Editorial Comment Publisher/Editor

 

Per Capita Cheese Consumption: 40 Pounds Is Within Reach

Dick Groves
Publisher/Editor
Cheese Reporter Publishing Co., Inc.
dgroves@cheesereporter.com 608-316-3791

October 12, 2018

 

The latest per capita cheese consumption figures were recently released by USDA’s Economic Research Service and, as reported on our front page last week, those figures look pretty positive for the cheese industry. And we expect further growth in per capita cheese consumption in the future.

No doubt about it, per capita cheese consumption has been on a nice little roll lately. Actually, per capita cheese consumption has been on a pretty nice roll for roughly half a century now.

Believe it or not, there was a time when per capita cheese consumption in the US was under 10 pounds. That was from the time statistics started to be kept up until 1968, when per capita consumption reached a then-record 10.05 pounds (for what it’s worth, it was also in 1968 that the US population first topped 200 million, implying a US cheese market of about 2 billion pounds).

By 1970, per capita cheese consumption had reached about 11.4 pounds. It then grew every year in the 1970s except for 1975, and grew every year in the 1980s except for 1988.

By 1989, per capita cheese consumption had reached almost 24 pounds (it had actually been 24.1 pounds in 1987, then fell below that level in 1988 and 1989 because the federal government stopped giving away surplus cheese in early 1988; nothing boosts consumption like giving a product away). Per capita cheese consumption kept growing, topping 29 pounds in 1999 and then hitting 30 pounds for the first time in 2001.

Looking back over the statistics, we noticed that per capita cheese consumption first topped 20 pounds in 1983. So, if it took 18 years for per capita cheese consumption to grow from 20 pounds to 30 pounds, and if it takes another 18 years for per capita cheese consumption to grow from 30 pounds to 40 pounds, is it possible for per capita cheese consumption to reach 40 pounds by next year?

Probably not. Looking back over the period when per capita consumption was rising from 20 to 30 pounds, there was actually only one decline; that was in 1988 which, as noted earlier, was the year when the government stopped giving cheese away. Per capita consumption in both 1988 and in 1989 was lower than in 1987, but other than in 1988, it did increase every year.

Interestingly, since reaching 30 pounds in 2001, per capita cheese consumption has declined just once: in 2008, when per capita consumption of 32.39 pounds was down more than half a pound from 2007.

But after consumption reached a record high in 1987, it again reached a record high in 1990, and that 1990 record was more than half a pound higher than the 1987 record.

By contrast, it wasn’t until 2011 that the 2007 per capita consumption record was broken, and per capita consumption that year only broke the 2007 record by three-tenths of a pound.

So while there was a three-year period in the late 1980s during which per capita consumption grew by only about half a pound, there was a four-year period earlier this century during which per capita consumption grew by less than half a pound. Thus, reaching 40 pounds next year (18 years after reaching 30 pounds) doesn’t seem very realistic, especially since per capita consumption last year was 37.23 pounds.

Still, it does seem realistic for per capita cheese consumption to reach 40 pounds by early in the next decade, for at least a couple of reasons. First, since being relatively flat from 2007 through 2013 (rising from 32.94 pounds to just 33.66 pounds over that period), per capita cheese consumption has really exploded.

Put another way, per capita cheese consumption hasn’t just broken records in recent years, it has shattered them. It grew by almost three-quarters of a pound in 2014, almost a full pound in 2015, more than a pound in 2016 and more than half a pound in 2017.

Yes, it could be argued that per capita consumption growth is bound to slow down after such a period of rapid growth, but we’re optimistic that the impressive growth we’ve seen in recent years will continue.

Backing up that belief: during the first seven months of 2018, domestic commercial disappearance of cheese was about 181 million pounds higher than during the first seven months of 2017.

Second, last year’s record per capita consumption was accomplished despite a drop in per capita consumption of Italian cheeses. That’s pretty amazing because, pretty much no matter how far back you go, increases in per capita cheese consumption have been driven more by Italian cheeses than any other category.

For example, back in 1970, per capita consumption of American-type cheese was seven pounds, while per capita consumption of Italian cheese was just over two pounds. Last year, despite a decline in Italian cheese consumption, both categories were tied, at 15.06 pounds. So since 1970, per capita consumption of Italian cheese grew by 13 pounds, while per capita consumption of American cheeses grew by eight pounds.

Also last year, per capita Mozzarella consumption declined, for just the fifth time since 1995. Since per capita consumption of other Italian cheeses was unchanged from 2016, the decline in per capita consumption of Italian cheeses last year can be attributed entirely to Mozz.

Given the likelihood that Italian cheese consumption will rebound this year, we expect per capita cheese consumption overall to also increase, again. Forty pounds by 2022 seems plausible.




Cheese Reporter welcomes letters to the editor. Comments should be sent to: Dick Groves by Fax at (608) 246-8431; or e-mail your comments to
dgroves @cheesereporter.com.

 

 

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
https://twitter.com/cheesereporter.


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