SAN FRANCISCO — Today’s consumers are showing greater interest in learning the origin of different cheeses, as well as trying artisan and hand-crafted specialty cheeses, prompting many retailers to expand their cheese departments beyond the classics of cheddar and Swiss, according to What’s in Store 2015, the annual trends publication of the International Dairy-Deli-Bakery Association (IDDBA), Madison, Wis. In response, cheese marketers are developing new forms and varieties of cheese, many of which were on display this week at the Winter Fancy Food Show in San Francisco.
Among the findings highlighted in What’s in Store 2015:
• Consumers are seeking bold, aged, flavors, but they also want clean labels and to know where their cheese is from.
• Millennials are a key demographic for specialty cheese. They like experiential shopping experiences and are adventuresome consumers when it comes to new cheeses.
• Cheese is a great source of protein for customers. Highlighting cheese’s protein content may further position it as a part of a healthy diet.
• In the United States, the cheese category is positioned to grow 25% through 2018, to more than $27 billion.
• Globally, the retail cheese market is expected to grow to more than $138 billion by 2018.
Millennials are an important demographic within the cheese industry, as they’re increasingly looking for cheeses that incorporate a wide spectrum of flavors, said Mary Kay O’Connor, vice-president of education for the IDDBA.
“They’re also more likely to visit the specialty cheese department than baby boomers and the Silent Generation,” she said. “Given the rise in snacking as a prominent eating occasion and the interest in consuming more protein, specialty cheese is well-aligned to position itself as a unique snack category that’s both healthy and indulgent.”
Allen Hendricks, vice-president of food service and education for the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board (W.M.M.B.), Madison, Wis., said, “Millennials are enticed by more variety, but want smaller portions. They’re experimental shoppers who like to take risks in selecting cheese.”
With American cheese consumption increasing 42% during the past 25 years, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture figures, there’s no arguing U.S. cheese consumption is at an all-time high. While opportunities for continued growth in the category appear strong, the ways that people are consuming and enjoying cheese continues to evolve. One of the biggest opportunities is snacking cheese.
Snacking represents 50% of all eating occasions, with cheese being both a healthy and indulgent option, according to the IDDBA. Cheese may be snacked on in all forms — from simple string and cube nibbles to elegant cheese picks and meal-replacing cheese boards.
With convenience remaining a priority for consumers, slices, shreds, spreads and snack sticks comprise a large share of the convenient products launched during the past year and will continue into 2015. For example, Burnett Dairy Cooperative, Grantsburg, Wis., is introducing three flavors of string cheese — hot pepperoni beef, pepperoni pizza and zesty teriyaki — joining ranch, original and smoked. Also new is String Whips, which is mozzarella cheese in a spaghetti-style format. It comes in original and ranch varieties.
Complementing not only the snacking trend, but also the growing trend for local, gourmet and artisanal, the company now offers its small-batch artisan cheeses in cracker-size pieces. Artisan Cuts come in 6-oz bags in seven varieties: aged cheddar, bacon and onion Colby, Colby, Fancy Jack, Italian sundried tomato Monterey Jack, roasted garlic Monterey Jack and rosemary herb cheddar.
Norseland Inc., Darien, Conn., is offering Ilchester Applewood smoked cheddar cheese in a snacking format. Applewood Minis come in individually wrapped 0.7-oz rounds, six to a bag.
An increasingly popular format for snacking cheese is baked. Made with 100% cheese, baked cheese is a crunchy way to enjoy cheese without the carbohydrates.
Arthur Schuman Inc., Fairfield, N.J., is introducing Whisps. The Parmesan cheese crisps are 100% Parmesan cheese baked into an airy crisp.
Sonoma Creamery, Sonoma, Calif., introduced four varieties — cheddar, original, sweet chili and Tuscan herb — of Mr. Cheese O’s in 2014. At the Winter Fancy Food Show the company debuted three flavors: bacon cheddar, French onion and zesty barbecue.
Mr. Cheese O’s are either Parmesan or Parmesan and cheddar, blended with quinoa and other ancient grains, and seasoning. A 1-oz pack contains 75 calories, 4 grams of fat and 5 grams of protein.
Spreadable cheeses make a great accompaniment to crackers, crudité and even sandwiches. Either a processed cheese or natural cheese shreds blended with creamy ingredients such as mayonnaise, cream cheese or sour cream, the spreadable format is ideal for the addition of flavorful ingredients.
Winston-Salem, N.C.-based Red Clay Gourmet markets a line of namesake pimento cheese spreads. Made in small batches using local ingredients, the spreads come in four varieties: classic sharp, cheddar, flame roasted jalapeño, goat cheese and sundried tomato, and hickory smoked cheddar. The recipe starts with aged, extra sharp white cheddar shreds. The firm texture of the aged cheese allows for the use of very little mayonnaise, as compared to other pimento spreads in the marketplace, according to the company.
Nibbi Heitmann, a southern gal that moved to Martinez, Calif., opened Nibbi’s Kitchen in order to commercialize her mother’s pimento cheese spread recipe. Nibbi’s Carolina Pimento Cheese Spread comes in original and jalapeño and may be served cold or warm as a dip with crackers and vegetables.
“It’s also great as a sandwich spread on its own or with bacon, ham or tomato,” she said.
Pine River Inc., Newton, Wis., offers a range of cold pack cheese food spreads, with its most recent addition being ghost pepper. There’s also a new spreadable chocolate cheese that is more than 51% dairy, allowing it to carry the Real Seal. Pine River Dairy Fudge is a sweet chocolaty, protein-packed spread based on American cheese. It’s great with graham crackers, pretzels and apple slices.
Speaking of chocolate and cheese, Moondarra Cheese Pty Ltd., of Australia, exporters to the United States of its namesake uniquely flavored cream cheeses, now offers chocolate and hazelnut and bruschetta varieties. The brand is known for its use of large, identifiable pieces of flavorful ingredients.
Moondarra’s neighbor, Fonterra of New Zealand, is making its Mainland cheeses available to U.S. consumers in a retail pre-pack. The 7-oz Mainland cheeses come in three cheddar varieties — organic, sharp and Vintage — and Egmont, which is a Gouda-style cheese with a slight nutty flavor.
Some ethnic cheeses must be made domestically because of their “fresh” nature. For example, the Italian cheese burrata is manufactured domestically by BelGioioso, Green Bay, Wis. Recently, the company decided to take its award-winning burrata up a notch by adding black truffles. BelGioioso Black Truffle Burrata starts with Wisconsin milk, with the cheese made to order just hours after milking. Each mozzarella pouch is filled with a rich straciatella, a creamy filling. The filling contains a seasoning of black summer truffles. The new variety comes in 4-oz balls packaged in 8-oz retail cups with water for an extended refrigerated shelf life of up to 37 days.
Plymouth, Wis.-based Sartori used the Winter Fancy Food Show to launch its new citrus ginger BellaVitano Cheese, which is the company’s signature BellaVitano cheese hand rubbed with a unique, exotic blend of spices including ginger, onion, garlic, red bell pepper and citrus. The flavors works with the slightly fruity, creamy, tangy notes of the BellaVitano cheese, according to the company.
“When our internal sensory team first tried this cheese, there was a lot of positive feedback,” said Susan Merckx, marketing director. “Many enjoyed the punch from the ginger, the sweetness from the red bell pepper and the citrus finish.”
Like with all of Sartori’s treated cheeses, the idea is to create a balance among flavors; to allow each flavor to contribute equally.
The master cheesemakers at Litehouse Foods, Sandpoint, Idaho, have crafted a new line of gourmet cheeses called Simply Artisan Reserve. There are 6- and 8-oz pouches of blue and gorgonzola crumbles, as well as 4-oz cups of blue, feta and gorgonzola crumbles.
Serving brie is easier with Brie en Croute from Elegant Brie, Pleasanton, Calif. Each Elegant Brie starts with creamy brie cheese. After the rind is removed, it’s wrapped with fillings in a flaky puffed pastry. It’s a bake-at-home appetizer sold frozen. The company used the Winter Fancy Food Show to debut its most recent offering: artichoke, jalapeño and garlic.There’s a cheese for everyone, even those on a vegan diet. Earth Island, Canoga Park, Calif., debuted its Follow Your Heart dairy-free cheese alternative. Based on coconut oil and potato starch, the product comes in four flavors: American, garden herb, mozzarella and Provolone. The cheese alternatives come in chunk, slice and 1-oz portion packs.