Cheese Chases Snackers

Look out potato chips and pretzels. Cheese is making a push to become the snack of choice.

Private label competition and a deepening recession may have taken a bite out of cheese sales, but snacking cheese remains a bright spot for the category. And, dairy companies like Kraft, Sargento and The Laughing Cow have taken notice.

Snacking is a $90 billion industry and cheese is grabbing a larger share. Whereas 2.5% of the population ate cheese in the evening as a snack 10 years ago, the percentage is now 4.5%, per the NPD Group, Port Washington, N.Y.

Overall, Americans consumed 1.1 billion cheese snacks in 2008. Children under 6 were the largest consumers of the snack, followed by those in the 6-12 range and then the 18-34 range (females 18-34 ate slightly more cheese than men).

Nielsen data shows specialty and imported cheese sales reaching $853 million for the 52 weeks ending Oct. 4. That