With products such as cholesterol-reducing cheese and cocoa-flavoured cheese, the cheese sector has seen some innovative new products and product extensions in 2003. While following current consumer trends such as functional foods and convenience, the sector has also seen the introduction of new and different flavours, as Mintel reports.
A wide range of consumers purchase cheese products to eat as a snack or to include in a recipe. Although flavour and texture preferences vary from region to region, many similarities exist – consumers want a nutritious, easy to transport snack when pressed for time. The demand for convenience has substantially influenced new product development; however, nutritional concerns have also led to the introduction of functional cheeses with added value health benefits. In addition, flavour selections have expanded to include a number of special “ethnic” ingredients and preparation methods.
In regards to new product introductions, according to Mintel’s Global New Products Database, historically, the yoghurt and cheese sub-categories dominate the dairy segment. These sub-categories accounted for 70% of all activity worldwide between 2001 and the first half of 2003. In addition, the two leaders are showing signs of growth, as both yoghurt and cheese launches are expected to increase 20% by the end of the year.
Within the cheese sub-category, launch activity was split evenly between new product and extension launches. While a number of producers expanded existing brands to include flavoured varieties, many new product introductions stemmed from innovative new formats, including Safeway‘s ready-to-heat Gorgonzola fondue in Canada.
The European region clearly dominated the market, posting more than 2100 product introductions over the period covered. The North American market trailed far behind with 938 products and 25% of all launch activity worldwide. Signs of growth are apparent when looking at data from the first half of 2003, as Mintel’s Global New Products Database predicts product introductions to increase 17% in Europe and 10% in North America by the end of the year.
A number of functional cheeses appeared in the cheese sub-category, boasting added value benefits that cater to specific demographic groups. For example, Angel Technologies introduced an “adult” product in the US, Heartily Wholesome Cholesterol Reducing Cheese. The company claims that it removes all milk fats before the curding stage and replaces them with specific vegetable oils that are naturally high in phytosterols and polyunsaturated fats. In addition, other products include special fortification ingredients, such as calcium, to address the special nutritional needs of various consumers.
The number of organic cheese introductions is expected to increase 60% by the end of 2003, and in the near future, expansion will continue as the products move into more mainstream retail outlets. Although traditionally limited to specialty brands from regional manufacturers, a few private label producers also introduced organic products including Woolworths with an organic feta cheese variety in South Africa and Marks & Spencer with its organic Brie and Stilton cheese varieties in the UK. In addition, selections often include non-dairy items formulated with soy or tofu to attract lactose intolerant consumers hoping to enjoy a cheesy snack.
The abundant selection of convenient, time-saving products across categories affected new product development significantly. The demand for pre-wrapped slices and pre-grated varieties expanded into new regions, including the UK where Arla Foods introduced a grated cheddar variety, claimed to be the first major dairy brand to move into pre-packaged grated cheese. Many consumers purchase cheese products to provide family members with a quick, mess-free snack that is readily available for consumption. In addition, its natural protein and calcium content attracts parents and other health conscious consumers – the nutritional value of cheese easily surpasses that of potato chips or cookies. The variety of snack products is extensive, ranging from individual cheese blocks to products with dual compartments that contain cheese, breadsticks or crackers in each side.
Although eating healthy foods is certainly a concern for many consumers, taste is not easily compromised. The first generation of fat-free cheeses suffered in one key area: they did not, as a rule, perform on taste. Therefore, many products simply reduce the amount of fat present rather than eliminate it entirely, resulting in a number of “low fat” rather than “fat free” products. This middle ground is often an acceptable solution for consumers wishing to maintain taste quality yet avoid the high fat content many cheese products contain.
In general, traditional cheese products account for the majority of all launch activity within the category; however, recent dietary and lifestyle changes led to the introduction of new cheeses with exotic and ethnic ingredients. Products with Italian origin remain popular including Parmesan, Romano and Asiago cheeses. Spicy selections with jalapeños and chilli peppers are also common, while blended products with savoury and sweet components are beginning to appear in other regions. A few unique flavours included:
- Arla Foods introduced Arla Buko Verse-Roomkaas Ananas in the Netherlands, described as a fresh cream cheese with pineapple. The company also expanded its line of “Discover…” dairy products with the launch of Mezze to Go, a tempting trio of mild Feta cheese, nicoise olives, and sun dried tomatoes;
- In South Africa, Woolworths introduced Grated Cheddar & Mozzarella Cheese with mixed peppers, rosemary and garlic, said to be ideal melted over pizzas, fresh pasta, soups, baked potatoes, or sprinkled on salads;
- In Germany, Bayernland introduced a premium selection of “fine, creamy, smooth cheese spreads with “Mediterranean flavour influences,” comprising: Gorgonzola Creme Fein & Mild (fine and mild); Feta Creme Oliven & Kräuter (olives and herbs); and Mozzarella Creme Tomate & Basilikum (tomato and basil);
- Cabot Creamery introduced its Chipotle Cheddar Cheese in the US, said to “tame the heat of the red morita jalepeño chilies with a smoky flavour”;
- In the Netherlands, Campina introduced its cheese slices in three different flavours: French Mustard, Italian Herb, and Californian Walnut.
- In the US, Parkers Farm launched a line of cheese spreads with unique flavour components: Sharp Cheddar with Port Wine, Sharp Cheddar with Horseradish, Sharp Cheddar with Toasted Onion, Sharp Cheddar with Garlic, and Swiss with Roasted Almonds;
- Copperpot Pate launched three varieties under The Perfect Entertainer label in Australia, a cream cheese with a sweet chilli glaze, a cream cheese with fig & ginger glaze and a cream cheese with sweet & sour cherry glaze. The company claims that the product is an easy snack before or after any meal, and also states that the cheese is a perfect addition to parties and barbecues.
- In Norway, Litago introduced a Brunost cocoa-flavoured cheese variety to target children and young women, with 10mg of iron per serving.
Mintel forecasts that the Sargento Cheese sunbursts, stars and moons will inspire producers to develop new varieties for children with bright colours and fun shapes to put a new spin on an old favourite. In addition, the cocoa-flavoured cheese from Litago in Norway will allow producers to experiment with new flavour combinations – mixing savoury cheeses with sweet flavours and fruit.
Ethnic cheeses will continue to move into mainstream markets, as recent activity from influential producers such as Kraft Foods will undoubtedly influence future product development. The company introduced a line of Manchego Kraft Singles in the US, described as a mild and creamy cheese that is often found in many Hispanic dishes such as quesadillas.
Mintel also expects numerous “convenient” cheese products to appear in portable packages with small bite-sized, individually wrapped portions.