Steve Hill is the director, R&D, for Kraft Cheese, Northfield, Ill.By Steve Hill, Kraft Foods

Today and looking to the future, consumers’ focus on health and wellness presents opportunities for cheese. The Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy, founded by dairy farmers through the dairy checkoff program and managed by Dairy Management Inc., spotlighted the following four opportunities for cheese manufacturers.

1. Sodium. An opportunity area for manufacturers is to proactively address the challenge of the sodium content in the U.S. diet. Although most consumers are not currently seeking low- and reduced-sodium cheeses, the regulatory and public health environment does not exempt cheese from reduction efforts. As manufacturers, we need to stay in front of this challenge and work to develop proactive solutions.

2. Protein. Another key opportunity is to promote cheese’s protein content. Consumer interest in protein is a dominant trend that can help manufacturers elevate cheese’s positive nutrition story.

Did you know that more than half of consumers say they are trying to include more protein in their diets and 26% say they are actually doing so? Plus, 47% say that noting a food as “a good source of protein” is very important on product labels.

The growing flexitarian population (those who eat primarily vegetarian diets and include some meat) is seeking alternate sources of protein, which makes this a promising play for cheese manufacturers.

 3. Gluten and lactose. Catering to those looking for gluten-free and lower lactose options is an underdeveloped consumer area of interest for cheese manufacturers to consider. Many cheeses are naturally gluten-free and contain minimal amounts of lactose, but few promote it.

Additionally, the category growth for gluten-free products outpaces the actual incidence of the corresponding food allergy. This indicates that consumers find added value or quality in these types of products.

4. Real, fresh and natural. Beyond the research, evolutions in consumer behavior and preferences present strong and growing opportunities for cheese. “Minimally processed” and “a short list of ingredients” are becoming ingrained in consumers’ value sets, according to the Natural Marketing Institute. In fact, 38% of the population is in a consumer segment that considers real, fresh, natural and less-processed foods important.

With its four base ingredients, many cheeses are a perfect fit for this trend. As always, it’s recommended to consult with legal and regulatory when considering these types of claims for your product packaging and marketing.

So how do you navigate these current and future opportunities? Resources from the Innovation Center are a good place to start. Visit for more information.

Steve Hill is the director, R&D, for Kraft Cheese, Northfield, Ill. This article is based on a presentation he gave on behalf of the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy at the 2012 International Cheese Technology Conference.

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