Fat is Back: The Rise of Whole-Fat Dairy

By John Crawford, IRI

Low fat, no fat, less fat, whole fat. It sounds like the beginning of a Dr. Seuss rhyme but it’s actually the evolution of Americans’ discussions around diet, nutrition and, yes, fat.  


Fat is no longer the enemy in the food we eat, thank goodness. As scientists continue to demonstrate that full-fat products can be an important part of our diets, it’s vital that CPG manufacturers and retailers have the latest info on what’s happening in this space, as well as the right insights and measurement tools in place to capture this burgeoning opportunity.

Reintroduction of Fat

Popular diets today such as Keto and Paleo tell us that fat is not only okay to eat but pivotal to healthy eating. With this shift, sales have been growing exponentially for many higher-fat products like avocadoes, salmon, pistachios and dairy.

Dairy, in particular, is where it gets interesting, as there are whole fat, middle fat and fat-free products on the market. When it comes to popular dairy categories like cream cheese, frozen novelties and sour cream, last year, we saw whole-fat volume sales increase while fat-free and middle-fat product sales decreased. For example, fat-free cream cheese volume growth decreased 23.1% and middle fat decreased 4.7%, but whole fat increased 2.7%. Across the milk category, whole fat has been a consistent pocket of growth.

However, not all dairy products are experiencing the benefits of consumers’ new interest in whole fats. Off-trend categories such as margarine and processed cheese have struggled as consumers’ interest in simpler and less processed foods continues to grow. Fat-free processed cheese took the largest hit last year with a 26% decline in volume sales.

Winning with Whole Fat

As more households move toward whole-fat products, sales of these products continue to grow. The path CPG manufacturers and retailers take to win the whole-fat market should be as unique as the consumers they serve.

According to IRI ShopperSights data, buyers are different based on their tendency to purchase whole-fat versus middle-fat or fat-free products. For example, whole-fat yogurt buyers tend to be married (84%) and have kids at home (61%), and more are Hispanic (31%). Only 20% of middle-fat buyers are Hispanic, but marriage rates and kids at home are similar to whole-fat yogurt buyers.  On the other hand, 91% of fat-free yogurt buyers are married and only 34% have kids at home. The biggest difference? Only 6% of fat-free yogurt buyers are Hispanic.

To reach the right consumers, marketers need to deliver relevant, targeted messages in different ways. Whether through social media, sporting events or television, each type of buyer can be targeted based on their demographics and purchase behavior. Offering relevant messaging and a variety of products to meet various consumer needs, helps CPG manufacturers and retailers can separate themselves from competition and win new audiences.  

For more information on dairy trends, register for our webinar with IDDBA on November 7, 2018, Milking Foot Traffic: Strategies for Success in Today’s Complex Dairy Department and/or watch the webinar recording of Emerging Trends and Interesting Innovation in Dairy, Deli and Bakery.

Questions? Please contact me at


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