Consumers are looking for more wholesome, less processed snacks. Cheese fits that mold. 
There’s not much to fret over these days when it comes to cheese. IDDBA expects the category to see continued growth throughout the year and, according to the Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin, overall cheese sales and volume are still rising.

But don’t say it can’t get better.

Two of the stronger sub-categories in the cheese world — snacking and specialty — are joining forces at just the right time. The combination of snacking trends and the high-quality and relatively clean label of specialty cheeses could be a perfect fit for this climate.

“Every year we see that consumers continue to seek more wholesome, less processed food and snacks is one of those areas that seems to be a growing category in those terms,” says Heather Engwall, marketing director for Roth Cheese.

Continued growth

According to IDDBA’s What’s In Store 2018, supermarket specialty cheeses are getting a boost from restaurants. When consumers experience a new cheese flavor during a restaurant meal, they often look for it at retail. That has resulted in a 10.8 percent increase in specialty cheese sales, nearly double the rate of traditional grocery store cheese.  

“Artisan and specialty cheeses are far from peaking as a trend,” Jim Dimataris, directory of processor relations for the California Milk Advisory Board tells IDDBA. “This category continues to expand with new users coming to the category to serve millennials and Gen X customers. Young boomers are still consuming as well, so expect this category to continue to experience strong growth. Consumers are looking to try new things and artisan cheese fits the bill, with so many award-winning unique cheeses available today.”

Meanwhile, industry experts across the board predict that snacking cheese is a trend that has yet to peak. A Nielsen snacking study put cheese behind only salty snacks and candy in a ranking of snacking sales. 

di Stefano's Burrata cups are designed for convenience.

“The snack category continues to grow,” Engwall says. “It’s obviously one of those products that’s sold in both dairy and deli and that helps.”

But Engwall points out that, in terms of specialty cheese snacks, branded strings and sticks that are traditionally used in the dairy categories are losing share to private label options. In the deli section, meanwhile, branded snack cheeses are showing category growth.

“The driving growth is coming from branded deli snacks,” she says. “That’s what gave us a strong case that there is still a need and interest for retailers to bring in a branded deli snack cheese.”

That played a big part in the development of the line of Roth Snack Cheese, which debuted in late April. The cheese is available in three flavors — Creamy Gouda, Creamy Cheddar and Creamy Whole Milk Mozzarella — made from unique recipes, according to Engwall.

“We’ve been working on this line for about a year,” she says. “We wanted to make sure the products had a good flavor that was produced in a high-quality way. The creamy is something that people so often look toward when they’re eating a snack cheese. They want a good mouthfeel and something that’s pleasing on the tongue. Creamy is often associated with this type of cheese.”

The flavors and creamy mouthfeel combine for a taste experience that Roth hopes will be a hit with two important demographics.

“Each has a unique taste that’s unlike any other snack cheese on the market,” Engwall says. “The hope is that they appease both kids and also the moms that typically purchase the snacks for their kids.”

She says many cheeses in the snack category have been geared toward a kid’s palate or are marketed more to specialty cheese buyers. The hope is that the new line falls somewhere in the middle.

“We wanted to develop something that was unlike any other snack,” Engwall says. “We wanted to create something that would fit the need of a specialty cheese buyer but would also appease the kid as well.”

|||READ MORE: The appeal of quality|||

Branded deli snacks are seeing growth.
The appeal of quality

The rise of snacking has coincided with the growing demand for high-quality foods with good nutritional value. The combination of the two can be a gold mine for retailers, especially when catering to busy shoppers looking for fresh grab-and-go foods. 

“My hope as a specialty cheese marketer is that people are starting to take more of an interest in purchasing from the specialty cheese area of the store. That’s where you’ll typically find a higher-end, higher-quality product,” Engwall says. “I’ve been in the cheese industry for a long time and have continued to see growth in the specialty cheese market. Year-to-year the growth is starting to slow down, but it is still growing. That’s a positive when other categories are starting to decrease.”

Di Stefano Cheese Company makes its premium Burrata cups by hand daily in its Southern California plant. The cheese, known for its creamy center wrapped in a thin fresh mozzarella shell, is a higher-end product ideal for pairing with fruits and vegetbales, or tossing in pastas and salads.

De Stefano’s cups are designed for convenience, The lid is peeled off, the cup is flipped upside down and the round dome of cheese is ready to plate and serve, or be consumed on-the-go.

Roth says its new line is made with the same standards used for the rest of its specialty cheeses, which includes using fresh, local, rBST-free milk. The cheeses have no preservatives and each individually-wrapped piece contains just 70 calories with 5 grams of protein. 

“It’s something that’s very natural. There are very few ingredients and we think people are willing to pay for the quality and overall better product,” Engwall says. “And we thought very carefully about the number of calories. Consumers are so calorie conscious. We also really thought about the amount of protein.

“The point is to satisfy that 3 o’clock hunger so it doesn’t hurt your appetite for dinner later. It’s a good portion-control size piece of cheese.”