scorecardThe rise and fall of Kraft, the pioneer of processed cheese
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The rise and fall of Kraft, the pioneer of processed cheese

Noah Lewis,Katie Nixdorf,Robert Leslie   

  • Kraft is an iconic brand that pioneered processed cheese and boxed macaroni and cheese.
  • But sales of processed cheese products like Kraft Singles declined by 12% in the last decade.
  • Sales rebounded during the pandemic, but it may not be enough to bring back an appetite for processed cheese.

Kraft has grown from a small cheese factory to a multi-national food conglomerate backed by Warren Buffett - and it all started with processed cheese.

Over 100 years ago in the mid-1910s, Canadian-born businessman James L. Kraft found a way to turn leftover scraps of cheddar into a smooth, spreadable cheese with a longer shelf life and consistent taste.

This discovery - and the timing of it - was a game changer for the company.

Kraft supplied 6 million pounds of cheese to feed American soldiers in World War I and invented other iconic foods like packaged macaroni and cheese, which gained traction during the Great Depression.

But by the early 2000s, Americans had woken up to the potential negative health impacts of ultra-processed foods. Kraft faced scandals over its ingredients, and revenue from its cheese products stagnated.

Warren Buffett took a chance on the company and financed a merger between Kraft and Heinz in 2015. Still, Kraft announced a $15.4 billion impairment charge in 2019, meaning the value of its brand portfolio was declining.

We unpacked how Kraft went from a small cheese factory to one of the world's largest food companies - and what's next for the brand.