Consumers do not need another American single or pizza shred. For the most part, U.S. cheesemakers realize this, as the latest and greatest products to debut can be described as flavorful, convenient, organic or traditional.

Research shows that sampling is one of the most successful marketing efforts to get consumers to buy new cheeses.

Organic cheese offerings continue to become more diverse, with organic specialty and kids-snacking cheeses now available from Organic Valley.
Consumers do not need another American single or pizza shred. For the most part, U.S. cheesemakers realize this, as the latest and greatest products to debut can be described as flavorful, convenient, organic or traditional.

The fact is, to get consumers to buy more cheese, cheese marketers must offer them more varieties in more places and for more eating occasions. (The answer is not to get them to eat more cheeseburgers or pizza. Remember, we are in the midst of an obesity epidemic.)

When it comes to new cheese introductions, offerings were plentiful at the recent Dairy-Deli-Bake 2005, which was held June 5-7 in Minneapolis. Virginia Lee, a senior strategic analyst for Euromonitor International addressed attendees saying, "American's growing sophistication will increase demand for artisan, farmstead, ethnic, imported and organic cheeses."

Indeed, that's a lot of what debuted on the show floor.

For the summer salad season, La Farge, Wis.-based Organic Valley introduced two organic cheese crumbles: feta and blue cheese. Available in 4-oz resealable plastic tubs, suggested retail price for each is $4.49.

Marketers continue to design cheese into kid-friendly snack shapes and packs.
Another new entry, Organic Valley Organic Ricotta Cheese comes in 15-oz plastic tubs. Like traditional ricotta made by old-world Italian cheesemakers, Organic Valley's ricotta is firm, not solid, and consists of mostly delicate, moist curds. Organic Valley makes its ricotta by reheating organic whole and nonfat milks to very high temperatures. At the critical moment, organic vinegar is added to form the curds. Using vinegar rather than rennet makes this new cheese particularly attractive to vegetarians.

For snack time, the company also now markets kid-sized Stringles® cheese sticks in three varieties: Colby Jack, mild Cheddar and mozzarella.

"So many parents asked us to make smaller cheese sticks that we had to accommodate their wishes," says George Siemon, CEO and founding Organic Valley farmer.

Pre-packaged natural slices are a convenient alternative to grabbing a number and waiting your turn at the deli counter.
The new Stringles come eight to a package, with each Stringle weighing 0.75oz. Featured on every package of Organic Valley Cheese Stringles is Ovie the earthworm, the company's mascot for kids. Ovie's job is to help kids learn more about where food comes from, including the healthy soil, plants and animals that enjoy life on an organic farm.

Chunks continue to be the leading form of cheese sold through retail venues. New flavor combinations keep the category exciting.
Indeed, kids' cheeses and snacking cheeses continue to be an exciting area of innovation for marketers. Canada's Saputo Cheese USA Inc., now offers its popular Frigo® Cheese Heads® string cheese in a Swirls™ Cheesy Nacho variety. Natural, not processed cheese, this new snack is described as a kid-pleasing combination of mozzarella and nacho cheeses.

The company also is rolling out Cheese Head Juniors. These bite-sized cheese snacks come in two 10-oz package varieties-"String Cheese Bites & Milk Cheddar Cubes" and "String Cheese Bites and Colby Jack & Milk Cheddar Cubes."

Sargento Foods Inc., Plymouth, Wis., is offering its snacking cheeses in convenient 2-oz single-serve packs. Packs of Mini String (mozzarella cheese) and Mini Sticks (medium Cheddar cheese) contain approximately eight pieces, while Stars and Moons (mild Cheddar and Monterey Jack cheeses) packs have about 10 pieces.

Specialty cheese consumers buy cheese because they love it. The more options available, the more cheese they are likely to enjoy.
Both Saputo and Sargento recognize consumers' growing interest in sliced natural cheese and have introduced pre-packaged sliced cheese products. Saputo's Deli Sliced line is marketed under both the Stella® and Lorraine® Cheeses brands.

Sargento's most recent entry is its Duo Pack of natural slices. These 6-oz packages come in three combinations-"Medium Cheddar & Colby-Jack," "Provolone & Mild Cheddar" and "Swiss & Baby Swiss."

Hoffman's® sliced cheeses from the Churney Co., a part of Kraft Foods Inc., Northfield, Ill., now come in a new, more convenient, exact weight 8-oz package. The new design features colorful backer boards with a stylish full-color label, extra room for 10 slices of Hoffman's premium cheese and an inner leaf to separate each piece. The easy-open, recloseable package is perfect for hurried customers who want deli quality without the wait. Asiago and Vermont Cheddar are the most recent cheese varieties to be offered as slices under the Hoffman's brand.

With all these innovations in snack forms and slices, chunk still remains the most popular cheese form. Swiss Valley Farms Co., Dubuque, Iowa, introduces 19 cheese chunk varieties. From classics such as Swiss and Sharp Cheddar to newer flavor combinations such as Hot Pepper Monterey Jack, there's something for everyone.

Mayville, Wis.-based DCI Cheese Co., is rolling out two new flavors to its Great Midwest® cheese line-Roasted Red Pepper Jack and Smokey Jack. Wall Street Journal illustrator Kevin Sprouls designed a new logo for the Great Midwest Jack line. The logo features full-color graphics printed on a natural craft-like paper background.

Really large chunks, also called loaves or bulk cheese, are what usually sell through the deli. These loaves, for the most part, are sliced on a by-customer-order basis. The deli case presents one of the greatest growth opportunities for marketers of cheese, since most deli departments today have rather slim cheese pickings.

According to InStore Buyer (May 2005), in 2004, deli sandwich cheese had about 9.3% share of all deli sales. This translates to average weekly sales of deli sandwich cheese being just under $1,500. Bulk regular sandwich cheese comprised 69.1% of these sales, followed by pre-sliced regular sandwich cheese at 22.8%, bulk light at 5.4% and pre-sliced light at 2.7% share. The two largest volume bulk cheeses in the deli are American (40.6% share) and Swiss (24.0%). Provolone comes in third at 11.7% share of all bulk deli cheese sales, followed by Cheddar (7.9%) and Muenster (6.3%). The most popular light deli cheese is Swiss, in both bulk (69.0%) and pre-sliced (70.0%).

There's definite room to grow the light deli cheese business. According to research by the International Dairy-Deli-Bakery Association, Madison, Wis., 75% of deli customers surveyed are concerned about the nutritional content of foods they buy from supermarket delis. This includes 36% who are very concerned. Those concerned about nutritional content most frequently mention fat content (48%) and salt content (22%) as their top concerns.

Survey results also show three in ten (31%) consumers are shopping more frequently at their supermarket delis than they did five years ago, 45% are shopping the same amount and 23% are shopping less frequently. Health concerns and changes in household size are the primary reasons given by those who shop less frequently.

Convenience (22%) and service (20%) are the two most frequently volunteered reasons for shopping at in-store service delis. As might be expected, convenience is the number one reason consumers shop at self-service delis.

Consumers shop their service delis on average once a week, while they shop the self-service deli slightly less often (an average of 0.8 times a week). Almost all consumers (92%) shop at the deli during their regular supermarket trips although 60% will sometimes stop by the supermarket just to pick up something from the deli (up from 56% in 1999).

Fifty-two percent of respondents often consume deli products at home (up dramatically from 37% in 1999 but less than the 60% response in 1994). Far more consumers are likely to say they often eat deli products at the store where they bought them (21% compared with 5% in 1999), which is most likely associated with increased availability of seated areas near delis. Among working respondents, 27% say they often eat deli foods at work.

Indeed, today's deli offers consumers so much more than it did just a mere decade ago.

Supermarket deli operators are actively embracing convenience, freshness and variety. And they need cheesemakers' help. Cheese marketers need to get their products into the deli-either the service deli, the self-service deli or the typically nearby produce department.

One area of growth is freshly made sandwiches and salads, along with pre-packaged salads. All of these products can be made to contain cheese, and present another significant growth opportunity for cheese marketers.

Another area of opportunity is specialty cheese in the service deli.

"Specialty cheese consumers are valuable shoppers, and our new cheese merchandising program will help simplify their buying while educating and informing all shoppers about the cheeses," says Bill Klump, v.p. marketing, ConAgra Foods Inc., Omaha. "The enhanced case design also offers deli managers the opportunity to increase their volume and sales through the use of promotions, sampling, recipes and matching cheeses with wine and other foods."

The new program Klump refers to was introduced to the retail trade at Dairy-Deli-Bake 2005 and promises to provide consumers with the ultimate experience in selecting domestic and imported cheeses in the deli. The program is based on learnings from proprietary ConAgra Foods Deli research into specialty cheese consumer behavior. According to the research, a high percentage of key specialty cheese purchase decisions are made in store. Seventy-four percent of consumers, for instance, choose the brand of specialty cheese while shopping in the store, while 46% choose the variety in store and 51% decide on the form of cheese purchased. That insight provided ConAgra with the tools to create its new program that is designed to help supermarket deli managers broaden their specialty cheese offerings and boost sales.

The good news for deli operators is that innovative specialty cheeses are plentiful. Edelweiss Creamery, Monroe, Wis., brings the traditional large wheel Swiss back to the United States. Home to the only facility in the country with the capability to produce Emmentaler, Edelweiss cheesemakers skillfully craft this 200-lb authentic Swiss cheese using raw milk from local dairy herds. Edelweiss™ Emmentaler is created in an old-fashioned copper kettle to produce a creamy cheese with a sweet, nutty flavor.

Corfu, N.Y.-based Yancey's Fancy Inc., uses Champagne from the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York to give aged Cheddar a light and slightly sweet flavor. Appropriately named Aged Cheddar with Finger Lakes Champagne, the new cheese variety is said to enchant the taste buds.

Hook's Cheese Company Inc., Mineral Point, Wis., introduces Tilston Point™. Blue-veined cheeses are not known for their slicing properties, but Hook's has created a sliceable blue. Tilston Point has a deep, rich flavor accented by earthy overtones and is ideal for cooking.

Best Cheese imports specialty cheeses from the Netherlands and sells them domestically using U.S. labeling and packaging marketing techniques.
Although Hispanic cheeses are a "hot" item right now, traditional varieties are actually quite mild. Monroe, Wis.-based Roth Käse USA Ltd., has created the Solé!™ line of Hispanic-style cheeses. The line includes eight varieties: Queso Fresco, Queso Blanco, Queso Quesadilla, Panela, Añejo Enchilado, Queso Asadero, Cotija and Oaxaca.

Earlier in the year Roth Käse introduced VanGogh™ Queso Duro Tropical, an authentic, aged, part-skim Edam cheese. Original versions of Queso Duro Tropical were created during colonial times by many of the Dutch colonies located in the Caribbean. A special version was developed to withstand travel to the new world without spoiling, which is the basis for Roth Käse's Queso Duro Tropical. It is lower in moisture and has a slightly higher salt content than traditional Edam. The spherical ball shaped cheese is coated in red wax, and has a straw yellow body, hint of caramel flavor and a pronounced rind. The cheese grates and shreds well. (And can also substitute as a cannon ball, as ship captains learned during explorative adventures.)

Though domestic cheesemakers' innovations are sure to keep consumers intrigued, importers are aggressively marketing for a larger share of U.S. cheese dollars. For example, Best Cheese Corp., Mount Kisco, N.Y., now offers a line of new Dutch cheeses sold under the Legendairy® brand.

"The Legendairy brand represents one of the most interesting and most delicious line-ups of specialty cheese to come along in years," says Henk Engelkes, president. "These superbly crafted cheeses are a remarkable balance of great taste and good health"

The initial rollout consists of two organic goudas (Orgouda Mild and Orgouda Gold), three goats milk cheeses (Hollandse Chevre, Blue Chevre and Gold Chevre) and one reduced-fat cheese (Legendairy Light). A farmstead artisan cheese and a mature gouda will be released later in the year.

The Orgoudas are the only USDA-certified organic goudas direct from the Netherlands. They also meet all National Organic Products standards.

Best Cheese also sells a cheese-like product called Solvita®, which is described as the goodness of sunflower oil combined with pure cows milk. By replacing some of the saturated fats in cows milk with the unsaturated fats in sunflower oil, this one-of-a-kind cheese developed by Uniekaas cheeses of Holland, is remarkably lower in saturated fats yet maintains a full, creamy gouda taste, the company says. Solvita contains 40% less fat, 60% less cholesterol and 40% less calories from fat than other gouda cheeses.

For the first time, Oltermanni Baby Muenster is available in the United States.
Finlandia Cheese Inc., Parsippany, N.J., is rolling out Oltermanni Baby Muenster to the U.S. marketplace. Produced in Finland by Valio Ltd., the parent company of Finlandia, Oltermanni Baby Muenster was first introduced there in 1980 to celebrate Valio's 75th anniversary. Now, as part of the company's 100th anniversary, it has made its way to the United States.

Oltermanni Baby Muenster is a smooth, full-flavored cheese. Its flavor is tangy yet gentle enough to be used as a snacking cheese, as well as in sandwiches and on salads. It is packaged in a unique 1-lb cylindrical shape, making it stand out on cheese platters. It is also available pre-sliced as part of Finlandia's Sandwich Naturals product line.

As you have learned, innovation is alive and thriving in the cheese business. Hopefully your company has carved out its niche.

Sidebar: Wisconsin Cheeses Ham Up to Consumers

The Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board (WMMB) has partnered with Jones Dairy Farm, Fort Atkinson, Wis., to give everyday meals with ham and cheese a new culinary status. This fall, the Wisconsin-based companies are rolling out seven new contemporary ham and cheese recipes featuring Wisconsin Cheese and Jones Fresh Farm & Tender Hams and Canadian Bacon at grocery stores nationwide.

"The new recipes are right on trend," says Nick DeRose, dir. of sales, retail grocery channel for WMMB. "They're not hard to prepare, and the combination of specialty cheeses and premium ham really delivers flavor. This is the combination demanding shoppers are seeking."

The recipes are:

  • Sharp Sweet Ham & Cheese (horseradish Cheddar)
  • New Cuban Ham & Cheese (Swiss and Provolone)
  • Ham & Cheese with a Twist (Gouda and dill Havarti)
  • Grilled Ham, Brie & Blue Cheeses
  • Ham & Gruyère Spirals
  • Mediterranean Ham Salad (aged Provolone and Parmesan)
  • Ham & Cheese Stuffed French Toast (brick and Gruyère)

The promotion will be supported by a free-standing insert (FSI) on September 11 with a circulation of 27 million. The FSI features one of the seven mouth-watering recipes and a coupon for $2 off any purchase of a Jones Ham and cheese from Wisconsin featuring the Wisconsin Pride logo on the package. Point-of-purchase (POP) materials for the service deli and fresh meat and dairy cases are also available. The POP materials include take-one recipe booklets.

Sidebar: Organic Cheeses with Flair

Blaser's USA Inc., Comstock, Wis., has been making cheese since 1948. The company's newest offering-Organic Pride, A Generation Ahead™--provides consumers with expanded choices in the ever-growing organic marketplace.

The company's Organic Pride farms and dairies are not only certified organic according to the strict standards set forth by USDA, their story goes deeper.

Our land stewardship practices help to sustain the ecological integrity of our watersheds and groundwater, according to the company. The farms are small to ensure that the cows receive humane treatment and proper care. The cows are nourished on grass-fed diets and graze in abundant pastures, fresh air and sunshine. Blaser's tells its story on cheese labels and boasts the fact that they believe their cows produce some of the creamiest and most flavorful milk available. Organic Pride-A Generation Ahead cheeses are competitively priced, high quality selections for dairy, deli and organic retail departments.

The new organic cheese line ranges from basic cheese varieties to unique flavor com-binations. The line is currently being rolled out across the country and is initially available in nine varieties: Colby, Colby Jack, Colby Jack with Tomato & Sweet Basil, Monterey Jack, Monterey Jack with Jalapeño Peppers, Monterey Jack with Onion & Chives, Monterey Jack with Dill, Medium Cheddar and Muenster.