Company ranking, industry pecking order is not a measure of business success.
But when Agropur announced the purchase Davisco Foods International’s dairy business in July, your first thought was – where does that put Agropur on the list?
WCMA has efforted a list to rank producers of natural cheese in the US. Such a list will have several caveats, beginning with the fact that this is a cheese production list, not a list measuring cheese purchased, marketed or sold. It refers to cheese production within the US only. This list includes natural cheeses and excludes pasteurized process styles, cottage cheese and cream cheese.
The top five natural cheese producers in the U.S, in order:
1. Leprino Foods
2. Saputo Cheese USA
3. Hilmar Cheese Company
4. Glanbia Foods
The recent acquisition of Davisco Foods places Agropur in fifth place for production of natural cheese within the US. And there is clearly a Top Five in the US, with breathing room before the next five is reached.
Another note: cheese production at Southwest Cheese in Clovis, NM, is assigned to Glanbia Foods for this list. The massive cheese plant is a joint venture plant between Glanbia Foods, Dairy Farmers of America, Select Milk Producers and the Greater Southwest Agency.
This list was developed mainly via direct communication with organizations, review of corporate websites and corporate media statements and some educated consensus. For example, competitors of Leprino Foods in the Top Five simply conceded that the Denver-based giant makes more cheese.
This ranking is a snapshot. Companies throughout this top 20 list are in the process of bringing new plants on line, or adding capacity at existing plants or drawing up new capacity.
The Next Five, in order:
6. Foremost Farms USA
7. Lactalis American Group
8. Associated Milk Producers Inc.
9. Great Lakes Cheese
10. BelGioioso Cheese
The next 10 top natural cheese producers in the US fall into two groups, clustered by production volume, and the organizations in these groups will not be ranked. The first group (alphabetical order) includes:
Dairy Farmers of America, Kraft Foods, Land O’Lakes Inc., and Tillamook Cheese.
Obviously this group includes powerful cheese marketers, but this list is simply ranking natural cheese production in the US, not sales, not conversion, not distribution, not marketings.
As the list proceeds, differences in total cheese production narrow. Note that for this list, cheese production at Melrose Dairy Proteins in Melrose, MN is assigned to Land O’Lakes. Melrose is a joint venture between Land O’ Lakes and Dairy Farmers of America. In direct communication, DFA offered the total production at their five wholly-owned natural cheese production plants.
The top 20 natural cheese producers in the U.S. is rounded out with these six organizations (alphabetical order):
Agri-Mark, Darigold, First District Association, Grande Cheese, Mullins Cheese and Valley Queen Cheese Factory.
Altogether, WCMA estimates that these 20 organizations produce more than 75 percent of the natural cheese crafted in the US.
The cheese plants operated by these companies comprise about 15 percent of the total number of US natural cheese plants (as listed by USDA’s NASS in 2013). In other words, about 15 percent of cheese plants in the US produce an estimated 75-plus percent of America’s cheese.
Nine of the organizations on this list are cooperatives, eight of the top 20 organizations are privately held, three are publicly-held corporations.
Lists don’t matter. Lists change. But this is a snapshot of the US. natural cheese industry today. JU
John Umhoefer has served as executive director of the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association since 1992. You can phone John at (608) 828-4550; Fax him at (608) 828-4551; or e-mail John Umhoefer at
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