by Julie Cook Ramirez
As cheese consumption continues to rise, a wealth of
new products provides many opportunities for consumers.
People just can’t seem
to get enough cheese. Ever since the news broke several years ago that
pizza had dethroned burgers as Americans’ favorite take-out food,
appreciation of the many attributes of cheese has grown.
While the low-carb craze itself may have been
short-lived, its effects on eating habits have proven to have staying
power. Cheese, in particular, received a bump from the low-carb trend in
that it opened consumers’ eyes to the high-protein content of cheese
and the role that cheese can play as a healthy snacking alternative to
chips, cookies and other less nutrient-rich choices. In addition, the dairy
industry’s “3-A-Day of Dairy” weight-loss campaign has
effectively convinced consumers that they don’t have to give up
cheese in order to lose weight.
“The myth was that you had to cut cheese out
completely if you wanted to lose weight,” says Rick Naczi, executive
vice president of U.S. sales and marketing for Dairy Management Inc. (DMI),
Rosemont, Ill. “The 3-A-Day weight-loss message has shown consumers
that they can make cheese a part of their calorie-restricted diet and still
get the outcomes they want.”
In recent years, cheese consumption has soared.
According to the most recent figures available from the U.S. Department of
Agriculture, Americans ate an average of 31.3 pounds of cheese per person
in 2004, up 20 percent from 1993. That number is expected to keep rising,
projected to hit 34 pounds by 2014, more than double 1980 figures. Granted,
that’s still nowhere near the kind of consumption seen in countries
like France and Greece, where per capita consumption is greater than 50
pounds, but it is concrete evidence of the growing popularity of cheese
among American consumers. Even as household penetration — currently
at 98 percent — approaches the saturation point, cheesemakers are
upbeat that consumers’ ongoing love affair with cheese will provide
ample opportunities for further growth.
“People really like the taste of cheese,”
says Barbara Gannon, vice president of corporate and marketing
communications, Sargento Foods, Plymouth, Wis. “Research has shown
that consumers are interested in trying different cheese varieties.
That’s where manufacturers and marketers can really step up and
create a very attractive proposition for consumers.”
Cheesemakers have taken up that challenge, rolling out
a wide array of enticing new varieties, designed to keep cheese-loving
consumers coming back for more. In Tillamook, Ore., Tillamook County
Creamery Association recently added low-moisture, part-skim mozzarella to
its cheese offerings. Tillamook’s mozzarella is available in 2-pound
loaf, 1-pound loaf, 8-ounce single-sliced, 8-ounce shredded, 16-ounce
shredded, and 2-pound shredded varieties. Last spring, Tillamook announced
the addition of Vintage White Medium Cheddar to its line. Naturally aged
more than 100 days, the cheese features a distinct, velvety, full cheddar
flavor that can be served with fruit and wine or added to a favorite
“There’s quite a difference in flavor
profile, when compared to our yellow medium cheddar, which is aged about 60
days,” says Jay Allison, national sales manager. “It makes it a
bit more upscale and the perfect addition to our growing vintage white
In Cabot, Vt., meanwhile, Cabot Creamery Cooperative
unveiled Mild Reserve Cheddar, a naturally-aged, hand-selected cheese that
boasts an “abundantly rich, buttery taste and an incredibly creamy
texture,” according to company literature. Responding to the emerging
interest in artisinal cheeses, Cabot also introduced Cabot Cloth-Bound
Cheddar, a single-breed, small-batch cheddar, which is cave-aged to produce
a “buttery flavor with caramel undertones.”
|TOP 10 INDIVIDUAL NATURAL SLICED CHEESE BRANDS*
| ||$ Sales(In Millions)||% Changevs. Year Ago||Unit Sales(In Millions)||% Changevs. Year Ago|
|Kraft Deli Deluxe||26.1||39.7||9.1||43.0|
|Kraft Cracker Cuts||23.0||3.9||10.1||8.2|
|Sargento Deli Style||21.5||18.4||7.4||18.7|
|Kraft Cracker Barrel
|Kraft Deli Thin||16.3||6.5||5.6||9.3|
|* Total sales in supermarkets, drug stores and mass merchandisers, excluding Wal-Mart, for the 52-week period ending July 16, 2006.|
SOURCE: Information Resources Inc.
According to director of marketing Jed Davis, the
cheese is produced in the traditional, old-world style, using the exterior
mold to create a rind that allows the cheese to interact with its aging
environment. Because it is aged underground, Davis says, it “comes up
with some real interesting flavors,” something he says consumers are
increasingly looking for.
Counting on Quality
Granted, the average consumer can’t afford to
buy artisinal cheeses exclusively. However, there’s nothing to stop
them from moving in the direction of cheeses they consider closer to the
old-world traditions of cheese-making.
Among mainstream consumers, this has resulted in an
undeniable shift away from processed cheese and toward natural cheese. This
trend is most evident in sliced cheese, where sales of natural slices rose
7.4 percent in dollars and 10.3 percent in units in supermarkets,
drugstores, and mass merchandisers, excluding Wal-Mart, during the 52-week
period ending July 16, 2006, according to Chicago-based Information
Resources Inc. (IRI). During that same time period, sales of processed
slices fell 8.5 percent and 6.7 percent, respectively.
“Consumers are trading up for natural
slices,” Gannon says. “A lot of consumers will say,
‘I’m still going to buy the processed American cheese for my
kids, but I’m going to put a slice of natural sharp cheddar or
natural Swiss on my cheeseburger.’”
Answering the demand for more natural cheese slices,
Sargento rolled out Duo Packs, which combine two different types of sliced
natural cheese in one package. Varieties include Medium Cheddar &
Colby-Jack, Swiss & Baby Swiss and Provolone & Medium Cheddar.
Consumers have responded well to the line, Gannon says, because it provides
variety, while reducing waste, particularly in smaller households.
“People like having two different kinds of
cheese in one pack because they know they can use it up before there would
be any questions of spoilage,” she explains. “If they bought
separate packages, they might not be able to use it all up in a
The growth in natural cheese has also impacted the
massive snacking cheese category. Citing an emerging demand for
portion-control products, Cabot rolled out Cabot Snack Packs in late 2005.
Each package contains eight pre-packaged 3/4-ounce bars of either
naturally-aged Sharp Cheddar or naturally-aged 50% Light Cheddar. According
to Davis, the natural facet of the product makes it one moms can feel good
about placing in their kids’ — or husbands’ —
Hot on the heels of the success of Sargento SunBursts
and Stars and Moons, Sargento has set its sights on alternate channels,
rolling out “convenience-pack” versions of some of their most
popular snacking cheeses. They include 2-ounce bags of Stars and Moons and
Sunbursts, 2-ounce packs of mini mozzarella string cheese, and 2-ounce
packs of mini cheddar bars.
Meanwhile, Northfield, Ill.-based Kraft Foods Inc.
rolled out Kraft To Go! Crackers and Cheese, featuring Kraft natural cheese
paired with mini Nabisco crackers in a portable container. Each package
contains two individual 1.5-ounce single-serve packs of either Natural
Cheddar with Mini Ritz and Natural Colby & Monterey Jack with Mini
In recent months, Kraft also rolled out Crumbles, a
line of natural cheese “crumbled right off the block.” Designed
“to give your dishes a special authentic touch,” Crumbles are
available in Sharp Cheddar, Mozzarella, 2% Colby & Monterey Jack and
Three Cheese (Monterey Jack, Colby, and Cheddar), as well as two flavor
blends, Italian and Mediterranean.
Kraft also recently introduced Grate-It-Fresh, an
innovative new product featuring a 7-ounce block of restaurant-quality
Parmesan cheese in a glass jar with a built-in grater. By simply twisting
the bottom of the jar, consumers are able to serve up freshly-grated
Parmesan at home.
“In the minds of consumers, adding cheese to a
meal adds quality,” Naczi says. “It offers a really nice
enhancement without a lot of added work on the part of whoever is making
Julie Cook Ramirez is a freelance journalist based in
the Chicago area.