Flavor, Variety, New Menu Concepts Drive Cheese Trends

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Flavor, Variety, New Menu Concepts Drive Cheese Trends


Sophisticated cheese flavors and varieties continue to develop along with the United States’ collective palate.

That’s according to What’s in Store 2012, the annual trends report from the International Dairy-Deli-Bakery Association. Cheese embodies many top culinary trends, including local/farm/estate-branded ingredients, ethnic flavor interest, emphasis on children’s nutrition, and simplicity.

Bolder flavors are the hottest cheese trend as consumers venture beyond younger-aged cheeses to more robustly aged and flavorful ingredient-filled cheeses. Artisan cheeses are now flavored quite diversely, with inclusions like truffle, chipotle, wasabi, horseradish, cocoa, saffron, apricot, pear and bacon. Washed-rind and cave-aged cheeses are also popular. Some retailers now even do their own cheese aging.

The top three fastest-growing natural cheeses at retail are manchego, gruyére and gouda.

Restaurants are offering more cheese varieties on menus for appetizers, to accent entrees, and for dessert. The cheese course has been showing up on gastro pub menus and restaurants. Middle-aged-to-younger consumers are more likely to eat cheese for dessert. Specialty cheeses on burgers and pizza have become more common place, and grilled cheese has climbed the social ladder from American cheese between slices of white bread to manchego cheese and Serrano ham on panini.

Artisan cheese ranked 20th in the National Restaurant Association’s What’s Hot in 2011 chef survey. In the “other food items/ingredients” category, artisan cheese is the top trend, followed by ethnic cheeses, such as queso fresco, paneer and halloumi.

Hispanic cheeses continue to drive sales. As the Hispanic population rises in the United States, so does demand. At the same time, consumers use these cheeses as they try to recreate dishes at home that they tried in popular Latin American and Mexican-style restaurants. With interest in the Mediterranean diet and the growth of Greek yogurt, feta cheese is more popular.

Households in the highest income category, $100,000-plus, index the highest for more flavorful cheeses. Larger households tend to purchase the most cheddar cheese. Two-member households are the most likely to purchase cheese from the deli. Also most likely were families with household incomes greater than $75,000, those with no children under age 18 and white or Hispanic consumers.

According to Nielsen Perishables Group, almost 70 percent of U.S. households make service deli cheese purchases.
Shoppers average roughly 15 trips to the in-store deli annually. Deli cheese accounts for 19.8 percent of deli department dollar sales. In the 52 weeks ending Sept. 22, specialty cheese accounted for 64 percent of this category (7.4 percent growth), service cheese, 30.2 percent (4.9 percent growth) and 5.9 percent (7.7 percent growth) from pre-sliced cheese.

Grocery stores had the largest share of total cheese volume sales at 63.8 percent in 2010, though volume growth decreased 1.9 percent from the year before, according to SymphonyIRI Group Panel Data reported by the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board. U.S. cheese demand has significantly slowed in recent years, averaging 2.2 percent growth for the last decade, down from 4.7 percent growth in the 1980s and 3.3 percent annual growth in the 1990s.

Shredded cheese is the top selling form, followed by chunk/loaf cheese and sliced cheese.

What’s in Store 2012 is a 200-plus-page trends report that details consumer and industry trends affecting the dairy case, cheese case, bakery, deli and foodservice supermarket departments. Visit the IDDBA’s website to order a copy.

Madison, Wis.-based IDDBA is a nonprofit membership organization serving the dairy, deli, bakery, cheese and supermarket foodservice industries.