Cheese continues to be a popular nibble for UK consumers. The category has shown strong growth, up 3.6% to nearly £2bn.

However, there is still plenty of room for improvement because, as a nation, we still don't get through as much cheese as our Continental cousins. Breakfast consumption, for example, has yet to catch up.

Manufacturers have been busy introducing convenience offerings and have also been making the most of the product's natural protein and calcium credentials, as well as adding functional benefits.

Although Cheddar still accounts for more than half of the market, the better-for-you sector, which includes low fat, organic, cholesterol-lowering and cottage cheese, is also showing strong growth.

In the past year cheese has made a foray into probiotics, a food arena dominated by yoghurt drinks. Butlers Farmhouse Cheeses launched a hard Lancashire version in May, while Somerset-based Cricketer Farm also got in on the act with a probiotic mature Cheddar, which boasts the added benefit of

containing half the fat of normal Cheddars. If the recent boom in probiotic yoghurts is anything to go by, this area could become a very significant part of the cheese category in the future.

Another ground-breaking cheese covered the other burgeoning health arena - cholesterol reduction. Fayrefield Foods, which took two years to develop Heartfelt+, claims its product can help reduce cholesterol levels without compromising on taste. It hit Asda chillers in May.

There has been little movement among the top 10 cheese brands. Kraft managed to reverse the fortunes of its brand-leading Dairylea label, with sales increasing by almost 1% to £117.9m, compared with an 8.7% fall the previous year. Number two brand Cathedral City is getting ever closer to the top spot, however. The Cheddar brand's sales grew 24% last year and it is now worth £108.7m.

Cheestrings is the only brand in the top five to show a decline, despite a £5m relaunch flagging it as a healthy option for children. It was also reformulated as 100% cheese and got new packaging, a White Cheddar variant and advertising.n