Millennial Demand for Clean Food Sends Sales of American Cheese Down for 4th Straight Year

Millennial Demand for Clean Food Sends Sales of American Cheese Down for 4th Straight Year

Sales of American cheese are on the decline.

The staple burger topping was once the epitome of American food tech. But for Millennials, it’s ancient history.

The Kraft-bred single was “born at a time when utility reigned,” the Chicago Tribune notes. “James and Norman Kraft invented processed cheese in 1916 and sold it in tins to the U.S. military during World War I. Soldiers kept eating it when they returned home and its popularity soared.”

The slice arrived in 1950; the single wrapped slice, 1965.

But, notes the Tribune, “one by one, America’s food outlets are abandoning the century-old American staple, with many replacing it with fancier cheeses.”

Fast-food chains that heavily relied on the cheese are using “real” cheese instead of the processed slice. McDonald’s, the world’s largest fast-food chain, recently announced it was removing artificial ingredients from its burgers, including those found in its cheese slices. The shift is working — younger consumers are responding and sales are on the uptick for products that are less processed.

American cheese is “an ingredient we’re looking to less and less in our pantry,” Sara Burnett, Panera’s director of wellness and food policy, told the Tribune.

Consumers are also opting for dairy-free products, too. Recent data found more than 30 percent of Californians regularly purchased milk alternatives such as almond or coconut milk. Cheese alternatives are seeing spikes, too. While once not much different than the processed American cheese, a growing number of artisan crafters are now culturing nut and seed milk and aging the plant-based options just the same as dairy.

Sales of American cheese are set to decline for the fourth straight year, dropping nearly 2 percent.

“The end of the affair is also evident at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, where 500-pound barrels of cheddar used to make American cheese are selling at a record discount to 40-pound cheddar blocks, the cheddar that shows up on party platters,” the Tribune notes. “That’s because demand for the cheese in the barrels has been dwindling for years.”

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Jill Ettinger

Jill Ettinger is a Los Angeles-based journalist and editor focused on the global food system and how it intersects with our cultural traditions, diet preferences, health, and politics. She is the senior editor for sister websites and, and works as a research associate and editor with the Cornucopia Institute, the organic industry watchdog group. Jill has been featured in The Huffington Post, MTV, Reality Sandwich, and Eat Drink Better.