, business and government sources, as well as company promotional literature and annual reports. Our estimates of market size and company performance are based on various sources, including reported revenues of product manufacturers and retailers; Chicago-based IRI, which tracks data in mass retail outlets; publications and other market research sources.