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  • Americans love cheese.

  • Cheese consumption reached an all time high in the United States in 2018,

  • which is weird because Americans are drinking less milk than ever.

  • Consumption of fluid milk plummeted from 247 pounds per person in 1975 to

  • 146 pounds per person in 2018.

  • But at the same time, cheese grew from just over 14 pounds in 1975 to

  • about 38 pounds in 2018.

  • Plus an extra two pounds of cottage cheese, which, let's be honest, is

  • really a separate category altogether.

  • The only other category of dairy product that has seen such growth over the

  • last half century has been yogurt, which is still a far smaller share of

  • the total than cheese in terms of consumption.

  • So why are Americans eating so much more cheese when many other categories

  • of dairy are either falling stagnant or growing only slightly?

  • The rise of cheese in the United States owes a lot to the rise of

  • restaurants, carry and delivery, according to cheese historian Paul Paul

  • Kindstedt. One type of cheese that has absolutely exploded since the 1970s

  • is mozzarella.

  • The stuff you are most likely to see melted all over pizza.

  • Americans at 1.19 pounds of mozzarella per person in 1970 and

  • 12.15 pounds in 2018, making it the most popular single variety of cheese

  • in America. And yes, pizza is said to be one of the primary reasons

  • mozzarella has become so popular across the United States.

  • Pizza moves about 25 percent.

  • When you talk about mozzarella, pizza moves about 25 percent of the

  • cheese, you know, in the US.

  • But moves a tremendous amount of volume.

  • Pizza was once not the American favorite it is today.

  • Instead, it was a distinctly Italian specialty found in the mostly Italian

  • sections of cities around the country.

  • But in the middle of the 20th century, pizza went mainstream.

  • Large chains such as Domino's, Pizza Hut and Little Caesars brought the

  • Neapolitan Street food to the masses and pizzas reach has been growing

  • ever since. A study in 2014 from the USDA found that one in eight

  • Americans aged two years or older, and more than 25 percent of all males

  • between the ages of six and 19 ate a slice or more on any given day.

  • The US pizza market was worth more than $45 billion in 2019.

  • Domino's, the world's largest pizza chain, built its business on

  • perfecting the art of rapidly making and delivering pizza to households

  • around the country. As it has grown more popular, the pizza market has

  • segmented from cheap slices all the way up to gourmet pies.

  • There are sit-down restaurants, carry-out delivery, take and bake and

  • pizzas at the grocery store, fresh and frozen.

  • What's happening with the whole pizza category and the cheese piece, you

  • still have that value pizza you can get for two dollars at the grocery all

  • the way up to $20 plus at restaurants and continued innovation taking

  • place with brick oven pizzas.

  • Now, you know, they're selling $5,000 pizza ovens that people put in their

  • backyard. While pizza is originally Italian, American companies have

  • successfully exported their own version to other countries around the

  • world. Even those were cheese is traditionally rarely eaten, such as

  • China. But other varieties of cheese have also benefited from the decades

  • long growth of food service in the U.S.

  • The increasing popularity of cuisines such as Mexican and

  • Southwestern-style food have boosted the popularity of classic

  • American-style cheese varieties such as Cheddar and Jack.

  • We partnered with Taco Bell.

  • We started working with them in 2012.

  • They used to view cheese as a garnish like lettuce and tomatoes, and we

  • started showing them all these new innovative properties that cheese can

  • do. You know, now they stuff the shell with cheese.

  • You know, we just launched with them a grilled cheese burrito where

  • actually, you know, it's got cheese sauce on the inside and a melted

  • cheese on top.

  • Their consumers love the transformative properties.

  • And so that's just a really fun thing that you see why it's so important

  • to the consumer, because they can use in so many different ways in the

  • transformation. The way mozzarella has been able to piggyback on pizza to

  • achieve its popularity says a lot about how the fate of one food product

  • is often tied to that of another.

  • In the middle of the 20th century, another cheesy substance road high in

  • the U.S., in large part on the popularity of another classic American

  • dish: the fast-food hamburger.

  • It is hard to talk about the history of cheese in America without talking

  • about, well, American cheese.

  • The yellow orange slices are famed as essential components of classic

  • American diner staples, such as cheeseburgers, grilled cheese sandwiches

  • and tuna melts.

  • American cheese is a processed cheese, which means it is made from cheese

  • and some other ingredients that, among other things, help prolong its

  • shelf life and allow it to be smoothly melted.

  • Perhaps the best known brand of American cheese Kraft singles are made of

  • milk, cheddar cheese, whey, milk protein concentrate, milk fat, sodium

  • citrate, calcium phosphate, modified food starch, whey protein

  • concentrate, salt, lactic acid, annatto and paprika extract for color,

  • natamycin, which is a natural mold inhibitor, enzymes, cheese culture and

  • vitamin D3.

  • Apart from slices such as Kraft singles, processed cheese also refers to

  • products such as Velveeta and a range of spreadable cheeses such as cream

  • cheese and cheese products such as Easy Cheese and Cheez Whiz.

  • It appears a few different groups of food scientists were working on

  • recipes that would become what we know as American cheese.

  • But in 1916, the Canadian born American businessman James Lewis Kraft

  • patented the process for producing the American cheese that would make the

  • Kraft brand name famous.

  • Later, American cheese became a staple ingredient on cheeseburgers served

  • all around America and later around the world by fast food giants.

  • Perhaps most famously, McDonald's.

  • You look at like a McDonald's right, and the launch of that chain and the

  • launch of the hamburger using American cheese on that kind of just helped

  • install that culture and in the world.

  • And I always, I always still tell people the fun fact: if you think about

  • 85 percent of cheeseburgers...or burgers have cheese on it, and only about

  • 10 percent of chicken sandwiches have cheese.

  • I would much rather have the taste of beef versus the taste of chicken,

  • there kind of side by side.

  • They're kind of...chicken's blander yet they put more cheese on beef and

  • chicken. So chicken's an opportunity when you think about that.

  • However, processed cheeses have declined in popularity over the last decade

  • or so. For example, Industry Research Group IRI told CNBC that processed

  • cheeses such as slices and spreads sold in the cheese section of the

  • grocery store dairy aisle have seen sales decline nearly 18 percent since

  • 1995, from eight point seven pounds per person that year to seven point

  • zero seven pounds in 2018.

  • So there's a couple of categories within dairy that have been struggling

  • over the past few years, one being processed cheese and one being

  • margarine. And so you think about how consumers have moved away from

  • processed food, processed cheese and and margarine have really struggled

  • over the last five years.

  • Processed cheeses like processed foods in general have their critics who

  • say these long-loved goods are unhealthy examples of America's

  • misapplication of industrial manufacturing methods to food.

  • It is not even cheese, say some haters.

  • In a comment to CNBC, Kraft said its process historically brought safe,

  • fresh and convenient cheese to millions of Americans at a time when that

  • wasn't the norm. American cheese continues to be popular in over 60

  • percent of households.

  • Kraft also said it makes over 30 flavors of natural cheese in a variety of

  • cuts. Some industry analysts think the decline has to do with these

  • consumer concerns and with the way processed foods are labeled.

  • Processed cheese, as you know, I think it suffers from having a

  • nomenclature that, you know, from the code of federal regulations its

  • named as processed cheese, and that has to be on the package, you know,

  • legally. And what does process mean?

  • A lot of them are, you know, all dairy.

  • It just allows it to have a longer shelf life and the science behind it

  • allows it to melt just beautifully.

  • And that's why it's so great on a burger, because it's just got that

  • perfect melt. You know, if I want to make a cheese dip, there's not much

  • better than a processed cheese to put that together because of its smooth

  • melt, it's not going to oil up.

  • That's the properties it owns and it should have.

  • Intriguingly, while grocery sales of processed cheese are down, customers

  • ordering cheese or sandwiches with cheese at the deli counter, whether in

  • a grocery store or elsewhere, seem to be opting for American cheese, the

  • processed kind at about the same rates they have in the past.

  • Another reason why processed cheese might be falling out of favor is that

  • technology for packaging natural cheese has improved tremendously,

  • undercutting the need for preservatives.

  • When you shipping forward to the category, you.

  • What happened was it was the introduction of all the new flavored cheese

  • and also, I'll call the packaging system, higher quality packaging

  • preservative systems to enable natural cheese to be launched and stay

  • without molding. You know, if you look at like a sliced sandwich cheeses

  • today, you know, you definitely need to, you know, rely more on multi-vac

  • systems to be able to preserve, shut and seal, you know, with less

  • preserve. Right, they have zero preservatives like the natural or the

  • processed cheese have. And it is notable, however, that processed cheese

  • has seen a bit of a resurgence of interest amid the coronavirus pandemic.

  • With more people cooking at home, stocking their pantries and perhaps eager

  • for nostalgic comfort foods, the fact that processed cheese is processed

  • might actually now be a selling point.

  • But consumers now with, with faced with wanting to have products that have

  • a longer shelf life, that maybe were canned, that they were shopping in

  • different the different sections of the store that maybe they hadn't

  • shopped in before. Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, I think, had a huge, you

  • know, a huge uptick in terms of the volume that it sold during COVID.

  • But what we saw was we saw processed cheese and margarine all of a sudden

  • did some pretty good growth, which we hadn't seen, again, for like the

  • last four or five years.

  • Kraft told CNBC it has seen double-digit growth in its singles product in

  • 2020 and pointed out that internet searches for grilled cheese sandwiches,

  • which frequently feature Kraft singles, are up 30 percent.

  • While restaurants are largely behind the rise of cheese eating in America,

  • what consumers are buying at grocery stores also shows how the cheese

  • market has changed.

  • Stores are stocking ever-greater varieties of cheese in an array of forms

  • to make it easier for customers to incorporate cheese into their diets.

  • The aforementioned changes in packaging have had a huge impact, and not

  • just on processed cheese.

  • Historically, grocery store cheese was sold mostly in blocks.

  • Over the last few decades, companies have found ways to package cheese for

  • convenience and to market new categories of products for customers.

  • Kraft American Singles.

  • These pasteurized processed cheese food slices can make your basic tuna

  • salad sandwich pretty special.

  • They're individually wrapped, so they're easy to open.

  • Sometimes all a company has to do to induce customers to buy cheese is cut

  • it for them. For example, those bags of shredded cheese you see

  • everywhere; they came about in the 1990s when the process for easily

  • shredding and packaging large amounts of cheese was developed.

  • Now shredded cheese is the biggest seller of natural cheese varieties.

  • The entire natural cheese category is worth around $17-$18 billion, and

  • shredded cheese alone is about $6 billion of that.

  • Customers like the convenience.

  • One of the things we looked at, is once you put a shredded cheese in the

  • household, they just use so many different ways.

  • I think about a quarter of the usage was just people snacking out of it.

  • You know, if you're making a omelet, people still snack.

  • If you're making a quesadilla they were still snacking before they even

  • made the quesadilla and it just became a snacking device and it actually

  • led to different snacking forms being introduced wen you go in homes and

  • do that ethnography with the products.

  • That's where you see a lot of innovation take place,"well, how are you

  • using this?" There is also pre-sliced natural cheese, which is sold in

  • what are called shingled packs, because they resemble the shingles found

  • on a roof. But those don't sell as well as whole blocks.

  • Cheese is also cut into crumbles, sticks, cubes and other snack or garnish

  • ready sizes. The Babybel brand sells small wax-coated wheels of cheese.

  • Brands such as Oscar Mayer and Sargento sell snack packs with cheese meat,

  • nuts, dried fruit and chocolate.

  • In some cases, these companies are trying to promote cheese as a portable

  • protein source, capitalizing on interest in high protein diets.

  • Oscar Meyer even calls one product Portable Protein Packs.

  • It is a way to keep cheese palatable and relevant to customers whose

  • tastes in recent years have increasingly veered toward foods that are at

  • least perceived to be natural and healthy.

  • One potential challenge to cheese is plant-based cheeses.

  • So far, these are a small portion of the market.

  • Only about 3.3 percent of products competing with processed cheese are

  • plant-based and 0.1 percent of those competing with natural cheeses are

  • plant-based. But technology is improving.

  • To remain competitive with new rivals like these cheese makers are

  • experimenting with technology that can infuse cheese with new flavors and

  • are even trying out different feeds for dairy cattle in a similar manner

  • to the trend in grass-fed beef.

  • You know, I would say in the last decade you started seeing, it's more in

  • the higher end restaurant arenas, but, you know, you start to see some

  • cool things. The fusion of cheese, whether it's cheese infused with

  • coffee, cheese infused with wine.

  • So you think about how it would help the category to much more

  • experiential and the innovation that's come into that category is really

  • focusing on consumer need states now.

  • A lot of this innovation makes its way into restaurants before it hits

  • store shelves. Customers have also developed an ever-greater interest in

  • cheeses that are craft-made, locally sourced, ethically produced and

  • environmentally sustainable.

  • The artisanal or craft cheese market in the United States is so far small,

  • but it is growing.