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State of Cheese Prices: Wholesale Restaurant Food Cost Trends

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Justin GuinnAuthor

Restaurants use all types of cheeses in tons of dishes. That’s why fluctuations in cheese prices can have a significant impact on profit margins.

Understanding the restaurant supply chain and other factors that influence cheese prices can be crucial for making informed purchasing decisions and maintaining profitability.

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Toast is the point of sale system built for restaurants.

We're able to calculate the average monthly prices that eating establishments pay for cheese by using proprietary data from xtraCHEF by Toast, our invoice automation and recipe costing tool.

The average national price that restaurants paid for a pound of cheese is $3.73 in August.

Here's a breakdown of historical data on wholesale restaurant cheese prices in the last year:

Restaurant cheese prices have been steady over the past year — fluctuating 3% month-over-month or less since February.

Here's a breakdown of recent month-over-month fluctuations in the price of cheese for restaurants:

Commodities experts weigh in on cheese prices

We were able to speak with some experts in the food commodities space to understand their analysis on cheese price trends and the impacts on restaurants. 

Question

How should restaurant owners expect wholesale cheese prices to trend into 2024?

Cheese prices have recently been trending higher as the milk supply has become tighter. Chicago Mercantile block cheddar prices have hovered around $2/pound over the last few months. The trend calls for higher prices into 2024 as the milk supply decreases along with the number of cows as producers cull their herds. The price is not expected to surge as the export market slows down when domestic prices rise more quickly than the world price.

Tim Luginsland
Tim Luginsland
Wells Fargo Agri-Food Institute

What is cheese?

Cheese is a dairy product made from the curdled milk of various animals, most commonly cows, goats, or sheep. 

It undergoes a process of coagulation, where milk solids are separated from the whey, then aged to develop its distinct texture and flavor. 

Cheese is known for its versatility and is used in numerous culinary applications, such as sandwiches, pasta dishes, appetizers, and desserts.

Tracking the origins of most cheese used in America

The United States has a robust cheese production industry, with domestic production meeting a significant portion of the country's cheese demands. 

Wisconsin, known as the "Cheese State," leads the nation in cheese production, offering an array of varieties like Cheddar, Colby, and Swiss. Other major cheese-producing states include California, New York, and Wisconsin's neighboring states of Minnesota and Iowa.

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Impact of milk prices on wholesale prices for different cheeses

Milk prices play a crucial role in determining the wholesale prices of different cheeses. 

As milk is the primary ingredient in cheese production, fluctuations in milk prices directly affect overall production costs. 

When milk prices rise, the cost of producing cheese increases, leading to higher wholesale prices. Conversely, lower milk prices can result in more affordable wholesale cheese prices.

Cheddar cheese, American cheese, Swiss cheese, Parmesan, and more popular types of cheese

The cheese market offers a vast array of options, each with its characteristics, flavors, and uses. Some popular types of cheese used in American cuisine include:

  • Cheddar cheese: A sharp, aged cheese with a slightly crumbly texture, widely used in sandwiches, macaroni and cheese, and burgers.
  • American cheese: A mild and processed cheese commonly used in grilled cheese sandwiches and burgers.
  • Swiss cheese: Known for its distinctive holes, Swiss cheese has a nutty flavor and is a staple in classic dishes like the Reuben sandwich and cheese fondue.
  • Parmesan cheese: An Italian cheese with a strong, savory taste, often grated and used as a topping for pasta, salads, and soups.
  • Mozzarella cheese: A soft and elastic cheese commonly used in pizzas, lasagnas, and caprese salads.
  • Provolone cheese: A semi-hard Italian cheese with a mild and slightly sweet flavor, typically used in sandwiches, pizzas, and pasta dishes.
  • Gouda cheese: A semi-hard Dutch cheese with a caramel-like flavor and a creamy texture, often used in cheese plates, sandwiches, and snacks.
  • Blue cheese: A sharp and tangy cheese with a distinct blue mold, commonly used in salads, dressing, and sauces.
  • Feta cheese: A salty and tangy Greek cheese commonly used in salads, sandwiches, and as a garnish for Mediterranean dishes.
  • Brie cheese: A soft and creamy French cheese with a buttery flavor, typically served as an appetizer or dessert cheese.

Understanding the characteristics and flavor profiles of different cheeses can help restaurant owners and operators select the most suitable options for their menus and manage their cheese purchasing effectively.

Cheese is a versatile and widely-used ingredient in the restaurant industry. Being aware of its production process, sourcing regions, and how milk prices impact its wholesale pricing is essential for restaurant owners and operators.

With this knowledge, restaurant professionals can make informed decisions when it comes to cheese purchasing, menu planning, and cost management, offering their customers the best possible dining experience.

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Start tracking butter prices today

Restaurant operators don’t want their profits to melt like cheese. That’s why they should consider having a strong back-of-house foundation built on invoice automation.

Invoices are the single source of truth for restaurant costs — pinpointing prices and fluctuations for individual ingredients as well as paper goods, non-alcoholic beverages, and more.

With accurate and up-to-date ingredient prices from invoices, operators can start calculating plate costs. Plate costing is a detailed exercise that zooms into the recipes and/or individual ingredients that make up a dish — requiring detailed recipe costs and portion costs for ingredients.

Costing exercises can help show how each component is contributing to the overall profitability of a dish or drink. And recipe costing software can help make it easier to calculate and achieve an ideal balance between portions and profits.




Methodology

Toast analyzed monthly invoice items for cheese from restaurants using xtraCHEF by Toast. Items are weighted by the frequency of orders, not quantity. A standard unit of measure is determined so that an average price can be calculated across all invoice inclusions of the ingredient.

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