The global love for all things cheese cannot be denied. A product both comforting and indulgent, it’s perfect for meals at home yet upscale enough for entertaining. Cheese is also a natural part of the stocking up process for the 75-80% of meals prepared in the home.
Category drivers include awareness of good sources of nutrients: calcium, phosphorous, zinc and vitamins A and B12 for building strong bones and muscles, according to Mordor Intelligence. The global cheese market is projected to exhibit a CAGR of 6.7% during the market forecast period of 2020-2027, according to Fortune Business Insights.
The growing appeal of cheese is further enhanced by options that speak of authenticity. Beloved brands introduced through the import process – either through the import of the cheese itself or import of an individual making the cheese – demonstrate that consumers remain ready to embrace a diverse and international approach to cheese consumption.
BelGioioso, Green Bay, Wis., originally introduced traditional Italian cheeses to US consumers by importing its master cheesemakers, Mauro and Gianni, direct from Italy. Its products include a range of aged and fresh Italian cheeses, along with handcrafted artisanal cheeses. The BelGiosio Artisanal Cheese boutique contains Classico, Aged Balsamic & Cipolline Onion, Vino Rosso, American Grana, Gorgonzola Dolce and Gorgonzola Halico hand-washed rind, spreadable Crescenze-Stracchino, Pepato Asiago con Peppercorn, Peperoncino Asiago con Chili Pepper and Provolone Extra aged 24-plus months.
Norseland, Stamford, Conn., shares the expertise of Norway’s largest cooperative of dairy farmers, offering foodie-based travel through the medium of cheese. Norseland’s range of European cheeses include the Brunost Collection that blends Norwegian cow and goat milk with cream from cows to produce a rich caramel taste and a hint of sharpness.
Its other handcrafted cheeses include Garcia Baquero from indigenous sheep in Spain, French heritage Couturier creamy goat cheese, British specialty cheeses, Old Amsterdam gouda, Italian Parmigiano Reggiano, French goat cheeses, Snofrisk spreadable cheese imported from Norway and nutty-flavored Jarlsberg cheese, a US favorite.
As consumers grow more sophisticated in their tastes, so does the definition of cheese that’s deemed to be “healthy.” Research from Datassential demonstrates that “healthy” cheese can be many things. Feedback shared that “healthy” indicates a reduction in stabilizers and preservatives (60%), emphasis on calcium (57%) and protein (54%), and no added colors or flavors (49%) or hormones (48%).
Research from the International Food Information Council found that 70% of consumers consider protein from plant sources as the healthiest; 24% report eating more plant-based dairy alternatives. More than four in 10 consumers assume a product described as “plant-based” would be healthier than one that is not.
This can also include delving into the inner workings of the cheesemaking process, such as in the use of one of four types of rennet to coagulate milk, one of which uses genetic modification. Paul McSweeney, professor of food chemistry at University College Cork in Ireland and founder of CheeseScience.net, estimates that 80-90% of the cheese consumed by Americans contains some genetically modified rennet.
Saputo USA Cheese Division, Lincolnshire, Ill., offers a range of cheeses, including organic and non-GMO cheeses for those consumers with non-GMO on their radar. For those looking for the right cheese for the right application, Saputo offers its Product Performance Center in Wisconsin. That’s where culinary experts can help replicate real world scenarios for the home and commercial kitchen using the company’s mozzarella, blue cheese, gorgonzola, ricotta, provolone, hard loaf, Swiss, feta, goat, organic, non-GMO, pressed and imported cheeses.
Keeping cheese front and center with consumers entails finding new applications that respond to the needs of varied audiences. This includes the introduction of a growing range of functional cheese, crunchy snacks and bars, and plant-based cheese spreads, according to Glambia Nutritionals, Shanghai.
Keeping with the evergreen trend of convenience, Sargento, Plymouth, Wis., offers on-the-go single-serving snack packs. Balanced Breaks contain Sargento cheese with snackable accompaniments that include a choice of Triscuits, original or tomato & basil Wheat Thins, or Ritz crackers.
The company’s Sweet Balanced Breaks are designed to satisfy a cheese craving, accompanied by a touch of sweet. These single-serve offerings combine Sargento cheese with dried fruits, chocolate and peanut drops, yogurt-covered raisins and/or graham crackers. Sargento also offers shredded, sliced and block cheese with enhanced meltability in its Creamery Line. And its Reserve series features sliced and shredded cheeses that are aged up to 18 months.
Known as a category well-versed in solving needs, cheese can be the perfect partner for value. A recent IDDBA webinar pointed out that the deli, which trends toward transparency with consumers, is perceived to be cheaper than eating outside the home.
With inflation just below 5%, the highest rate in 12 years, the impression of a price increase is what consumers personally see or feel, cautioned Jonna Parker, principal, fresh center of excellence, IRI, Chicago. Trading up then becomes more about than the brand itself to also include the overall experience. This combination can benefit the cheese counter when setting price points, particularly with premium options that warrant a higher price. Parker suggested retailers look at elasticities and promotional strategies to better demonstrate how the trade-up is worth it to consumers.
This includes refining messaging and the careful positioning of existing products to avoid alienating current customers. Retailers looking to compete can also add high-value benefits and eliminate attributes that cost more than they are worth to shoppers, taking full advantage of the buyer overlap between the deli service case, pre-sliced and grab-and-go.
Remaining out in front
It’s imperative to catch the consumer’s eye, particularly among those who are ready to shift into browsing mode again. Smart merchandising instore can help consumers make in-the-moment snack and meal decisions. Additional measures include the employment of helpful and educated staff to answer questions, increasing sampling and demos, and capitalizing on everchanging social media trends. Forums such as TikTok are a new favorite among food influencers, with up to three-minute videos, perfect for showcasing new recipes, regionality and ongoing concepts of transparency and originality.
Constant connectivity also means news travels fast. The naming of the World Champion Cheese as part of the Asturias Paraiso Natural International Cheese Festival 2021 made the winner, a Spanish goat’s cheese Olavidia Quesos y Besos made in Andalucía, an overnight sensation with worldwide demand.
Make it sustainable
As the world of cheese shows no signs of slowing, its evolution is also benefitting from influences stemming from climate change and sustainability. In response, TC Transcontinental Packaging, Chicago, is developing sustainable packaging solutions designed to benefit the consumer and the environment.
Its product line vieVERTe for the cheese market offers a 100% polyethylene structure that is pre-qualified for the How2Recycle label. The recycle-ready overwrap structure is used for secondary packaging like overwraps or outer bags for processed cheese and snacks, and can be recycled at existing in-store drop-off locations or curbside, where available. The product line also includes stand-up pouches for shredded cheese that are made with up to 35% post-consumer resin to reduce the use of virgin plastic, create value for plastic waste and contribute to the circular economy for plastics.
“Consumers value transparency, so the use of product windows in packaging can allow for consumers to view the product before purchasing,” said Rebecca Casey, senior vice president, strategy and marketing, TC Transcontinental Packaging.
Calls for sustainability are also giving rise to more plant-based cheese offerings. Made with combinations of pea, soy, and mung bean proteins, these plants are helping make cheese consumption more planet-friendly. This makes the rapidly evolving category of plant-based cheeses one of the most challenging application spaces in the plant-based world, according to Christine Addington, senior dairy technical service specialist, Cargill, Minneapolis.
Without the functionality of dairy proteins and fat, plant-based versions require multiple ingredients, combining hydrocolloids, starches and fibers to replicate the stringy-stretch consumers expect, Addington shared. Meltability is another big ask.
“Fats have different melting points, while hydrocolloids and starches have different temperature-dependent gelling properties,” she said. “Taken together, these ingredients all help contribute to the finished product’s overall melt. It’s important for formulators to really understand these variables as they try to create plant-based cheese alternatives that match the melting properties of traditional dairy cheeses.”
Parsippany, N.J.-based Finlandia, now re-branded as Valio USA, offers a growing range of plant-based products in addition to its loaf and sliced cheeses. Sold under the Oddlygood brand, the shreds, slices and logs are perfect for those avoiding gluten and/or those observing flexitarian, vegetarian and vegan lifestyles. The product melts well and stays creamy even after cooling.
A recent IDDBA COVID-19 Impact Report Review recommended a small focus on cheese alternatives in a limited number of SKUs. In support, IRI’s Parker referenced $11.7 billion in cheese sales versus $97.4 million in sales for cheese alternatives. The global vegan cheese market is expected to reach $5.6 billion by 2028.
Those ready for a deeper dive into the incredible world of all things cheese can check out the 2022 CheeseExpo in Milwaukee in April. At the world’s largest cheese and whey processing expo, cheesemakers and cheese devotees will be ready to share the latest information in cheese technology and new products, along with issues impacting the industry.