‘Brie’ a Cheese Leader

November 27, 2014

StoreBrands | November 27,2014 – Americans love cheese. In 2012, average per-capita consumption of natural cheese was 31 pounds in the United States, reports Packaged Facts, a division of Rockville, Md.-based MarketResearch.com, in its March “Cheese: Natural and Specialty Cheese in the U.S. and Global Markets” report.

Americans also have a soft spot for store brand cheese. Private label cheese accounts for more than 40 percent of dollar sales, and store brands are the most frequently eaten natural/imported cheeses in American households, with more than 20 percent of households reporting that they consume store brand cheese “most often,” according to Packaged Facts.

However, retailers cannot rest on their laurels when it comes to store brand cheese. Today’s consumers are looking for specialty cheeses, as well as new flavors that will excite their taste buds, Packaged Facts says. To remain relevant, retailers might want to reconsider the cheese section.

A ‘whey-ty’ issue

In recent years, the cheese category has been negatively impacted by the American obesity crisis — natural and processed cheeses are generally high in fat and sodium, states global market researcher Mintel in its October 2013 “Cheese — US” report.

To combat this negativity, retailers could focus on the positives. For example, most cheese is high in protein and calcium; plus, some cheeses are fortified with omega-3 and vitamin D, Mintel states in its November 2013 “Category Insight: Cheese” report. Retailers could also take a cue from national brands. Kraft is using skim milk to lower fat content, and both Kraft and Sargento are offering consumers cheese that is sliced thinner to achieve fewer calories per slice.

Besides cutting fat and calories, retailers could address other health concerns by offering cheeses that are organic, come from grass-fed cows, and/or are free from artificial growth hormones. As consumers learn more about their food, they are interested in lowering their exposure to pesticides and other harmful chemicals, says Christine Bellamo, director of dairy/frozen for Stamford, Conn.-based Daymon Worldwide.

Offer different flavors

Mozzarella is purchased more often than any other cheese variety in America, Packaged Facts states. Cheddar has declined in popularity in recent years, but Colby and Monterey Jack continue to grow at a rapid rate. And bold flavors with smoky and peppery attributes are popular as well.

“We are seeing increased interest in robust flavors,” says Alan Hiebert, senior education coordinator for the International-Dairy-Deli-Bakery Association (IDDBA), Madison, Wis. “In some cases, the cheeses are aged longer; some use additional processes like smoking, and others feature additional ingredients like new varieties or rubs.”

While spicy cheese remains popular in North America, it is no longer enough for the spice to be a general heat. Instead, brands are calling out specific sources of heat such as habanero, jalapeño and even cayenne, Mintel states.

For retailers, this interest in new and unusual flavors could be a sales boon.

“The national and regional brands tend to stay mainstream with their offerings,” says Dan MacPhee, vice president, retail sales, Masters Gallery Foods Inc., Plymouth, Wis. “They rarely go too far outside the box, as lower volume sales of more niche and specialty items generally result in discontinuation down the road. Innovation in private brand cheese could fill this void and be a great asset to a retailer.”

Go upscale

But if retailers really want to please consumers, upscale artisan cheeses might be the way to go. When shoppers were asked to rate their preferred retail store for dairy purchases, shoppers were most critical of their store’s “unique items” and “wide variety,” states “Engaging the evolving shopper: Serving the new American appetite,” an October 2014 report from IDDBA. These findings suggest dairy departments need to curate more specialty items for their shoppers to discover.

“Today, for many consumers, specialty cheese can be seen as the wine of the food world (and it is no coincidence that the two products are often paired together),” IDDBA writes. “Shoppers, especially millennials, are increasingly looking for cheeses that incorporate a wide spectrum of textures, flavors and formats that reflect their globalized palate.”

According to Packaged Facts, artisan cheese could be a way for supermarkets to compete and differentiate themselves from Walmart, Target and Costco. Plus, artisan cheese makes the supermarket a destination and can enhance a store’s image much like a specialty bakery does.

But it’s not enough to simply stock specialty cheeses, Packaged Facts adds. The cheese department needs trained staff to educate consumers about serving, pairing and storing the cheeses, as well as to sample it, cut it to order, wrap it and sell it on the floor.

Be organized

When it comes to in-store merchandising, the dairy department is full of potential. It enjoys a very high level of traffic and satisfaction among consumers, making it a great anchor to merchandise special promotions for lesser shopped or center store categories, IDDBA says.

For example, an artisan cheese area allows for cross-merchandising of more expensive and specialty foods that pair well with specialty cheeses such as wine, fruits, nuts, artisanal meats, pate, hummus and fine olive oils and vinegars, Packaged Facts says.

And organization is critical. Cheese cases can become packed so tightly that it becomes difficult for consumers to see what the retailer offers, Bellamo says. Instead, retailers might want to carefully select which cheeses they want to offer and then group them together by texture, degree of hardness, milk used or even country or state of origin.

And while consumers want to try new cheeses, they often don’t know how to use them, says Marty Pullin, senior vice president channel management, Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board, Madison, Wis. So, retailers could incorporate easy recipes and serving ideas into their cheese merchandising.

Stand up, be noticed

The stand-up pouch is one of the newest trends in cheese packaging, MacPhee says. It has made its way into the dairy case with 5- to 16-ounce bags of shredded cheese.

Packaging innovations continue to be focused on sustainability, portability and optimal freshness, Pullin says. Consumers want packaging — such as reclosable bags — that is convenient and keeps cheese fresh.

With packaging design and labeling, MacPhee recommends that retailers make use of callouts. Health attributes on a well-designed package will grab the consumer’s attention. Furthermore, he recommends that retailers avoid package designs that look cheap.

“The consumer should never be made to feel they are trading down from the national brands,” MacPhee says. “People purchase with their eyes first. If they see a package design that is not as current as the national brands, they might question the quality.”

Do offer low-fat, low-calorie options.

Don’t ignore the upscale cheese trend; it’s here to stay.

Do offer flavors that are smoky, peppery and spicy.

Don’t fall behind with packaging innovation; be sustainable and portable.

Beware of adultery

In the shelf-stable cheese category, Parmesan reigns supreme, says Terry Mitchell, senior director of sales, DairiConcepts, L.P., Springfield, Mo. With its mild flavor, it appeals to a broad range of people. Mitchell recommends that retailers focus on product purity and flavor here. If the label states “dry grated Parmesan,” retailers should make sure that’s exactly what is contained in the jar. Economic adulteration is “rampant” within this category, and when adulteration occurs, ingredient declarations and nutritional labeling are incorrect.

“This issue is widespread and growing in the retail private label dry grated cheese category,” he says. “We’ve found private labels that state very clearly [on the label,] ‘100 percent Parmesan, no fillers.’ [But when tested] the product contains only 50 to 60 percent actual cheese, while the rest is a cheap filler.”

When a manufacturer presents a pricing program for shelf-stable Parmesan items that seems too good to be true, it probably is, Mitchell adds.

Look what’s new

New from Walmart Canada, Mississauga, Ontario, is the Your Fresh Market Cranberry Goat Cheese Log. Described as a soft, unripened goat milk cheese, the kosher-certified product contains 21 percent milk fat and 60 percent moisture and retails in a 130g plastic skinpack.

New from San Antonio-based H-E-B is H-E-B Organics Mild Cheddar Sliced Cheese. The cheese comes from cows raised on organic feed, without added growth hormones and without antibiotics. The kosher-certified product is said to be suitable for vegetarians and retails in a 6-oz. flexible plastic package that features the American Humane Certification logo.

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