MADISON, Wis. -- The production of cheese in the United States increased 2% during 1998, to a total of 7.5 billion pounds, according to government statistics quoted in the most recent "What's In Store" annual study by the International Dairy-Deli-Bakery Association here. The figures break the old record, set just the year before, when 7.33 billion pounds of cheese were produced.
Within the category, new flavored cheddars are becoming widely available and more popular, indicating that price concerns are giving way to a demand by the consumer for better taste, according to some manufacturers quoted by IDDBA researchers.
The Italian-type cheese category is dominated by mozzarella again this year, though other varieties are making headway. This is apparent when cheese is used as a pizza topping, where asiago, ricotta and even cheddar have become popular additives, the study noted.
The numbers also show that Americans are more interested in artisan and ethnic cheeses, blends and handcrafted "micro-cheeses." In one specific example, goat cheese, or chevre, has enjoyed growing mainstream appeal. Indeed, "What's In Store" quotes producers who report sales increases of up to 30% over the last 10 years. In part, researchers concluded that highlighting flavor and health has helped to boost chevre sales.
New blended flavors include pepper, garlic & herb, horseradish, dill and sun-dried tomato, the poll found.
Similarly, consumers are opting for reduced-fat over no-fat cheeses, mostly because of taste, the poll reported. Citing ACNielsen numbers, the total fat-free cheese category fell 14.7% in dollar sales and 18.5% in volume for the year ended May 15, 1999. At the same time, however, cheeses labeled reduced-fat enjoyed a dollar-sales increase of 19.6% and a corresponding 18.1% boost in volume.
Examining today's cheese consumer, the report found that frequent purchasers are exerting more control over trends. ACNielsen profiles show that the vast majority -- nearly 98% -- of U.S. households purchase cheese, though 25% of those households are responsible for 52% of cheese consumption.
Globally, cheese production has topped 16.5 billion tons. This measured out to be an 8.4% increase over the previous decade.