CHICAGO — Snacking is now ubiquitous, with more than three in five consumers agreeing that snacking is necessary to get through the day, according to research from Chicago-based Mintel International. Food and beverage marketers are aggressively developing what they believe will be winning products for the growing number of snackers. It is no wonder there is a plethora of nutrient-dense cheese snacks rolling out from marketers, both big and small. Some are designed for the convenience channel, while others come in bulk for consumers to grab from the refrigerator as they run out the door.

Healthy-ingredient snacks offer the perfect convergence of many important modern food industry trends and as a result the segment is thriving, according to “Healthy-ingredient snacks in the U.S., 2nd edition” from Packaged Facts, Rockville, Md. The market researcher projects the healthy-ingredient snack segment will continue enjoying steady growth in sales. A compound annual growth rate of 5.7% is expected between 2016 and 2020.

A variety of trends are responsible for the bullish outlook. One is protein, bite-size snacks and innovative flavors are in high demand. Cheese may play to the trends and more.

Katrina Diamonon, Canadean
Katrina Diamonon, principal-consumer insight at Canadean

“Manufacturers are increasingly experimenting with a range of proteins, formats and gourmet flavors to elevate consumption from convenience-store snacks to an exciting taste experience and even credible meal replacement,” said Katrina Diamonon, principal-consumer insight at U.K.-based market research firm Canadean.

Cheese marketers are embracing these consumer trends and promoting the fact cheese is one of Mother Nature’s original functional foods. After all, natural cheese is made with only four simple ingredients: milk, cultures, enzymes and salt. With research showing fat is no longer the enemy and protein satiates and builds lean muscle mass, cheese makes for an ideal snack food.

Plus, Americans love cheese. The data tell the story. The average American consumes 34 lbs of cheese annually, a growth of 43% over the past 25 years, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In addition to innovative applications and recipes — beyond burgers, pizza and tacos — new forms and flavors are driving consumption.

Sargento Balanced Breaks
Balanced Breaks was the most successful product launch in Sargento Foods’ 60-plus year history.

For example, Sargento Foods, Plymouth, Wis., is experiencing success with its Balanced Breaks line. The snack made its debut in early 2015 and experienced $67 million in sales during the first year. The product comes in a dual-compartment package that resembles ying yang, showing that opposites do attract, and in fact, complement each other quite well. One compartment houses cheese bites and the other dried fruits, salty nuts or even chocolate chunks. Balanced Breaks come in a package of three 1.5-oz snacks for a suggested retail price of $3.69.

“Our Balanced Breaks snacks was the most successful product launch in Sargento history and has exceeded sales expectations,” said Chris McCarthy, director of marketing for the Sargento Foods. “The success of Balanced Breaks made it clear that people want convenience and variety in their snacks.”

The opportunities to innovate with cheese snacks are infinite, as cheese pairs well with salty, savory and sweet accompaniments. Cheese also may be cut and formed into many shapes and sizes. And, cheese is loaded with nutrients, namely protein and calcium, which appeals to health- and wellness-conscious consumers.