Three weeks into the new year, and the Cheddar category is hotting up already, with Wyke Farms and Seriously Strong squaring up over who performed better over Christmas.

According to data from Kantar, the Wyke Farms portfolio saw a 26% year-on-year uplift in sales to £13.4m over the 12 weeks to 26 December, while sales of Seriously Strong fell nearly 50%, from £24.7m to £12.7m. This would suggest Christmas 2010 marked the first time value sales of Wyke Farms overtook those of Seriously Strong.

Wyke Farms is the UK's fourth-biggest Cheddar brand on a 52-week basis, but has said in the past it wants to become second-biggest within the next two years. MD Richard Clothier said he was particularly encouraged by the company's performance as "we didn't have any big promotions on, so this uplift was purely from base sales".

But Seriously Strong owner Lactalis McLelland said data from Kantar competitor Nielsen showed Seriously had in fact maintained its position ahead of Wyke for the 12-week period to 26 December in both volume and value terms. It added Seriously sales were twice those of Wyke on an annual basis.

Across the category, sales of branded Cheddar rose 7.9% year-on-year to £151.5m, with own-label sales also up 7.9% to £179.4m [Kantar Worldpanel 12w/e 26 December 2010]. Cathedral City led the category with sales of £54.7m, up 25% year-on-year, with runner-up Pilgrims Choice posting sales of £20.7m, up 10% on 2009.

The Lake District Cheese Co, owned by First Milk, nearly quadrupled sales after doubling distribution in 2010, rising from £3.1m for Christmas 2009 to £11.5m.

First Milk marketing director Paul Murray said Lake District was on course to become the country's number three Cheddar brand in the next three years. Pilgrims Choice brand marketing controller Hannah Jenkins said the brand would use its strong Christmas performance as a "springboard" for product innovation in 2011.