There has been a tremendous amount of innovation in the cheese snack category. This innovation is driven by consumers, who are increasingly choosing convenient, ready-to-eat snack options.
At the same time, consumers want healthier snacks. The “2020 Food & Health Survey,” conducted by the International Food Information Council, found that more than half of consumers say that healthfulness is more important than price.
If there’s one product that can deliver on nutrition and taste, it’s cheese. Retail sales (by volume) of cheese snacks, which include sticks/string, curds/bite-size, cold pack/spread and variety tray cheese, have increased steadily. So far this year, the cheese snack category is up 4.4% over last year.
The dairy case in most larger grocery stores contains a wide array of cheeses in convenient formats. These include individually wrapped cheese snack bars, cubes and other shapes; individually wrapped softer cheeses such as brie or fresh mozzarella; and single-serving trays with cheeses, dried fruits, nuts, crackers, meat, etc.
String cheese and cheese sticks continue to be popular, and sales are up 3.1% this year. This subcategory has also seen new products featuring bold flavors such as Jalapeño Cheddar and Tomato Basil. Another trend is the emergence of more upscale or specialty cheeses now available in convenient single-serve packaging formats.
Cheese snacks are also expanding beyond the dairy case with many new “dried” or “baked” options, including product formats such as crisps, puffs and straws. This is an emerging category with steady growth over the last five years. A big advantage of these products is that they are shelf-stable. Many are made with 100% cheese, and some feature hot/spicy flavors. They are sometimes marketed toward consumers who want to eat fewer carbohydrates, and many are promoted as “keto friendly.”
At the Center for Dairy Research (CDR), our staff has been involved in the development of several innovative cheese snack products. One interesting category is cheese “jerky.” This is different from a cheese puff or crisp because, as the name suggests, cheese jerky is chewier but still shelf-stable.
Another category is cheese “candy.” At CDR, our staff developed a flavored string cheese that had sweeter flavorings, as well as fun colors.
Think of the many different yogurt formats and flavorings that are now available. Perhaps sweet or fruit-flavored cheese sticks could be attractive to kids. There are some sweet cheese snack products on the market, but not many. This could be another emerging cheese snack category.
There appears to be more room in the marketplace for innovative cheese snack products, as they bring the taste and nutrition that are important to consumers.