Numerous Americans increased their home cooking habits as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Because of this shift, there was a dramatic increase in retail cheese sales. According to Dairy Foods, citing data from Chicago-based IRI, natural cheese retail sales jumped 15.8% to $15.3 billion during the 52 weeks ending Sept. 6, 2020, while unit sales increased 9% to $4.4 billion. 

Reclosable flexible packaging provides value and solutions to cheese producers and consumers amid this changing landscape of home cooking. Flexible packaging with compatible closure technology offers several advantages to cheese brands and packagers, including product protection, consumer useability and sustainability benefits.


Home cooking trends

Home food preparation and consumption is still widely popular because of the shift with consumer habits due to the COVID-19 pandemic. With more people continuing to cook at home, e-commerce is rapidly growing in the fresh food and refrigerated products segments, especially with products such as shredded and sliced cheese. 

However, distribution and supply chain recently were challenged in keeping up with this consumer demand. Early in the pandemic, there were capacity constraints tied to the types of equipment to package cheese. While the retail product lines were full, the institutional lines were sitting idle because there was reduced need to package in bulk; as the market shifted from wholesale to consumer-size portions. 

Now that these institutional line challenges have been diminishing due to a post-pandemic marketplace, it’s time for packagers to focus on the best flexible packaging options for their cheese products while keeping the consumer in mind. 


Challenges with cheese product packaging

The challenges in cheese packaging are refrigeration and the packaging material. The packaging material plays a factor for consumers based on how long they plan to store the product. Soft cheeses, including cottage and cream cheese, must always be refrigerated. Some hard cheeses can tolerate a little more temperature fluctuation, but to maintain the shelf life and quality of the product, refrigeration is needed. Paired with flexible packaging, closures help combat the issues cheese products face with refrigeration. 

When a package arrives in-store from the manufacturer, it is naturally very low in oxygen. Once a consumer opens that initial package, the oxygen is allowed to get back in the package as the atmosphere escapes. 

The benefit of the packaging properties paired with a closure and refrigeration extend the shelf life and help maintain the moisture quality within the product after it’s been opened. This helps reduce the opportunity for mold growing on cheese and helps preserve a high-quality product.


Benefits of flexible packaging and compatible closures

For many cheese products, the barrier properties of the packaging and closure type are an important factor in shelf life. These products can benefit from premium packaging to ensure a positive user experience.

Because of this, we are seeing growth in cheese packaging using a double zipper and audible features. A double zipper helps maintain the moisture level of the product, helping to prevent the cheese from mold and drying out. 

Audible features provide reassurance to the consumer that the package is closed properly, and the cheese is going to stay fresh. These features contribute to the overall product experience; if a consumer has trouble reclosing the package or needs to repackage the product to maintain its quality, they will probably not buy it again.


Sustainable flexible packaging 

By extending product shelf life and providing opportunities for package circularity, flexible packaging can help curb food and packaging waste at the consumer level. Clear communication on packaging will help consumers understand how to properly complete the package’s lifecycle as paths emerge.

Cheese products with a primary and secondary package may offer more sustainable benefits. Cheese products may leave residue on the interior of the packaging, which is not ideal for recycling. The secondary package without residue can be recycled in communities where recycling is available, helping lead to a better, consumer experience — ultimately paving a path to brand loyalty.