LINCOLN, NEB. — Consumer interest in variety and the search for new flavors has led to expansion of the specialty cheese market in the United States. To capitalize on increased consumer interest, U.S. specialty cheese manufacturers plan to expand in an effort to continue to drive demand, according to a survey conducted by The Food Processing Center at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln.
"The interest in artisan and farmstead cheeses made on a small scale is just tremendous," said Dr. Rolando A. Flores, director of The Food Processing Center. "It has given new life to many small cheese producers. Our survey, the first of its kind, measures the success of many producers who are expanding, do not fear foreign competition and have no interest in co-packing."
The survey was conducted via phone in late 2007 with 160 specialty cheese manufacturers from across the country. The research was funded by the Agriculture Market Resource Center at Iowa State University, Ames.
Despite competition from imported specialty cheeses, 71% of survey respondents said they were not concerned about foreign competition.
"Many locally-produced cheeses are competitive against imports, and a lot of people prefer to buy locally anyway," said David Jisa of Jisa Farmstead Cheese in Brainard, Neb., who participated in the survey and whose company produces New York cheddar, Havarti and Havarti Bell varieties of cheese, as well as others.
The survey also showed that 58% of producers get the milk for specialty cheese production from their own herd, while another 27% buy milk from a local producer.
As for co-packing, 76% of respondents said they were not involved in that kind of production arrangement and 85% of those said they had no interest.
A majority of producers also market their own cheese, going to farmers’ market, retailers and wholesalers on their own.
"It takes a lot of work, developing your recipes and building a customer base," Mr. Jisa said. "First you go to farmers’ markets and then you expand to a few grocery stores. If you can grow your production and demand base, maybe you go to more stores, eventually drawing the interest of a distributor who can take things further if you want."
More than half of producers surveyed do market their products nationwide by using the Internet. Another 13% sell their products internationally, according to the survey.