Donna Berry

Anyone fortunate enough to travel earlier this month to the nation's capital for the International Dairy-Deli-Bakery Association's (IDDBA) seminar and expo, Dairy-Deli-Bake 2004, was likely just as impressed as I was by the numerous new cheese products rolling out to consumers this summer.

Recognizing that the United States is no longer the Great American Melting Pot, and that the Hispanic consumer segment is the fastest-growing ethnic group in the United States, BC USA (Bongrain Cheese), New Holland, Pa., added a Hispanic-oriented flavor to its popular Alouette spreadable cheese line. New Alouette Cilantro Lime captures a taste trend that is spreading over the country, one where two otherwise non-similar taste sensations come together in harmony. This trend is commonly called a "fusion of flavors." Cilantro and lime are two taste sensations that have been shown to fuse nicely together, and now, they are being fused in spreadable cheese.

According to a taste test conducted by the company prior to introducing the new flavor, 95% of tasters said that the product met or exceeded their expectations. Furthermore, nine out of 10 consumers who tasted Alouette Cilantro Lime said they would definitely/probably buy it.

Appealing to another ethnic cuisine—Italian—BelGioioso Cheese Inc., Denmark, Wis., is debuting a new variety of cheese called Italico. This washed-rind cheese is aged a minimum of two months to ensure a full, earthy flavor. Italico's distinct flavor, combined with its soft and creamy texture, blends effortlessly in a wide range of applications. It is also supple enough to slice, cube and melt with ease.

BelGioioso is truly one of the United States' most innovative cheese companies. This family-owned Italian cheesemaking family that came to the United States in 1979 introduces new award-winning Italian cheeses on a regular basis.

"Developing unique, artisan cheeses is a point of great pride for BelGioioso Cheese," says Errico Auricchio, president.

The company also recently introduced Ricotta con Latta, which is an ingredient cheese with a 73% moisture content. It has the creamy, curd-like texture one expects with ricotta, along with a hint of sweetness.

Saputo Cheese USA Inc., Lincolnshire, Ill., another cheese marketer with strong ties to Italian-style cheeses, has added Freshly Shaved Parmesan Cheese to its line of deli cup premium cheeses. To provide consumers with a "freshly shaved" form of Parmesan, it is necessary to use the center of the Parmesan wheel, which is not as hard and dry as the outside perimeter of the wheel. The center of the wheel allows for shavings with a smoother, creamier texture.

On the shredded side of the business, Sargento Foods Inc., Plymouth, Wis., now offers consumers a heartier form of shreds that the company calls Thick & Hearty. The shreds are meant to more closely resemble what one would get if they hand shredded a chunk of cheese in their home kitchen.

Thick & Hearty comes in three varieties-4 Cheese Mexican, Mild Cheddar and Mozzarella-and is sold in 8-ounce Slide-Rite resealable zipper packages.

To help retailers better merchandise cheese and other dairy products, which hopefully translates to "a sale," IDDBA hosted a panel of cheese experts to share their thoughts with retailers. Panel moderator Kevin Burkum, senior v.p. retail marketing, Dairy Management, Inc., Rosemont, Ill., talked with Michael Pellegrino, v.p. marketing, Kraft Cheese, Inc., Northfield, Ill.; Brad Flatoff, senior v.p. of marketing at Sargento; and Theresa Marquez, director of marketing, Organic Valley, LaFarge, Wis.

The panel reviewed major issues such as the pending FDA changes on the role of dairy in the USDA Food Guide Pyramid; consumers' perception of dairy's role in a healthful diet and/or weight loss program; and how manufacturers and retailers can leverage the nutritional benefits of dairy through consumer education campaigns such as 3-A-Day.

Cheese, indeed, is a consumer favorite. And with cheesemakers continually innovating, and retailers improving their merchandising and in-store marketing efforts, cheese sales will continue to grow.