Dick Groves
Editor, Cheese Reporter

 

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Innovation Will Continue To Boost Cheese Sales

The cheese industry has changed tremendously over the past several decades, and reminders of those changes were everywhere at this week’s IDDBA seminar and expo in Anaheim, CA.

Arguably the biggest change in the cheese industry is just its sheer growth: since the IDDBA was founded as the Wisconsin Cheese Seminar back in 1964, US cheese production has increased from around 1.7 billion pounds in 1964 to a record 12.16 billion pounds in 2016.

And certainly the nature of that cheese production has changed considerably. In 1964, around 58 percent of total US cheese output was Cheddar cheese. Last year, Cheddar accounted for 28.2 percent of total US cheese production. The US now produces more Mozzarella than Cheddar.

At this week’s IDDBA seminar and expo, change was evident everywhere, as the cheese industry continues to innovate to meet the needs of the 21st century consumer. More than a fair amount of that innovation is in packaging, and more than a fair amount of that packaging innovation revolves around making cheese easier to consume.

Yes, there’s an amazing amount of innovation these days involving convenience. Shredded cheese has been around for several decades now, but the varieties that are available today are far more diverse than what was available even 25 years ago.

Evidence of that fact can be seen by simply noting that cheese varieties that were produced either in very small quantities or not at all three decades ago — including Hispanic cheeses such as Queso Quesadilla and Italian cheeses such as Asiago — are now available in shredded blends from several different companies.

And it’s not just shreds that are available today; there are also numerous cheese varieties, and combinations of varieties, available in grated and diced forms.

Sliced cheeses have also become more and more prevalent in recent years, and have expanded from “basic” varieties such as Cheddar, Colby, Monterey Jack, and Swiss to such varieties as Havarti (plain and flavored) and Gouda (also plain and flavored). Making a sandwich has never been easier for cheese lovers.

Then there are cheese sticks and other single-serve packages (not necessarily in stick form) of cheese. Here, the options for today’s time-pressed (or maybe just lazy) consumers are almost endless. Cheeses now available in snack-sized packages range from the very old (such as Parmigiano Reggiano, from Norseland) to the not-quite-as-old or familiar (such as Gouda and Havarti, from numerous companies), and in regular flavor as well as with added flavors.

And these snack packages don’t just contain cheese anymore. Several companies, including BelGioioso Cheese and Cheesewich Factory among others (and some meat companies), are combining cheese and meat in a single-serving package for easy, high-protein, low-carb snacking.

Meanwhile, there’s been an explosion of new flavors in the cheese industry.
These new flavors are being added to everything from traditional cheeses such as Cheddar and Monterey Jack to Havarti, Gouda, Feta, as well as cold pack cheese foods and cheese spreads.

Certainly many of these flavors focus on heat, and the hotter the better. But new flavors go far beyond just peppers ranging from jalapenos to ghost peppers. For example, Henning’s Cheese has a Cheddar flavored with Tequila and Lime, while Kindred Creamery has a Ginseng and Garlic Jack.

And “basic,” traditional cheese varieties are being combined into new combination varieties. For example, Alpha’s Morning Sun from Burnett Dairy is a fusion of Cheddar and Gruyere, while Finlandia Cheese is now offering cheese snack sticks, one of which is a blend of Cheddar and Gruyere and another of which is a blend of Gouda and Parmesan.

Speaking of new forms of cheese, dried cheese products are also becoming increasingly available. Parmesan seems to be the best-known dried cheese product currently on the market, but at least one company, Schuman Cheese, is offering its Cello Whisps in additional varieties, including Cheddar as well as the new Asiago and Pepper Jack.

Meanwhile, there were a couple of things that, while not completely missing on this year’s IDDBA show floor, were certainly more difficult to find.

One was just good old blocks of cheese, as in eight-ounce and 16-ounce sizes. Once the mainstays of the retail cheese business, these packages are becoming increasingly scarce (at least on the IDDBA show floor) as retailers shift toward the aforementioned convenient styles of cheese.

Also impacting these traditional package sizes is the increasing prevalence of specialty cheeses, both domestically produced as well as imports. For a variety of reasons, these increasingly sought-after cheeses aren’t sold in the same package configurations as the more traditional varieties such as Cheddar, Colby and Monterey Jack.

Also not as prevalent on the IDDBA show floor: resealable packages. It’s been about 30 years since resealable packaging was first introduced in the cheese business, and over the years more and more packages incorporated that resealable feature. But while resealability remains important for shreds and slices, it’s completely unnecessary for single-serve packages. For those products, arguably the most important packaging feature (other than the size) is easy opening.

Cheese industry innovation was everywhere on the IDDBA show in Anaheim this week, and that innovation bodes well for the future as the cheese industry pursues further growth.


Cheese Reporter welcomes letters to the editor. Comments should be sent to: Dick Groves by Fax at (608) 246-8431; or e-mail your comments to
dgroves @cheesereporter.com.

 

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