Specialty cheese intersects with two of the biggest food trends going for 2015: healthy snacking options and demand for protein. In original research from the International Dairy-Deli-Bakery Association, “Engaging the Evolving Shopper: Serving the New American Appetite,” this report reveals that consumers view foods found in the fresh perimeter categories as antidotes to unhealthy, processed foods. For example, the dairy department represents a real-food source of protein in the form of yogurt, cheese, eggs, milk and tofu.

A recent NPD food and beverage market research study forecast shows that snack foods eaten at main meals will grow approximately 5 percent over the next five years or to 86.4 billion “eatings” in 2018.

The strongest growth of snack foods eaten at meals will be in the better-for-you categories, like refrigerated yogurt, bars, and fresh fruit, which consumers perceive as more healthful and convenient and are more prone to eating between and at meals, according to NPD’s “The Future of Eating: Who’s Eating What in 2018?. Ready-to-eat sweetened snack foods and desserts, which consumers are less likely to eat at main meals, will be flat in the next five years.

“The growth in better-for-you snack foods in between and at meals is a good example of how consumers are redefining the foods they eat, and how the traditional lines between snack foods and main meal foods are blurring,” says Darren Seifer, NPD food and beverage industry analyst. “Consumers clearly associate certain times of day with main meals and between meal occasions but what they are eating at those occasions is changing.”

Specialty cheese plays a big role in snacking occasions, and the supply side is answering the call. Of Wisconsin's 126 cheese plants, 93 manufactured at least one type of specialty cheese during 2013. Feta continued its steady increase, accounting for the largest share of specialty cheese production at 13 percent of the total.  Other growing varieties include Hispanic types, gorgonzola, asiago, specialty cheddar and specialty colby.

Shredded Cheese

Shredded cheese continues to rise in popularity among consumers, showing a 3.8 percent increase in dollar sales in 2014, according to Nielsen. To help chefs of all abilities easily create flavorful dishes, Emmi Roth USA introduced Roth Ultimates, a new line of shredded specialty cheese blends, during the Winter Fancy Food Show January 11-13 in San Francisco.

Each of the three varieties, packed in 12 6-ounce gusseted bags, were developed by chefs to maximize flavor and optimize melt: Ultimate Mac & Cheese (Grand Cru, Havarti & Sharp Cheddar), Ultimate Flatbread (Grand Cru, Mild Provolone & Fontiago), and Ultimate Firehouse (Grand Cru, 3 Chile Pepper Gouda & Smoked Fontina). Winter Fancy Food Show attendees sampled the flavor-packed blends in a variety of applications prepared by corporate chef Evan Topel, including Firehouse Chicken Grilled Cheese, Ultimate BLT Mac & Cheese and Italian Prosciutto Flatbread.

“Emmi Roth is passionate about helping chefs—from at-home to professional—achieve flavorful results with their recipes. Our new Roth Ultimates shredded cheese blends are an innovative, on-trend way to take cooking from amateur to restaurateur,” says Linda Duwve, vice president of sales and marketing at Emmi Roth USA.

Spreadable Options

For brie lovers on the go, President has introduced Wee Brie, which is billed as “delightfully creamy, petitely portioned.” These individually wrapped 40-calorie wedges are made from Wisconsin milk. The product is specially packed in a convenient wheel with eight spreadable cheese wedges featuring authentic Brie flavor.

Instore delis can merchandise Wee Brie with whole grain crackers, fresh fruit or carrot and celery sticks. These spreadable wedges are convenient for shoppers to add to lunch bags or enjoy as mid-afternoon snacks. This is the latest edition to President’s line of brie products, which include  brie wedges, brie log, brie spread and a triple crème line of products.

Premium Choices

From BelGioioso Cheese, Burrata is an award-winning fresh cheese that resembles a fresh mozzarella ball, but when split open, you discover a rich-tasting soft filling of fresh pieces of mozzarella soaked in heavy cream. This cheese offers a sweet, milky flavor that gently fills the palate. Made to order from fresh milk gathered daily from local farmers, each ball is hand-formed and packaged in water to ensure maximum freshness while maintaining shelf life.

Winner of a “Best of Class” blue ribbon in the 2014 American Cheese Society Contest, BelGioioso Burrata is perfect for pairing with tomatoes, roasted peppers, herbs, cured meats, melon, grapes and light wine.

Serving suggestions for cheese shoppers include the following ideas:
• Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and freshly ground pepper.
• Place atop fresh arugula greens and serve with a drizzle of olive oil.
• Serve with fresh grilled vegetables.

Snacking Cheese

Saputo Cheese USA Inc. has expanded its line of Frigo Cheese Heads Brand Premium Snacking Cheese to include three new flavors: Smoke Flavor White Cheddar, Cheddar Cheese with Parmesan Notes and Wisconsin Colby Habanero. The line also includes Chipotle Cheddar, Pepper Jack String, Wisconsin Sharp Cheddar and Wisconsin Colby Jack.

These new introductions are a response to increased demand for natural cheese, snack items and bold flavors. These individually wrapped cheese sticks can be merchandised as on-the-go snacking solutions.

Wausome Wafers are crispy, savory crackers made from 100 percent Wisconsin Cheese. Brian Gunning, founder of Wausome Foods, started baking cheese crisps as a bachelor pad snack and later as an alternative to conventional cheese crackers for his kids’ lunchboxes. Now he’s found a way to package these tasty treats in a unique triangular box that protects the fragile wafers and also tells the story of the Wisconsin dairies and creameries from which the cheese is sourced.

Available in Clever Cheddar and Hug & Kiss Colby/Swiss, Wausome Wafers can be merchandised as a convenient snack, and also pair well as a cheesy, crunchy garnish for salads and soups.