KANSAS CITY, MO. - Snacking itself has been a trend on the rise for the last several years. 95% of adults in the United States snack daily with the majority of consumers snacking 2-3 times per day, according to 2019 research from Mintel — and the percentage of super snackers, snackers that eat four or more snacks a day, is increasing.

Within the snacking category, internal research completed by Sargento, Plymouth, Wis., in 2019 shows that cheese is among the top three snack choices among consumers in the United States with 71% of survey respondents reporting they eat cheese as a snack at least once a week or more. As shoppers are confined to their homes in the midst of the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, purchases of snacking items are going up. During the first week of March for example, data from Statista showed that cheese snack sales were elevated by 11.5% over the same timeframe in 2019. For the entire cheese category, sales were up 42% in the four weeks leading up to March 28 according to data released by Nielsen.

According to Sean Moran, vice-president of sales at Green Bay, Wis.-based BelGioioso Cheese Inc. the company has seen a continuation of strong sales numbers since the onset of COVID-19, and the top trends for snacking cheeses in 2020 have kept their relevancy to the category.

Nutrition, natural ingredients and convenience on trend

According to Nielsen, there has been a dramatic shift in the snacking world over the last few years that reflects wider social trends toward healthy living and shifting preferences surrounding protein and sugar consumption. Consumers want to add more protein and put less sugar in their diets — qualities that most snacking cheeses can check off the list.

Sargento’s 2019 internal study noted high in protein (43% of consumers), low in sugar (38% of consumers) and high in fiber and low in calories (34% of consumers) as the top qualities consumers look for in snacks. According to BelGioioso, the key drivers of snacking occasions are time, convenience, health, portion control and exploration. Moran noted that this year, consumers are in search of snacks with clean flavor, natural ingredients and convenience.

“We recently introduced an extra-aged Parmesan cheese called American Grana for snacking and grating,” said Moran. “Children enjoy the rich, nutty flavor and added protein boost during the day at home or school, and adults enjoy it with a glass of wine.” 

The American Grana Snacking Cheese is an all-natural, gluten-free, rBST-free option and sourced from raw cow’s milk resulting in 6-grams of protein and 70 calories per each individually wrapped serving. The cheese snacks are cut from 65-pound wheels that age for 18 months. Moran points out the snacking cheese is also versatile and can easily be enjoyed on its own or tossed into a cheese grater and added to a salad or meal.

Moran said the company’s entire snacking cheese line is very popular with consumers. BelGioioso’s full snacking cheese line started with Fresh Mozzarella and also includes Fontina, Asiago Fresco, Mild Provolone & Salami Rolls, Parmesan and now the American Grana. The snacks range from 5-7 grams of protein per serving and from 70 to 80 calories.

Earlier this year, Paramus, NJ-based FrieslandCampina launched Gouda Cheese Snacks through its Frico brand.

“Consumers are looking for great quality, variety and taste in the deli snacking area,” said Deborah Siefe, marketing director of FrieslandCampina. “The Frico Gouda snack offers a mild and creamy cheese, full of natural goodness that appeals to all ages, so the Frico Grab and Go Gouda Snacks hit the mark.” 

The Gouda Snacks are packaged in eight 20-gram portions per resealable bag with all the delicious flavor of creamy gouda, Siefe pointed out. Designed to meet the demand for better-for-you, and convenient snacks, the Gouda Snacks are made with 100% fresh and natural Dutch cow’s milk and easy for consumers to travel with. The Gouda Snacks are already one of FrieslandCampina’s top sellers.

Consumers look for appealing labels and options

Moran and Siefe both recommend that grocers promote a variety of snacking cheeses that offer unique choices and flavors.

“Grocers might consider out-of-the-ordinary options like BelGioioso Parmesan or American Grana Snacking cheeses,” Moran said. “A variety of delicious flavors and versatility for multiple applications appeals to all ages.”

Siefe noted that exciting packaging with appealing labels is also helpful in marketing snacking cheeses.

In January the company redesigned the packaging for its Dutch Masterpiece brand cheese wheels and wedges with readily identifiable Dutch painters and their recognizable work while providing information about tasting and texture notes. For example, the new label for the Dutch Masterpiece Rembrandt cheese label reads, “Traditionally ripened for one year this award-winning Extra Aged Dutch Cheese has a firm texture and a robust flavor and an exceptional taste. World Championship Cheese Contest Overall Winner 2004, World Cheese Awards 2016 Gold.”

  "Our cheeses are as much a work of art as the innovative and prolific golden age painters for which they are named,” Seife said. ”Distinctive in flavor like their artists, our new brand identity and package design frames the distinctive features of each painter, their formative work, and the unique age and tasting notes of each of the awarding winning cheeses in our masterpiece collection.”

Parable with other snacks

While not all of FrieslandCampina cheeses are easily transportable like the Grab and Go Gouda Snacks, most of the company’s cheeses are versatile and can be enjoyed on its own or paired with other household snacks. Versatility is especially beneficial during the times brought on by COVID-19 when more people are looking to enjoy snacks and entertainment in their own homes.

This summer, FrieslandCampina is running its ‘Pair With Parrano’ campaign encouraging consumers to serve the company’s Parrano brand cheese line-up with at-home snacks for easy at home entertaining.

The Parrano lineup includes Parrano Originale — a one-of-a-kind cheese aged for five months that develops nutty Parmesan flavors while maintaining the firm, smooth texture of a Gouda — and Parrano Truffle which blends the flavors of a nutty, salty parmesan and the creamy sweetness of a Gouda with a generous amount of black truffle shavings to add complex flavor.

The Parrano cheeses can be served in a variety of ways including on a cheese platter, on a kabob with fruit as a easy snack or appetizer and in pairings both on and off the grill. It also pairs well with Lager or Kolosch.

“Parrano is the perfect cheese to pair with just about anything. The combination of Gouda and Parmesan offer a meltability and flavor unmatched by other cheeses,” said Tara Kirch, senior marketing manager at FrieslandCampina. “This summer, plan big with amazing ways to create dishes friends and family will love.”

FrieslandCampina has a list of Parana cheese snack recipes that include Gouda Popcorn, Spicy Gouda Dip, Gouda and Apple Pockets, Parrano Bacon Puffs, Pear and Parrano Snack, Parrano Snack Mix and more at parrano.com/snacks.

Organic Kindom is another FrieslandCampina brand. Made with zero GMO’s antibiotics, hormones or pesticides, the cheddar cheese is the first British cheese that’s USDA Organic certified in the United States. The organic cheddar is made with milk from cows that are sustainably raised, grass-fed and free-roaming — qualities that are increasingly important among consumers.

FrieslandCampina recommends using Organic Kingdom cheese in cheddar and red pepper tartlets, cheese straws and filo parcels with cheese and ham, recipes that are available at organickingdomcheese.com/our-cheese/recipes.

Siefe noted that Gayo Azul is another FrieslandCampina brand that also has versatile products that can be used for snacking on its own or paired with other snacking options. The Gayo Azul brand also benefits from ongoing consumer interest in ethnic foods and brands.

“Gayo Azul is a brand with a strong Dutch influence and a rich heritage,” said Siefe. “It’s been a traditional staple for Caribbean Hispanics for decades and has a growing international fan base.”

Gayo Azul’s classic cheese Dutch Gouda is perfect for cheese boards, slicing, shredding or melting in any recipe. The Gayo Azul Duth Edam cheese has a savory flavor that pairs well with charcuterie boards. The brand also includes Queso Blanco, a mild and fresh-tasting white grilling cheese that melts well and is great for crumbling over salads, soups and tacos.

This story appeared in the May 2020 issue of Supermarket Perimeter. Check out the full issue here.