Consumers love their cheese. They eat it for protein or as a quick snack. They also love to explore new flavors.

Convenience, flavor, authenticity and freshness are key factors that will drive consumer cheese purchases in 2016, according to the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board, Madison.

According to the USDA, the average American consumes 34 pounds of cheese annually, a growth of 43% over the past 25 years. Per capita spending on cheese has also increased 37% since 2008 as more U.S. consumers are enjoying cheese not only for its flavor, but also for its nutritional benefits, said the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board.

Cheesemakers are meeting these demands with introductions that go beyond convenience. The focus is on flavor and performance.

The International Dairy-Deli-Bakery Association (IDDBA), Madison, said Millennials are a driving force behind new flavors, textures and products in the cheese industry. This generation is willing to spend more on higher-quality food experiences involving specialty and unique cheeses, according to IDDBA’s “What’s in Store 2016: Cheese Trends Forecast.” Millennials also look for transparency, sustainable practices and authenticity from the cheese companies they purchase from, according the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board. 

Some of the ways food retailers and producers are connecting with today’s cheese shoppers is with better-for-you, single-serve products; more specialty cheese varieties like Gouda, Asiago and Brie; and the infusion of flavors like ginger, coconut, bacon, sweets (caramel, maple syrup), said IDDBA. Among the attributes of new product introductions from 2015 were higher levels of protein, full-fat, grass-fed and flavor infusions.

The exploration and creativity within the breakfast category for meal solution ideas and on-the-go options from the deli/cheese center present new opportunities to increase specialty cheese sales and consumer discovery of new cheeses, according to IDDBA.

Cheesemakers are answering the call with new products, including shelf-stable options and individually wrapped fancy cheeses.