Specialty cheeses are seeing high demand, and consumers are particularly interested in new varieties, according to a new International Dairy Deli Bakery Association report noted by Convenience Store Decisions. In-store delis are a favored place to sample specialty cheeses and are the source of the largest share of dollars — 66%, or two-thirds — of total cheese sales, the report added.
Consumer attitudes toward dairy fats are shifting as they seek out foods free from processed ingredients, according to the report. This trend is illustrated by the increase in whole-fat cheese sales and the decline in sales of low-fat, reduced-fat and fat-free cheeses.
The fastest-growing cheeses for the 52 weeks ending in mid-July were Hispanic varieties such as Oaxaca, Mexican, Manchego and Cotija, IDDBA noted, adding that U.S. per-capita cheese consumption jumped 26% from 1996-2015.
Consumers are looking for new and interesting taste experiences, and that's helping boost sales of specialty cheeses. The more artisanal and "natural" the selection appears to be, the better, as these tap into shoppers' demand for less-processed, farm-style varieties.
The natural and specialty cheese market in the U.S. is expected to hit $19 billion this year, with smaller cheese makers comprising nearly half of the total, according to a 2016 article in Atlantic magazine. Flavored spreads are the most popular type of specialty cheese, Statista reports, followed by Italian cheeses such as mozzarella — mainly due to its ubiquitous appearance atop pizza — while parmesan and cheddar follow close behind.
As in-store delis increasingly becoming a destination for specialty cheese shoppers, it's smart for retailers to offer samples of new varieties while also educating shoppers on the taste properties, manufacturing methods and other attributes behind each variety. Wegmans and Whole Foods are just two of the larger grocery chains that have employees provide specialty cheese samples and related information to consumers. This sort of one-on-one service in a high-growth category can help boost customer loyalty. It's also pretty tough for online retailers to compete with that kind of experiential service.
Specialty cheeses are a premium draw that can bring more adventurous shoppers such as millennials, gourmands and other foodies into the store to check on what the next tasty offering might be. If they try some new cheese item and decide to take some home, they may also stay to pick up a few other products — bread, crackers, grapes, wine, etc. — to accompany it.