Cheese isn’t going anywhere anytime soon when it comes to the ever-important snacking segment. It’s portability, freshness, relative simplicity and high-protein content make it a highly sought-after snacking option.

And with that in mind, consumers are now looking for new, bold flavors, new ideas, and even new forms of cheese snacks.

“First and foremost, we find there is a growing demand among our consumers for quality food and clean labels,” says Paul Bauer, CEO/manager for Ellsworth Cooperative Creamery. “Consumers are reading packaging and reviewing ingredient lists like never before. They want to know what’s in their food and trust where it’s coming from.”

That consumer behavior, which has grown increasingly common over the last five years or so, plays right into the draw of cheese snacks. For example, Ellsworth Cooperative’s cheese curds — which are now being offered in 2-oz, single-serving packages — can boast a relatively simple ingredient list and the claim that the curds are the freshest form of ever-popular cheddar cheese.

“We find customers are looking for healthy, high-quality, portable snacks, and are shifting away from processed snack items.” Bauer says. “That was the inspiration for our new single-serving packaging. They are pre-portioned, individually packaged snacks perfect for college students, sports moms, day cares and die-hard cheese curd fans.”

However, while consumers are looking for snacking options outside of the standard chips and crackers, snacking cheeses don’t always offer that satisfying crunch and mouthfeel. That’s where Schuman Cheese saw an opportunity with Whisps, a new product under its Cello brand.

“Cheese formats have primarily stayed the same, the most commonly found formats being traditional cheeses cut into sticks or cubes,” says Kareen Stephens, brand manager for Schuman Cheese. “Cello Whisps is a snack that has a unique format that is reminiscent of a crisp or a cracker, however it is made entirely of cheese. This format and texture are rather new to the cheese snacking space.”

Cello’s cheese — the lone ingredient in the snack — is baked into an airy and crispy bite. The company encourages consumers to eat them alone or toss them on a salad or appetizer plate.

The chip-like form of the snack also plays into another need that Stephens says she sees from consumers — the desire for cheese snacks that travel well and don’t require refrigeration. “A lot of snacking takes place on the go,” she says. “Because Whisps are baked into crisps, they’re a perfect snack for the car or when out and about.”

All of the above is not to say that more traditional cheese snacks are falling out of favor. Cheese sticks, for example, continue to be a go-to for snacking consumers, especially with the addition of bold, interesting flavor choices.

Sincerely, Brigitte — the brand-name brainchild of Brigitte Mizrahi — is built on bold and innovative flavors.

“We have seen an increasing number of consumers’ pallets open to trying something different, especially for snacking and entertaining,” says Tom Mega, regional sales director for Sincerely, Brigitte. “Market literature, as well as our own observation in this market, is showing us that people — especially millennials — are buying smaller and more artisanal products. They’re going for quality over quantity.”

That’s the perfect intersection for the company’s snacking cheeses, which comprise most of its offerings. Flavors like Orange Ginger, Jalapeño Cilantro and Tomato Basil — not to mention products like Raspberry Chocolate and Maple Pecan goat cheese — are on the forefront of exciting cheese flavors.

Unique flavors are also impacting Ellsworth’s cheese curds, which have found success with taste profiles like Hot Buffalo, Taco, Garlic, and Ranch. “Consumers are demanding innovative flavor profiles,” Bauer says. “The most popular flavor trends in cooking and on restaurant menus also happen to be our most popular cheese curd flavors. We’ve found the same trends in beer, wine and ciders apply to today’s cheese consumer too. They want small-batch, locally crafted, great-tasting, creative flavors and high quality.”

That leads us to the common thread among these products — the more artisanal feel of them as opposed to many other snacking options. It’s an easy way for consumers to know the product will be high in quality and flavor.

“Artisanal-type cheeses are big, as they ensure a certain element and flavor in a snack,” says Stephens. “As a specialty cheese company, we can make the cheese that goes into Whisps ourselves and ensure that only the best is used in order to produce the richest flavor. Bold flavors are important to consumers but they are more appealing when they come from fresh and flavorful foods rather than when they are artificially flavored.”

And, of course, the health aspect is still a big selling point for cheese as a snacking option. The high protein and calcium content, in addition to the simple ingredients lists, tells the story. “We certainly believe that the fact that cheese is a healthy, high-protein snack alternative to other snacks is a key selling feature,” says Mega. “The healthier aspect is certainly playing a big part.”

BelGioioso recently introduced three new items to meet consumers’ needs for individual sized, portion-controlled snacks.

On the heels of the company’s successful Fresh Mozzarella Snacking Cheese, BelGioioso released a Fontina Snacking Cheese. Each piece contains 70 calories and has a mild, buttery flavor.
Also new are the company’s 3-ounce Mini Mascarpone cup designed for convenience, as well as a 5-ounce Mini Ricotta single-serving cup.

“The Mini Mascarpone and Mini Ricotta are petite sized cups for our all-natural, award-winning cheeses, offering freshness, convenience and portion control for the consumer,” says Sean Moran, BelGioioso’s vice president of sales. “The cheese is packed with protein and calcium and offers a healthier alternative to traditional snacks.”

As with the rest of BelGioioso’s cheeses, the new offerings are made using traditional Italian cheese making methods. They are all natural, rBST free, gluten-free and contain no gums of fillers. The mascarpone cups can also be used as a healthier spread option as they contain nearly half the calories of butter. The Ricotta cups provide an individual serving of 16 grams of protein and 60 percent of the daily value in calcium per serving.

Kids and younger snackers are also a part of these trends. Cow Candy is targeting these consumers with a trio of new, colorful cheese options. Cow Candy’s products are brightly colored and uniquely flavored cheese snacks that appeal to children. The three new flavors will be hitting selected retailers this month.

The company’s My Little Pony Pinkie Pie Strawberry is the pink color of Beloved Pinkie Pie Pony. It has brightly colored packaging, a sweet strawberry taste with a mellow finish of all-natural Wisconsin cheese and contains just 80 calories.

Also new is the Transformers Robots of Disguise Prime Punch Fruit Punch Jack Cheese. It is a bright red natural Monterey jack cheese stick flavored with a fruit punch medley.
Outfitted in colorful Transformer Optimus Prime packaging, the cheese stick is a convenient on-the-go snack, perfect for little hands.

The company’s Bee’s Cheese Honey Jack Cheese blends creamy Monterey Jack with the natural sweetness of honey and a hint of vanilla. Cow Candy says the mild cheese stick is a playful snacking option fit for kids and kids at heart.