A poor national economy is largely to blame for a slowdown in cheese consumption, say officials from Dairy Management Inc.

Consumer traffic at restaurants is down in recent months, and overall traffic for the year is flat, says Tom Gallagher, head of DMI. That has had a big impact on the sales of pizza and cheeseburger, he says.

And, the retail price of cheese in grocery stores remains high relative to previous years, making it less attractive to cost-conscious consumers.

Both of these things contribute to what Gallagher calls a “deceleration” of cheese consumption. That, in turn, has caused milk prices to stay in the doldrums.

Some of these trends were already in place prior to this year. The Sept. 11 tragedy a year ago began a steady erosion of spending at the restaurant level.

According to new figures from the National Milk Producers Federation, per capita consumption of cheese declined 0.7 percent in 2001 compared to 2000. It was the first such decline since 1988.

The following table shows per capita cheese consumption in the U.S. since 1987:

1987-   24.10 (lbs.)
1988-   23.71
1989-   23.79
1990-   24.61
1991-   24.94
1992-    25.86
1993-   26.03
1994-   26.55
1995-   26.91
1996-   27.31
1997-   27.52
1998-   27.75
1999-   28.95
2000-   29.78
2001-   29.57