Cheese Meets Consumer Need For Flavorful, On-The-Go Protein
With the explosion of the snacking trend at retail and food service, cheesemakers have an opportunity to fill increasing consumer demand for on-the-go protein sources, offering a pleasing flavor experience in convenient, individual-sized packaging.
A recent report from market research publisher Packaged Facts shows that America’s love of cheese, combined with snacking trends and wider availability of quality cheese at affordable prices, was a primary catalyst for growth in the natural and specialty cheese market to sales of $17 billion in 2015.
Packaged Facts notes that today’s busy consumers demand convenience, and manufacturers continue to offer products and packaging that are easy to use and store, and are portable. (For more on this study, see our coverage on page 68 of this issue.)
What’s in Store, an annual trends research report published by the International Dairy-Deli-Bakery Association, notes that on-the-go takeout options from the deli/cheese center present new opportunities to increase specialty cheese sales and consumer discovery of new cheeses.
“There’s no doubt that breakfast consisting of dairy is a growth trend at retail,” Jim Dimataris, director of processor relations for the California Milk Advisory Board, says in What’s in Store. “We see cheese and other dairy items being used in deli departments and coffee venues to make easy, on-the-go options like breakfast sandwiches, muffins and even smoothies due to their quick preparation, portability and high protein content.”
Meanwhile, the U.S. Dairy Export Council (USDEC) recently shared three prototypes it will feature at the upcoming Institute of Food Technologists Conference, noting the prototypes incorporate U.S. dairy proteins, cheese, yogurt and permeate. The prototypes will focus on trends including “protein throughout the day,” noting consumers look for snack items to increase their protein intake between meals, and even use them as meal replacers.
“Higher-protein foods with a clean label and in snackable sizes remain top priorities when consumers make food and beverage purchasing decisions,” USDEC says.
Baker Cheese, St. Cloud, Wisconsin, has been in the single-serve snack business for years. The company is one of the leading U.S. producers of String cheese, a classic on-the-go protein source that continues to see demand growth, says Brian Baker, president, Baker Cheese.
“String cheese is a singleserve snack in its natural form,” Brian Baker says. “The snack cheese category is growing tremendously, and we don’t see that slowing anytime soon. String was one of the first grab and-go snack cheeses on the market and has been a staple in the marketplace for years.” Brian Baker notes that as consumer tastes have evolved, there has been innovation in flavor profiles for String, including smoked, jalapeño and other varieties including reduced-fat String cheese and “twist” String cheese. Organic is another category of growth, and the company offers organic String as well, he adds.
Eric Baker, director of sales and marketing at Baker Cheese, notes the company also is seeing growth in the foodservice sector, with String offered as a healthy grab-and go snack option at schools and in hospitals.
Consumer demand for convenience in the snacking trend is leading the company to explore bite-size, on-the-go packaging as well, he adds. Winona Foods, Green Bay, Wisconsin, has several innovative offerings for on-the-go consumers, says Kaitlin Kane, regional sales and marketing manager, Winona Foods.
“Taking the lead in our snacking product basket is our Alejandro On the Go Snack Packs,” she says. Winona Foods offers three dipping varieties: Cheddar, Jalapeno Cheese and Salsa. The 12/3-1.6 ounce cups come in a high-gloss, full color carton, and also are offered as portion cups in a 120-bulk pack for the company’s foodservice customers.
“People love cheese sauce, and they want to put it on everything,” Kane says. She notes Winona Foods saw the need for offering this product in a portion control package because of another trend — a focus on healthy lifestyles.
“This item offers consumers the product and feeling of indulging they want, without all the guilt,” she says. “It also gives people the perception that they have control over what they are eating and what they choose to dip into the cheese. For example, veggies are a perfect pair with Alejandro On the Go dipping cups.”
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