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Profitability a Challenge for Growing Cheese Industry: Report

American Cheese Society’s survey finds 92% of cheesemakers report maintaining profitability is an area of concern
Photograph: Shutterstock

The artisan and specialty cheese industry is growing, according to the American Cheese Society’s (ACS) recently released State of the U.S. Artisan/Specialty Cheese Industry Survey, which found that there are nearly 1,000 artisan and specialty cheesemakers in the U.S., marking a significant increase compared to previous decades.

According to the survey, 76% of cheesemakers reported annual cheese production of 50,000 pounds or less, indicating that the growing industry largely consists of smaller businesses.

While cheese continues to top U.S. specialty food sales, at more than $4 billion in 2017, per the Specialty Food Association, profitability remains a challenge for the artisan and specialty cheese industry. Just 80% of cheesemakers operated profitably in 2017, according to the ACS survey, and average profit margins were slim. Plus, 92% of cheesemakers reported than maintaining profitability is an area of concern.

While cheesemakers that reported a higher production volume averaged higher gross revenue, that did not necessarily translate to profit, the report finds. The higher the cheesemaker’s gross revenue, the lower the profit margin on average.

“Cheesemakers put an incredible amount of passion into creating their products, and these in-depth surveys show just how challenging that work can be,” ACS Executive Director Nora Weiser said in a statement. “Unique cheeses made using traditional methods are driving growth in the cheese sector, and engaged consumers who care about local, artisan products are supporting this growth.”

The ACS full report is available on its website and includes:

  • Report of Key Findings: Contains highlights from the 2018 survey, including data on demographics, production, marketing, food safety, industry participation and attitudes and perceptions.
  • Benchmarking Report: Designed to help cheesemakers assess how their businesses have performed relative to other producers, this report includes data on geography, production methods, production volume, milk types, marketing and distribution practices, and profitability.
  • Food Safety Report: Includes food safety-related findings such as milk type, aging practices, food safety planning, milk testing, regulatory knowledge, and inspections and audits.

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