Americans love their cheese. Last year, sales of natural and specialty cheese grew to $17 billion, according to a recent report from market researcher Packaged Facts. Since 2011, this industry segment has enjoyed a CAGR of 4 percent, primarily due to increased availability of products at affordable prices and the ongoing snacking trend in the US.

“The cheese market is appropriately ripe and the impact of the recession on sales is still being felt,” says David Sprinkle, research director at Packaged Facts. “But there are real opportunities to grow sales. Marketers are capitalizing, for instance, by positioning cheese as a kid-friendly snack and through the increased availability of indulgent gourmet and artisan cheese varieties.”

Marketers have continued to promote cheese as fundamentally nutritious and good tasting, despite its high fat content.  Researchers say this fat content, in addition to sodium, will challenge the segments growth though marketers have been addressing consumer health and diet concerns with better tasting reduced salt and fat cheeses, as well as organic cheeses and cheeses made from healthier milk.

Cheese sales likewise continue to benefit significantly from the snacking trend, with parents in particular driving sales of convenient forms given to their children. Healthy alternatives like yogurt, fruit snacks and others have challenged cheese in the snacking arena. Further driving growth is the continued expansion of mass retailers’ own private label brands to include natural and specialty cheeses. Private label store brands are a major market driver, accounting for over 40 percent of dollar sales. Many retailers have also upgraded their cheese departments to attract consumers who want cheese-shop quality products in the supermarket, supercenter or club store.

More information on the report can be found here.