As sweater weather sweeps the nation, in the food world, the focus for many shifts to comfort food. Soups, stews, roasts, and wonderfully cozy, comfy, melted cheese.
Cheese sales are at a crossroads – sales are up, overall. But sales of processed cheese are down. American cheese, made popular by Baby Boomers, is in steep decline as millennials seek nourishment from products whose ingredients are less unnatural.
Remember Kraft Singles, the bright orange, individually-wrapped plastic poster child of American cheese? Kraft Singles and Velveeta are expected to see a decline in sales this year for the fourth year in a row.
At the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, 500-pound barrels of cheddar, which are used to make American cheese, sell at discount to 40-pound cheddar blocks, which are used for party platters. Demand for cheese in the barrels has been in decline for the last several years. Instead, industry growth is coming from small, specialty cheese makers.
American cheese first hit the scene in 1916, when practicality was paramount. James and Norman Kraft invented processed cheese, and sold tins of it to the military during World War I. Upon their return home, soldiers continued eating it, and popularity increased. By 1950, the Krafts perfected slicing, followed by those individually wrapped singles, in 1965. Americans marveled at the uniformity of the slices, and its long shelf life.
Here’s a Kraft Singles ad from before 1965:
“Every Single Time” from 1980 illustrates the consistency of the serving size, the plastic wrap:
But changing tastes mean inventory in the cheese aisle at the grocery store is shifting. Consumers want fewer additives in their ingredient list are supporting companies making it that way.
Heidi Gibson, of the American Grilled Cheese Kitchen, summarized it well – “I don’t like American cheese — I’ve always thought it was kind of gross, and I won’t serve food I’m not proud of. Yeah, American cheese melts well — meaning it melts a little faster — but I’ll put a grilled cheese made with Tillamook medium cheddar up against one made with American cheese any day and bet the farm on the Tillamook cheddar.”
Speaking of Tillamook, let’s take a look at some cheesy ads. Not the corny commercials spots that rely on washed up talent from the 80s making fun of themselves in an awkward way. Let’s look at an actual ad for Tillamook cheese, which is aged with time, not shortcuts.