Functional and fortified cheese, organic cheese, above all else cheese prepared and packaged with convenience in mind… One of the food world’s oldest dairy products has been undergoing a makeover in recent months. Mintel’s Amanda White highlights some recent product innovations around the world.

Mintel’s Global New Products Database (GNPD) highlights an overall decline in cheese introductions on an international level over the past three years. This decline is not unique to the cheese sector, but the dairy sector as a whole. GNPD launch data for 1999 finds around 1,130 new product cheese launches globally, with a significant decline in 2000, where there were just 900 launches.

Despite the reduction in NPD, some areas of the cheese sector have proved to be more active. There has been a particularly strong focus on convenience and portability, as well as healthfulness. Regionally, new product development clearly mirrors consumption habits in cheese. Most cheese consumers reside in Europe and North America, rather than in other parts of the world. One exception to this has been New Zealand, which has experienced strong cheese introductions in the last three years.

Organic innovation

Duchy Originals – Organic Creamy Mature Stilton

The organic cheese sector continues to grow, mainly in the UK and the United States. Recent interesting launches include Staple Dairy Products’ April 2001 UK launch of I Love Cheez, a product which claims to be the first organic cheese spread. During the Spring of 2001 Websters Dairy extended its range of cheeses with the launch of Organic Creamy Mature Stilton. The cheese is made from milk from a rare breed of shorthorn cow. In buying this product the consumer contributes to The Prince of Wales’s Charitable Foundation as all of Duchy Originals profits are donated to it.

In the US, many organic cheeses are geared to a more upscale market, Cabot Creamery offers a broad line of organic cheeses, all sold mainly in gourmet stores.

Functional & fortified

Activity in functional or fortified cheeses has been slower than in some other categories including juices or snack bars. However, there are some functional cheeses on the market. Many are fortified with calcium; some also contain probiotic ingredients. In general, dairy products fortified with calcium have not had great success in the marketplace. It is unclear why this is the case; perhaps consumers are unsure about the concept of having a calcium-rich product fortified with additional calcium.

In Germany, Herz Konig introduced Pro LA5 cheese just months ago, a formulation which is a probiotic cheese in a sliced format. The low fat cheese claims benefits to the immune system. In Australia Mainland Dairies has recently launched Inner-Balance cheese, with lactobacillus, designed to aid the digestive tract. Kraft has introduced a functional cheese under the Mama Louise Bio brand to Spain, Portugal and Italy. The cheese contains lactobacillus L.Reuteri. One of the many calcium-fortified cheeses on the market comes from Bayernland in Germany. Its apple-flavoured cottage cheese contains extra calcium and comes in a 125g pot.

Above all else,convenience…

A major trend in cheese product introductions over the last several years has been the increase of convenient forms and varieties. We have seen sliced cheeses in a variety of forms on the market. Shredded cheeses, quite prevalent in the United States, are now moving strongly in to other countries.

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The concept of recipe cheese is also making inroads into the global marketplace.

In the US, Sargento Foods and Kraft Foods have a broad line of shredded cheeses designed just for making pizza, tacos, or use in other recipes. Meanwhile the supermarket chain Kroger offers private label shredded cheese for casseroles in the US, a combination of shredded cheese, American Monterey Jack and mozzarella cheese.

Another convenient form for cheese is the cheese packaged and promoted as snacks. String cheese for children is a clear example of how cheese can be transformed into a snack. Other companies have packaged cheese in snack-size portions, usually in multi-packs.

Reduced-fat declining in popularity

Reduced-fat or fat-free cheeses experienced strong growth in the United States in the mid-1990s, but have since dropped off dramatically. Those first fat-free cheeses suffered in one key area: they did not, as a rule perform on taste. Today, we see instead reduced-fat cheeses which have more flavour than earlier reduced-fat formulations (and certainly far more flavour than fat-free varieties). However, low-fat cheese introductions have fallen sharply in the United States, perhaps due to market saturation. In other markets, on the other hand, more low-fat varieties have surfaced in the last two years.

In terms of flavour, cheese flavours fall mainly into two distinct groups: mild for children and more assertive flavours for adults. Cheeses geared just to children tend to be in flavours such as mild cheddar, mozzarella, Monterey Jack, and other similar bland flavours. For adults, however, stronger flavours have become more popular. This trend is also echoed in other parts of the food industry, as flavours in general become more assertive.

Where is the market going?

In terms of the future we can expect a number of cheese developments. Children’s single-serve and snack cheeses are expected to increase globally. Flavoured cream cheeses or mascarpone, many with adult or spicy flavours, are expected to appear. They will be focused as lunchtime offerings, which are likely to be mainly for women.

Cheese introductions are likely to continue to increase in Asia, as this market becomes more exposed to European and American products and eating habits. Companies, who can, should promote the ‘craftsman’ nature of their cheeses, telling consumers the stories behind the products. There is also likely to be greater experimentation with flavoured cheeses, choosing both sweet and savoury formulations. Everyday chunk cheeses will be extended into varieties with built-in convenience, such as ready-to eat cubes or slices. Finally, there is likely to be an expansion of easily opened and closed cheese packaging to other types of varieties.

By Amanda White, Mintel

To view related research reports, please follow the links below:-

The 2000-2005 World Outlook for Cheese

The Best Consumers of Cheese 2000