WCMA Notes: Cheese Growth Begets WCMA Growth

Posted By: John Umhoefer WCMA News,

Cheese usage is growing, cheese production is booming and your cheese trade association is expanding to match the success.  

Retail Sales 

Natural cheese sales at all retail outlets, in the four weeks ending April 21, are up 3 percent versus one year ago, and pasteurized process cheese is also up 3.3 percent. Solid volume gains are found across the board, from Fresh Mozzarella (up 5.6 percent) to Gouda (up 11.6 percent), Muenster (up 2.8 percent), Queso styles (up more than 10 percent), Monterey Jack (up 5.8 percent) and String cheese (up 21.6 percent). Cheddar volume at retail is essentially flat, along with Feta and Colby. Fontina, Swiss, and Blue are down, but “hot” cheeses such as Burrata (up 41.9 percent), Gorgonzola (up 17 percent) and Asadero (up 33.6 percent) point to consumer interest in the wide array of value-added cheeses.  

The four-week snapshot above proves that retail sales are strengthening this spring.  When looking at a full year of sales ending April 21, natural cheese was up 2.2 percent and pasteurized process up 0.6 percent. Dairy Management Inc. collects this national retail scanner data from Circana. 

Cheese Exports 

Cheese remains the sales star in export data collected by U.S. Dairy Export Council. Citing data through April 2024, cheese exports from the U.S. are up 23.7 percent compared to first four months of last year. Cheese sales set an all-time monthly record in March reaching 50,022 metric tons (110.3 million pounds), and April followed with the second-best month ever for cheese at 46,270 metric tons (101.9 million pounds).  The first four months of 2024 saw 392 million pounds of U.S. cheese find markets in other nations. Mexico, Central America, South Korea, Japan and Australia/New Zealand are sales leaders and South America is on the rise. 

As this column was written, the value of mild cheddar at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange had risen 45 cents in since the beginning of the year, reflecting growth in cheese sales domestically and abroad, as well as pancake-flat milk production this year compared to the same months in 2023. 

Cheese Production Growth 

Cheese sales growth is great news as multiple new cheese production facilities across the U.S. have recently opened or will be fully operational by this time next year: 

  • Agropur’s new facility in Little Chute, WI is now operational.  

  • Great Lakes Cheese in Franklinville, NY will begin running milk in late 2024.  

  • Panhandle Cheese in Dumas, TX is now producing. 

  • Hilmar is now hiring at its massive new Dodge City, KS, cheese plant set to become operational in 2024.  

  • Leprino Cheese in Lubbock, Texas will be commissioned in the fall of 2024.  

  • Valley Queen Cheese will complete a massive addition in early 2025 to increase production 62 percent at the Milbank, SD factory. 

  • Bongards Creameries will complete production expansion at Perham, MN in mid-2025.  

Together, this new production is estimated at 1.35 billion pounds of natural cheese capacity coming online in 2024-2025.  Earlier growth spurred by new production at MWC in St. Johns, MI, First District Association in Litchfield, MN, and Cacique Foods in Amarillo, TX pushes “big project” cheese growth in the U.S. past 1.75 billion pounds since 2022. 

WCMA Growth 

Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association is growing too – in leadership, events, key programs and staff – to serve the world’s largest cheese industry. This spring, the Association added seven new directors to our Board, a 30 percent expansion, including new seats representing the western and eastern U.S. WCMA’s manufacturer and processor members now operate plants in 33 states – 40 percent of these members are based outside of our namesake Wisconsin.  

Our growing staff is serving this national membership with online and in-person leadership trainings, workforce safety trainings and a growing number of committees and workshops designed to serve dairy processors everywhere.  For example, WCMA has joined the push to aid dairy sustainability efforts, partnering with Harbor Environmental and Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy in May on a workshop to help members create their materiality assessments for sustainable practices.  Members from seven states joined in.  

Forty-seven states, and 19 nations, participated in the 2024 CheeseExpo in April.  Not only did the dairy industry’s largest trade exposition hit record attendance this year, but with the imminent expansion of the Baird Center in Milwaukee, CheeseExpo will explode in size in 2026!  

These growth metrics for WCMA and our members merely underscore the success of the cheese industry domestically and abroad. We’re proud to build programs and services as cheese continues to lead dairy growth.