Moms want "nutritious" and kids want "fun." And cheese is the answer on both scores. Innovative food companies are stretching the limits to produce cheese in new shapes, colors and flavors that appeal to children. At the same time, a new federal regulation has expanded the options for fortifying cheese with added vitamin D, while new technologies improve the efficiency of vitamin incorporation.
Most children enjoy a hands-on experience with food, so string cheese is a natural for the younger generation. The most frequent eaters are children under 6, closely followed by 13- to 17-year-olds, according to NPD Group, Port Washington, N.Y. Data from Information Resources, Inc. (IRI) in Chicago show that nearly 30% of American households purchase string cheese. Although string cheese showed 16% growth in 2003, and 23% in 2004, preliminary IRI figures show growth leveling off in 2005 at a total market share of 4.3%.
Emerging kid-friendly shapes in the cheese market include Sargento® Stars and Moons™, which the Plymouth, Wisc.-based company makes from natural mild Cheddar and Monterey Jack cheeses. Sorrento® Cheese, Buffalo, N.Y., has introduced Shapesters® . This line includes sharks, fish and dinosaur shapes made from whole-milk, low-moisture mozzarella and mild Cheddar. The Shapesters® line comes in individual 1-oz bags, which makes them ideal for lunch boxes. These products promote the healthy goodness of 100% natural cheese and use only natural annatto color.
Taking a different tack, Leprino Foods, Denver, first showed a hot pink string cheese at the 2004 IFT Annual Meeting + Food Expo® and continues to explore other innovations in string cheese for kids. "Our patented processes produce premium-quality string cheese in a variety of shapes, sizes, colors and flavors," notes Rick Barz, sr. v.p., Product Quality & Development, Leprino Foods. "Since cheese is a food that easily combines with other foods, successful flavors can include fruits, spices and smoky attributes. We even tried a bubble gum flavor that worked well with the cheese in flavor tests, but kids' sensory reactions were already well trained on the consistent advice of their mothers not to swallow their gum. Grape and pepperoni flavors were preferred."
John Jaeggi, associate researcher at the dairy-farmer-supported Wisconsin Center for Dairy Research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, has researched methods to add kid-friendly flavors and colors to both string cheese and processed cheese. Jaeggi's group found that with string cheese, adding all ingredients to the stirred curd-at the time of salting and ingredient addition, and before the molding step-was the best way to incorporate them into the cheese matrix. Jaeggi also experimented with various combinations of natural (sucrose) and artificial sweeteners (sucralose).
A search on the Mintel Group Global New Products Database in Chicago showed some interesting new cheese products for children, including a cheese from the United Kingdom flavored with tomato ketchup and a cheese spread with chocolate from Israel. A South Korean company introduced cheese with DHA (a beneficial fatty acid) that featured images of Disney's Winnie the Pooh. Regulations may vary from country to country as to which nutrients may be added to cheese.
In the United States, a new regulation expanded the options for cheese fortification. In November 2005, the FDA published a change to the Code of Federal Regulations that increased the levels of Vitamin D3 permitted in cheese from the current 89IU per 100g to 81IU per 30g, which is just slightly above 20% of the Reference Daily Intake. This new regulation would apply to natural cheese, processed cheese, cream cheese, and cheese spreads and dips, but would exclude certain cheeses including Parmesan, Romano, cottage and ricotta. Dairy Management Inc.™-supported research by Vikram Mistry, PhD, at South Dakota State University, Brookings, has developed a method for fortification of processed cheese with Vitamin D3.
For more information on how to incorporate whey into your next yogurt or smoothie formula, call the DMI Dairy Technical Support Hotline at 800/248-8829 or visit www.innovatewithdairy.com. Dairy Management Inc. is the domestic and international planning and management organization that builds demand for U.S.-produced dairy products on behalf of America's dairy farmers.