girl holding sandwich

What's Next for the Cheese Market?

Last year saw high growth in retail cheese as consumers stayed at home during the pandemic. As things return to normal, what lies ahead for the cheese market?

Highlights:

  • Cheese has gained popularity as a healthy snack, not just as an ingredient in meals.
  • Cheeses with new flavors and functional benefits will grow in the near future.

A Look Back at 2020

2020 was a great year for U.S. retail cheese, with both natural and processed cheese registering high double-digit growth. Natural cheese grew 18.4% reaching $18.2 billion, while processed cheese grew 17.4% to $3.3 billion.1 Cheddar and mozzarella continued to lead in value and volume, with sales up 15% for cheddar and 21% for mozzarella.2

While all cheese varieties experienced positive growth in 2020, the fastest-growing was alternative cheese at 72% (though still only 0.5% of the market), followed by cheese blends and parmesan.3 Growth in conventional cheese (18.4%) outpaced that of organic cheese (15.8%).

Shred cheese was the fastest-growing format in 2020, with sales up 24% over the prior year.5 Shred made up 42% of volume but just 34% of value, with chunk taking on a larger value share last year.6 As the ideal format for home cooking, it’s no surprise that shred saw even higher volume growth than chunk during the COVID lockdowns.7

couple cooking

Key Trends for 2021

While cooking and eating meals at home increased during the pandemic, so too did snacking—including snacking with cheese. For consumers who reported they were eating more cheese than the year before, the top reason for this was that they were snacking on it more often (at 53%), ahead of using it more often in meals.8

Download our eGuide on Cheese: Snacking Trends for 2021.

Since cheese is well-positioned to compete on health, snacking on cheese is something brands can encourage going forward with messaging regarding protein content and sustenance. Packaging cheese with other healthy snacks, such as nuts, is another approach to better-for-you snacks that’s on the rise. These types of snacks can even target specialty diets like keto.

Looking Ahead to 2022

As consumers begin to reemerge into the world, they’ll be looking to fill that craving for excitement that’s been building during the lockdown. For the cheese industry, innovation will be especially important—including unique flavors, premium ingredients, and regional varieties. In fact, nearly one in three U.S. consumers who eat cheese say regional influence would motivate them to try a new cheese.9

two girls eating snacks

At the same time, don’t expect consumers will suddenly forget the important role of healthy food choices. The COVID pandemic was a wake-up call for many consumers who had to focus on staying healthy through foods, supplements, exercise, and stress management in the absence of vaccines. 

Cheeses that offer special benefits to help consumers optimize their health will hold appeal. This can include functional cheeses like cheese with added probiotics, an ingredient consumers associate with immune health, or cheeses with a healthier nutrition label. One in five cheese consumers say functional benefits (such as probiotics) would motivate them to try a new cheese; one in four would be motivated by better-for-you claims.10

Glanbia Knows Cheese

As a global leader in cheese, Glanbia Nutritionals is the supplier of choice for both traditional and innovative cheeses of the highest quality. When you partner with Glanbia, you can feel confident that you’ll have the flavor, texture, and functionality you need to meet the latest trends in cheese. Explore our cheese capabilities.

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References

1-7. Nielsen, xAOC + Whole Foods, 52 weeks ending December 26, 2020.
8. Lightspeed/Mintel, Base: 479 internet users aged 18+ who are eating more cheese than a year ago, August 2020.
9-10. Lightspeed/Mintel, Base: 1,897 internet users aged 18+ whose household has eaten any cheese in the past three months, August 2020.

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