The U.S. dairy industry has had its trials over the last few years, but sales in one category have been exploding for decades and have more room to run.
We speak of cheese.
The average American ate just over 14 pounds in 1975 according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That swelled to about 38 pounds by 2018. As this has happened, other dairy categories have mostly remained stagnant or fallen. Consumption of fluid milk, for example, plummeted from 247 pounds per person in 1975, to 146 pounds in 2018.
Cheese's increasing popularity among Americans owes a lot to the rise of pizza. Mozzarella went from being a rather obscure Italian cheese to the most popular variety of cheese in the country. Large chains such as Domino's Pizza and Pizza Hut brought carry-out and delivery pizza to the masses and have even been able to export their takes on pizza around the world, even though they are American companies, not Italian.
But advancements in packaging and flavoring have also widened the selection of cheese in grocery stores. Shredded cheese has boomed and now makes up about $6 billion of the whole natural cheese category, which is worth slightly under $18 billion, according to Paul Ziemnisky, executive vice president of global innovation partnerships at the Dairy Management trade association.
One category that has suffered in recent years is processed cheese. The category was once loved for its use in fast food and diner staples like cheeseburgers and grilled cheese sandwiches. But many American consumers have turned away from processed foods in recent years in favor of products perceived to be more "natural." Improved packaging technology has lessened the need for the spoilage-preventing preservatives that once made processed cheese so attractive.
Americans have sought out processed foods as they have looked to stock pantries and refrigerators during pandemic lockdowns.
Also, industry analysts say many consumers are cooking meals at home. And during an uncertain time, they are longing for more nostalgic dishes, like grilled cheese sandwiches, nachos, and mac and cheese.