Wisconsin leads in state cheese production stocking up on specialty cheese output

By Mary Ellen Shoup

- Last updated on GMT

Wisconsin cheese production led all 50 US states with annual output of 3.24bn lbs in 2016, according to the USDA.  ©iStock/ventdusud
Wisconsin cheese production led all 50 US states with annual output of 3.24bn lbs in 2016, according to the USDA. ©iStock/ventdusud

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Wisconsin’s annual cheese production totalled roughly 3.24bn lbs last year (27% of annual US cheese production) with specialty cheese representing 24% of total state output, marking a 52% increase from 2015, according to the USDA National Agriculture Statistics Service.

Wisconsin also surpassed California in annual cheese production by nearly 1bn lbs in 2016.

Among the specialty cheese varieties, feta production increased the most by 12.6% in 2016, accounting for 12% of Wisconsin’s total specialty cheese production followed by blue cheese, Havarti, “Hispanic types”​, specialty mozzarella, and Italian hard cheese varieties.  

Hispanic cheese varieties volume also grew by double digits (10.6%) in 2016, but only account for 3.3% of the state’s total specialty cheese volume.

Production of processed American cheese also increased by nearly 5%, even though consumption of processed American cheese has been on the decline for the past 10 years, according to Packaged Facts.   

Rise of specialty cheese

While the US is still experiencing an oversupply of milk, the demand for cheese remains strong as US consumers switch to snacking consumption patterns and are favoring less-processed products.

Packaged Facts predicted that the specialty cheese market will grow at a CAGR of 3.5%, hitting $20.7bn by 2020.

According to the same report, the vast majority of natural and specialty cheese sales in the US come from mass retail outlets and the most successful retailers have upgraded their cheese brands to offer more cheese-shop quality products.

For example, Kroger acquired specialty cheese manufacturer Murray’s Cheese​ in February 2017. The acquisition came after the successful partnership the two retailers struck in 2008 when Kroger stores started incorporating in-store Murray’s “cheese shops”​ at its grocery locations.

However, private label still presents a growth opportunity for the natural cheese manufacturers accounting for 40% of dollar sales.

The US specialty cheese remains very fragmented with hundreds of manufacturers and marketers competing for shelf space. There are only a couple of very large players, including the leader Kraft with just a 17% share, several mid-size and numerous small companies, according to Packaged Facts. 

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