Americans’ passion for cheese continues to be at an all-time high. Convenience, flavor, authenticity and freshness are key factors that will drive consumer cheese purchases in 2016, according to the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board.
According to recent reports from the USDA, the average American consumes 34 pounds of cheese annually, a growth of 43 percent over the past 25 years. Per capita spending on cheese has also increased 37 percent since 2008 as more U.S. consumers are enjoying cheese not only for its flavor, but also for its nutritional benefits.
Cheesemakers are meeting these demands with new introductions that go beyond convenience, taking flavor and performance to innovative new heights for both home cooks and on-the-go snackers.
Seven things cheese consumers will look for in 2016:
- Authenticity. According to Technomic, 62 percent of consumers are more likely to purchase foods produced locally. They want to know how it was made, by whom, and if sustainable practices were used to do so. The Millennial generation is a driving force behind this trend. Not only have they come to expect transparency in the food they purchase and consume, they are also willing to pay a premium for it. This includes specialty cheeses which, in Wisconsin, have doubled in production over the past decade.
- Bold Flavor. Bold and uniquely flavored cheeses are expected to outperform in both volume and dollar sales as consumers look for ways to diversify their palates. Year-to-date 2015 data from IRI finds flavored cheeses up by 4.5 percent in volume sales while unflavored cheeses are up by only half a percent. Cheeses with hints of jalapeño, herbs, garlic and even berry are anticipated to entice consumers whether they are browsing menus or deli cases.
- Snack Sophistication. According to the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board’s custom IRI database, snacks are outperforming the consumer packaged goods category as a whole in all channels. Americans continue to eat on the go, but they know they don’t have to sacrifice taste or nutrition to do so. In fact, more consumers are looking for convenient ways to add high-quality proteins to their diets, with Mintel reporting sales of protein-rich snacks increasing by 89 percent between 2012 and 2014. New items such as snack sticks with notes of parmesan and zesty teriyaki beef, fresh mozzarella ball snack packs and aged cheddar cracker cuts offer nutritional value and grown-up flavor appeal to the growing snack sector.
- Info to Go. With a smartphone or tablet in hand, consumers are searching, planning, sharing and purchasing food online, including cheese. In fact, according to Nielsen data, more than 80 percent of Millennials rely on their mobile devices when shopping. Mobile apps like Wisconsin Cheese Cupid help shoppers pair cheeses with their favorite beer, wine or spirit, while the new Google app now provides in-depth information on hundreds of varieties of cheeses.
- Freshness. Cheese curds continue to excite consumers as they look for ways to enjoy more fresh cheeses. Data from IRI shows sales of curds are up 17.3 percent at retail and seven percent at foodservice. Specifically, menu mentions of Wisconsin Cheese Curds have also increased 13 percent.
- Tradition. Cheesemakers are perfecting the aging process and returning to more traditional ways of doing so. Many affineurs are tapping into the historical tradition of underground aging caves with high humidity and moderate temperature, moving away from standard walk-in coolers and finding ways to create their own caves on site.
- Performance. Shredded cheese is going beyond basic convenience with new blends for specific applications such as homemade flatbreads and macaroni and cheese. With blends created for optimal flavor and meltability, consumers can easily and cost-effectively achieve restaurant-quality results at home. Other new shred products include flavorful additions such as rosemary and roasted garlic to easily build flavor into homemade meals.
The Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board is a nonprofit organization of dairy producers that promotes the consumption of milk, cheese and other dairy products made in America’s Dairyland.