GHQ FOCUS ON FRESH
An assortment of high-quality artisanal cheeses along with convenient snacking options
can help draw shoppers to the cheese case. BY LINDSEY WOJCIK
MACARONI, POTATOES, EGGS, SANDWICHES, BURGERS, CHICKEN… the list is endless, as cheese has been enhanc- ing America’s comfort foods for decades. While cheese is an ingredient that is incorporated in a variety of cuisines and meal occasions, in recent years, health-conscious consumers
have been slightly reluctant to let cheese stand alone in their diets. Its
high fat and calorie content has often been viewed as an indulgence
reserved for special occasions.
However, the perception of cheese is changing, and industry observers say it is clear that consumers are ready to indulge—and spend—in
the category now more than ever.
“Let’s face it, Americans tend to love cheese,” says Elizabeth
Schwartz, vice president of sales and marketing for John Wm. Macy’s
CheeseSticks, based in Elmwood Park, N.J. “It appears that consumers
are less concerned about the fat/calorie content in cheese in exchange
for more interesting and favorable products. With so many new cheeses
being imported, as well as many artisan domestic cheese options, con-
sumers are indulging in new and exquisite flavor profiles.”
While fat and calorie content may no longer be a top concern, observ-
ers say sophisticated shoppers will not skimp on quality when browsing
the cheese case. Like other dairy categories, consumers are more willing
to pay for products they perceive as higher-quality and less processed,
like organic, raw-milk and grass-fed cheeses, says Sara Talcott, vice
president of marketing and communications for Maple Hill Creamery,
based Kinderhook, N.Y. The block, shredded, sliced and snack subcat-
egories are attracting savvy cheese consumers as well, she adds.
“Cheese with origin stories—artisanal-quality, small-batch, small-producer, clean label and grass-fed—are doing well, even in conventional retailers,” Talcott says. Maple Hill Creamery offers two varieties of cheese made exclusively with 100 percent grass-fed organic milk.
Its series of three raw milk cheese is handcrafted for the company by
Grafton Village Cheese and includes Dharma Lea Dutch (a Gouda-style aged cheese), Stone Creek Cheddar and One Year Cheddar sold in
7-ounce blocks. Fiore Di Latte Mozzarella is made for the company by
the cheese artisans at Antonio Mozzarella.
“Consumers look for high-quality artisanal cheeses
with authentic flavors when they are putting together
a cheeseboard,” says Jamie Wichlacz, marketing
public relations manager for Green Bay, Wis.-based
BelGioioso Cheese. “They are discovering new cheese
varieties and sharing with their families and friends.”
Cheesemakers are introducing items in response to
the increased desire for artisanal cheeses. BelGioioso
recently unveiled its artisanal cheese boutique
collection La Bottega di BelGioioso, which includes hand wrapped
4-ounce cuts for attracting consumer trial and whole wheels for expert
cutting and wrapping by in-store cheesemongers, Wichlacz says. The
collection features Crescenza-Stracchino, American Grana, Gorgonzola
with Cow & Sheep’s Milk, Provolone Extra and Peperoncino Asiago con
Chili Pepper varieties.
Consumer snacking habits continue to evolve with their on-the-go
schedules. To meet the new demand, cheesemakers are offering single-
serve convenient packaging as well as pairings that make it easy to have
a quick snack.
“We are adapting to the grab-and-go trend by develop-
ing individually wrapped formats of different cheeses,” says
Sandy Goldberg, vice president, business development for
Saputo Cheese USA, based in Lincolnshire, Ill. “As conve-
nient snacks are being consumed between meals and some-
times as meal replacements, we’ve also added variety to our
snack line by introducing flavorful, filling options such as
Frigo Cheese Heads and Meat Combo Packs.”
Jarlsberg Cheese—imported to the U.S. by Norseland,
which is a subsidiary of Norway-based TINE SA—has also