What you need to know

Slow and steady growth is a hallmark of the cheese category that was positively disrupted in 2020 by COVID-19. Increased time spent at home and meal and snack occasions created a shift in food dollar spend that has benefitted most food and drink categories, including cheese in 2020, although not entirely equally. Sustaining the positivity for the long-term will rely on innovating and positioning products for increased consumption, with adults in mind, expanding the snacking occasion and widening the audience for dairy-free varieties.

Key issues covered in this Report

  • The impact of COVID-19 on consumer behavior and the cheese market

  • Cheese lessons from past recessions

  • Consumer consumption of and attitudes toward cheese and dairy-free cheese

  • The importance of the snacking occasion and expanding engagement to non-parents


This Report builds on the analysis presented in Mintel’s Cheese – US, October 2019,  as well as the September 2018 Report of the same name, as well as Cheese – US, October 2017, Cheese: Spotlight on Natural – US, November 2015Cheese – US, October 2014 and the October 2013June 2012October 2011May 2010May 2009March 2007April 2005 and February 2003 Reports of the same title.

For the purposes of this Report, Mintel has used the following definitions:

  • Natural cheese: includes all forms (slices, blocks, chunks, cubes, crumbles, shredded), string cheese and ricotta cheese. Cheeses in this segment are produced directly from milk or whey that has been coagulated, heated, drained and pressed. It can include the addition of salt and/or flavorings.

  • Processed cheese: includes cheese spreads in aerosol cans, squeezable tubes, cheese balls, cheese loafs and other forms, and imitation cheese. Cheeses in this segment are typically a blend of cheeses that have been mixed and cooked and include additional ingredients such as cream, milk, water or cheese whey.

  • Cream cheese/cream cheese spreads: includes brick, soft, whipped, balls and other forms; may be plain or flavored.

  • Cottage cheese

While most cheese is made from cow’s milk, cheeses made from goat’s milk and other dairy products, as well as non-dairy sources such as soy milk, also are included. Excluded from this Report are yogurt cheese, cheese sauces and cheese dips.

COVID-19: market context

The first COVID-19 case was confirmed in the US in January 2020. On March 11, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global health pandemic, and on March 13, President Trump declared a national emergency in the US. 

Across the US, state-level stay-at-home orders rolled out throughout the months of March and April and remained in place through May and in some cases June. During this time, referred to as lockdown, nonessential businesses and school districts across the nation closed or shifted to remote operations.

During reemergence, all 50 states have relaxed stay-at-home orders and allowed businesses to operate with varying levels of social distancing measures in place. The continued spread of COVID-19 infections has driven some states to slow down or reverse course on reopening plans. Mintel anticipates the US will remain in a state of flux through 2021, until a vaccine is available.

Economic and other assumptions

This forecast and subsequent Report assumes the following:

  • Unemployment will remain at 10.6% in 2020 before incrementally improving over the next five years.

  • US GDP will decline 5.8% in 2020 and increase 4% in 2021, followed by continuous increases until 2025.

  • Consumer confidence rests at 74.1 as of August 2020. This is a 2.3-point improvement from its low of 71.8 in April, indicating that consumer confidence is on an upswing and could improve throughout the rest of the year.

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