The Year Ahead in Cheese

In recent years, cravings for nutritious, delicious foods have been rising thanks to conscious consumers who are searching for choices that can fuel their active lifestyles. Barring any changes in eating habits as a result to the COVID-19 pandemic, those cravings will continue to escalate in 2020—and cheese is perfectly poised to satisfy them.

Because it provides protein, calcium and intense taste, cheese already has taken center stage in everything from prepackaged foods to meal kits and menu selections. This year, expect it to melt its way into even more options, including ready-to-serve sauces, frozen entrees and other items that will showcase cheeses that have the following consumer-friendly qualities:

Full-Bodied Flavor

Consumers have an affinity for variety, as well as zesty taste. They like the former so much that 68 percent of them actively seek out new flavors to try on a regular basis—and the latter so much that launches of spicy food products in the United States have experienced a compound annual growth rate of more than 20 percent since 2007.

To satisfy demand for flavors that are at once bold and unique, producers are including ingredients like Stella® Rubbed Fontinella® Cheese—hand-rubbed with a barrel-aged whiskey and coffee seasoning—in grilled sandwiches, cheese boards and other items. Robust selections such as Great Midwest® Jalapeno Jack CheeseGreat Midwest® Mango Fire Cheddar Cheese and Great Midwest® Habanero Jack Cheese can add heat to dishes and, when they’re blended with less expensive cheeses, enhance overall flavor while maintaining an affordable price point.

Natural Ingredients

Today, many consumers define healthy foods as items that feature unprocessed ingredients and fresh preparation. In fact, 41 percent of shoppers say it’s important that food and drink items forgo artificial ingredients in favor of natural ones; more than half feel that items with fewer components are healthier.

Use of fresh ingredients also is one of the top value drivers influencing where foodservice customers decide to eat. Along with millennials—who currently spend nearly 9 percent more on frozen foods than they did a year ago—Gen X has shown particular interest in convenient, ready-made meal kits that contain natural, wholesome elements. In response, foodservice operators, grocery stores, and other purveyors are offering items such as frozen handheld entrees; prepared cheese sauces and dips; and shelf-stable pasta dishes that feature hormone-, preservative- and GMO-free ingredients like Great Midwest® Applewood Smoked Gouda Cheese, a cow’s milk cheese that is free of rBST.

Clean Label Transparency

Most food shoppers look for healthy options, and nearly two-thirds check food labels before buying an item for the first time.

Therefore, food producers increasingly are utilizing menus and product packaging to share brand messaging about the simple ingredients used in food items—for example, the red and green jalapenos, green and orange habaneros, and chipotle peppers in Great Midwest® Spicy Colby Jack Cheese.

Some labels also mention that items were produced using minimal processing. Black Creek® Double Smoked Cheddar Cheese, for example, emphasizes on its label the natural aging process that creates its rich, creamy and pleasantly sharp flavor.

Health Benefits

Twenty years ago, consumers gravitated toward low-fat foods; however, that thinking has dramatically shifted, with a number now embracing trends such as the ketogenic diet, which encourages eating foods that are high in fat and protein—items that nearly two-thirds of adults tried to consume more of in 2016.

Easy-to-serve cheese snacks—such as cheese packaged with pretzels, cheese sticks or cubes, or wedges of Stella® Rubbed Fontinella® Cheese paired with nuts or crackers—can satisfy consumers’ craving for convenient protein sources that will help them alleviate hunger and maintain energy.

Sustainable and Responsible Production

In addition to taste, consumers are increasingly evaluating foods based on whether they were responsibly and ethically produced. In particular, research has found that companies’ values and production methods have a significant influence on Gen Z shoppers’ purchasing decisions.

Environmental sustainability is one measure of responsible food production. In order to promote it, food producers have made numerous efforts in recent years to reduce their impact on the environment—for example, creating items made with ingredients that have typically been considered waste, like pizzas topped with leftover vegetable scraps.

For its part, Saputo has worked to reduce water consumption by embracing water reuse and recycling practices, to improve wastewater quality, and to minimize food and landfill waste by optimizing its packaging. In fiscal year 2019, the company’s waste diversion rate rose from 42 to 52 percent.

By featuring consciously produced cheeses that have more flavor and fewer artificial ingredients, operators, product manufacturers and other purveyors can satiate consumers who favor natural ingredients and bold taste—while also winning over those whose diets prioritize protein. It’s a delicious proposition that promises to make 2020 a banner year for cheese.

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