Last year, per capita cheese consumption hit a record high of 33.7 pounds, according to the USDA. Cheese consumption per person has now topped 33 pounds for three straight years and has risen by more than a pound since 2008 when it totaled 32.46 pounds.
Those numbers bode well for dairy farmers in Wisconsin where 90% of the milk produced goes into cheese.
Scott Wallin, director of farmer communication for Dairy Management Inc., the group that manages the national dairy checkoff, believes checkoff partnerships with companies like Domino's and Pizza Hut are helping boost cheese sales and consumption. The checkoff has partnered with Domino's for the past five years.
"Domino's continues to amaze us," Wallin says. "They have a new campaign called "Cheese it Up." When you order pizza online, you can click on "more cheese" and you get more cheese on your pizza. Everybody wants more cheese!"
Since starting the campaign, Domino's online orders requesting more cheese have doubled, Wallin reports.
Pizza Hut -- the largest pizza chain in the world -- has become another marketing partner with the checkoff.
"Pizza Hut has a 51% whole grain crust and low sodium cheese," Wallin says. "They are selling these pizzas to schools."
According to Wallin, pizza consumption is vital since 25% of cheese made in the U.S. is put on pizza. Taco Bell is another new partner that uses a lot of cheese.
"Eighty percent of their menu items have dairy," Wallin says. "A lot of that is cheese and sour cream."
According to the checkoff, Taco Bell is on track to grow dairy volume by an estimated 100 million pounds of milk through innovation and a new breakfast menu launched in March that features dairy.
"To get them involved in breakfast that is very dairy friendly is good for farmers," Wallin notes.
Making it with milk
A Quaker-led promotion "Make It with Milk" encourages consumers to use milk instead of water when preparing oatmeal.
"Most people don't even realize you can make oatmeal with milk," Wallin says. "The program was supported with a Kroger retail program in 2013. Milk sales increased an average of 2.2% with sales topping 6% one week. These efforts are being duplicated with two Safeway promotions this year.
"Partnerships like these succeed because both parties bring something to the table and benefit."
Wallin says the dairy checkoff is working with milk processors and other partners on a strategy to reinvent the fluid milk experience for consumers and reverse decades-long sales declines.
"Fluid milk consumption has been declining for the past 40 years," he says. "We're working with milk processors to reverse the trend and increase demand. The market is right with the drop in bottled water sales and the decline in soda consumption."
According to Wallin, butter is back. Sales since 2008 have increased even with wholesale butter prices peaking at $3.06 per pound the end of September.
"Consumers want something that is natural and butter is natural," he says. "And that's what gives us hope that fluid milk consumption will turn around."