The growth of online shopping, snacking, bold flavors, pairings, convenience foods and an ongoing trend of consumers choosing natural, artisan foods will impact the ways Americans eat cheese in 2015, according to Madison-based Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board.
With American cheese consumption increasing 42 percent over the last 25 years, according to USDA figures, there’s no arguing that U.S. cheese consumption is at an all-time high. While opportunities for continued growth in the category appear strong, the ways in which people are consuming and enjoying cheese continues to evolve.
Mega trends like natural and specialty cheese consumption, the Millennial generation’s impact on the food industry, snacking and the growing use of social networks and apps for recipes and purchase decisions will continue to gather momentum. The top cheese trends also reflect the constant evolution of the American palate and a growing desire for unique, bold flavors.
The eight ways Americans will eat cheese in 2015 are:
• With a cheesemonger. According to a recent report from the International Dairy-Deli-Bakery Association (IDDBA), shoppers are looking for more from their primary stores when it comes to specialty cheese. As a result, each year, grocery stores are moving closer to becoming restaurants with expanding prepared food choices, dine-in space and chefs and cheesemongers taking up residence. With an expanding palate and more choices from their neighborhood cheese expert, more and more Americans are exposed to and are consuming natural, artisan cheeses.
• As a snack. Social media and guiltless food bloggers have taken snacking to the next level, making it OK for us, particularly women and Millennials, to express our obsession with snack foods. It’s having a big impact on how Americans choose their “meals.” According to a recent report from IDDBA, snacking represents 50 percent of all eating occasions. Cheese is well aligned with today’s growth trends in snacking and enjoys a position as a unique snack—both healthy and indulgent. In 2015, consumers will snack on cheese in all forms—from simple string and cube nibbles to elegant cheese picks and meal-replacing cheese boards.
• With hard cider. Hard cider and cheese is the next big thing in food and beverage pairings. Dry ciders pair well with rich, buttery cheeses like cheddar, aged gouda or blue, while semi-sweet ciders are perfect with mild, nutty, soft-ripened cheeses such as brie and camembert. With the array of new pairing options, we’ll see cider and cheese combinations in high-end restaurants, hip eateries and at home.
• In their sweets. Our obsession with trendy baking and cutting-edge pastry chefs has made unique flavor combinations mainstream and impacted how Americans view their sweets and breakfast foods. Cheese is the perfect addition to traditional sweets like cookies and pancakes to satisfy sweet-salty cravings and the answer to the constant search for unique twists on classic flavors. This year, we’ll see more sweet-savory cookies made with cheddar, blue cheese and other cheeses, and more pancakes with cheese fillings and savory ingredients such as ricotta, blue, Swiss and gorgonzola.
• With a kick. According to IDDBA, shoppers, especially Millennials, are increasingly looking for cheeses that reflect their globalized palate. The constant search for unique and bold flavors will continue into 2015 as consumers crave cheese with hints of jalapeño, herbs, smoke, garlic and basil, as well as bitter flavors like espresso.
• At their convenience. Convenience remains a top priority for consumers. Cheese slices, shreds, spreads and snack sticks make up a large share of convenient products launched over the past year and will continue into 2015. According to the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board’s custom IRI database, shredded cheese will continue to outpace other top forms of cheese and account for a 27 percent volume share of the total retail cheese category. Two other convenient cheese forms are cheese curds and stick cheese—both achieving double-digit volume growth rates each year.
• With a story. Sales of natural cheese have steadily been on the rise for the past few years and the trend isn’t going anywhere. According to the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board’s custom IRI database, natural cheese accounts for close to 80 percent volume share of the total retail cheese category. The recent shift in the consumer need to know where food comes from will take cheese buying to a whole new level in 2015. According to IDDBA, the recent call to get closer to your food has taken food beyond “natural” into the realm of authenticity, transparency and storytelling through cues around “local” and “artisanal.” Not many foods tell a better story than cheese and, with 600 varieties, types and styles coming from Wisconsin’s finest cheesemakers alone, they’ll be a top choice at U.S. groceries in 2015.
• With a smartphone. More than two-thirds of Americans are using smartphones, according to Nielsen data. Of those, more than 80 percent of Millennials are using a smartphone and rely on their mobile devices when shopping. They’re choosing, planning, experiencing, sharing and buying food online, and that includes cheese. New mobile websites and apps, like Wisconsin Cheese Cupid, help shoppers pair cheeses with their favorite beer, wine or spirit.