Editorial Comment Publisher/Editor



Sky’s The Limit For Per Capita Cheese Consumption In US

Dick Groves
Cheese Reporter

October 4, 2019

USDA’s Economic Research Service on Monday released detailed per capita cheese consumption statistics for 2018, and these statistics certainly paint a pretty rosy picture of per capita consumption growth in recent years. And these and some other statistics point to some pretty nice potential for further growth in the years ahead.

As reported on our front page this week, per capita cheese consumption last year was a record 38.15 pounds, up almost a full pound from 2017’s record and up almost four and a half pounds just from 2013.

That’s a pretty impressive increase in a very short time period. To put it in a bit of historical perspective, from 2000 to 2012, per capita cheese consumption grew by about 3.7 pounds, or about three-quarters of a pound less than the gain from 2013 through 2018.

While those gains are certainly nice, a closer look at the statistics shows that per capita consumption increases last year weren’t achieved by all the categories broken out by ERS, nor did all categories set new records last year.

Perhaps most noteworthy is the fact that per capita consumption of Italian cheeses other than Mozzarella actually declined slightly last year, to 3.49 pounds, from 3.51 pounds in 2017. This category includes Parmesan, Provolone, Ricotta, Romano, Asiago and other Italian cheeses.

Over the past couple of decades, per capita consumption of other Italian cheeses has generally trended upward, having been just 2.14 pounds back in 1995. Indeed, after reaching a record 3.16 pounds in 2011, per capita consumption of other Italian cheeses declined for three straight years, then rebounded by almost half a pound in just three years to reach a record high in 2017.

Given the wide variety of high-quality products available in a dizzying array of packaging formats these days, it would seem that per capita consumption of other Italian cheeses will resume its upward trend sooner rather than later.

Meanwhile, per capita Swiss cheese consumption (this category includes imported Emmenthaler and Gruyere) last year, at 1.08 pounds, was at its highest level since 2012 (1.09 pounds), but well below where it was back in 2007 (1.24 pounds). Like the other Italian cheese category, per capita consumption of Swiss cheese has had its ups and downs over the years, but could experience nice growth just be getting back to where it was a little over a decade ago.

Two other categories broken out by ERS were unchanged last year, Cream and Neufchatel, and “other.” Both categories are below their record highs of 2.61 pounds for Cream/Neufchatel and 1.59 pounds for “other,” so it would seem at least possible that we could see growth in both of these categories in the near future.

Finally, we can’t help both note that per capita consumption of Hispanic cheese set yet another new record last year, at 0.88 pound. Per capita consumption of Hispanic cheese has more than tripled since 1996, when it was just 0.25 pounds, and has increased every year this century, with the exceptions of 2008, when consumption was unchanged from 2007 at 0.61 pound, and in 2012, when consumption of 0.67 pound was down from 0.69 pound in 2011.

Growth in per capita consumption of Hispanic cheese has actually been more consistent over the past 20 years than has growth even in per capita Mozzarella consumption (which declined by more than half a pound from 2007 to 2008, and also fell in 2009, 2012 and 2017). And so we expect overall future consumption growth to be driven in part by continued growth in Hispanic cheese consumption.

The other statistics that point to further growth in US per capita cheese consumption in the future come from the International Dairy Federation’s World Dairy Situation 2019, which was released last week at the IDF World Dairy Summit in Istanbul, Turkey.

That report (available for purchase at www.idf-fil.org) includes, among many other things, an eye-opening table showing per capita cheese consumption for roughly four dozen countries, ranging from European Union member countries to China and South Korea.

What the table shows is that, while US per capita cheese consumption is pretty impressive compared to some well-known dairy countries — such as New Zealand, at 22.2 pounds; Australia, at 30.8 pounds; and Canada, at 31.9 pounds — it still has a heck of a long way to go to catch a few of the leading countries.

Leading the pack in the IDF report’s table is Denmark, with per capita cheese consumption last year of an astounding 63.6 pounds, or more than 25 pounds per year higher than the US. In other words, Danes consume more than a pound of cheese per week or, looked at another way, Danes consume more than half a pound more cheese each week than Americans do. That’s pretty impressive.

But Denmark isn’t the only country in which per capita cheese consumption tops one pound per week. Other countries in the IDF table that top that consumption level include Germany, France, Netherlands, Finland, Estonia, Cyprus, Luxembourg and Iceland.

So what does this tell us about growing per capita cheese consumption?
For one thing, it would seem to indicate that having a long history of cheese traditions helps; cheeses such as France’s Comte have been around for several hundred years longer than the US has.

It also indicates that patience is a virtue; back in 2001, of the countries noted above, only France had per capita cheese consumption above one pound per week. The US won’t get there in 2019, but maybe will someday.


Dick Groves

Dick Groves has been publisher/editor of Cheese Reporter since 1989. He has over 35 years experience covering the dairy industry. His weekly editorial is read and referenced throughout the world.
For more information, call 608-316-3791 dgroves@cheesereporter.com

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