Cheese flavors lead savory snacking category, finds Kerry

By Mary Ellen Shoup

- Last updated on GMT

Photo Credit: GettyImages / etienne voss
Photo Credit: GettyImages / etienne voss

Related tags Kerry cheese snacks Savory snacks

In the bellwether category of savory snacks, cheese-flavored options are outpacing the overall segment in new product launches and consumer preferences, finds new research from Kerry.

The company’s global survey of 8,790 consumers across 16 countries revealed that consumers worldwide have a deeply positive perception of cheese flavors in savory snacks with 73% of global consumers saying they like the taste of cheese-flavored snacks and 62% stating that cheese flavors make savory snacks more exciting.

While specific consumer preferences varied by geography and market – for instance, panelists in Indonesia described cheese-flavored snacks as buttery and mild compared to panelists in the UK who found them strong and salty – cheese-flavored snacks ranked as the favorite savory snack variety in every country surveyed.

According to Kerry’s consumer research, 69% of consumers globally purchased cheese-flavored savory snacks followed by chili/spicy, sea salt, and BBQ-flavored snacks.

“Cheese is a truly cultural experience, shaped by different geographies, generations of rich culinary history, local ingredients, and traditions,”​ said Soumya Nair, global consumer research and insights director at Kerry.

Cheese flavors evoke positive emotional response

“Beyond the powerful driver of delicious taste, cheese flavors evoke a spectrum of strongly positive emotions,”​ noted Kerry in its consumer insights report.

Among the top reasons consumers said they liked cheese-flavored snacks, survey respondents said 77% cited 'taste' as their favorite attribute, 40% were driven by the health and nutrition benefits of cheese, and 22% liked the versatility of cheese and its use across different types of food.

Kerry also found that cheese-flavored snacks evoked strong emotional responses from consumers: 48.7% said cheese flavors were satisfying, 45.4% said cheese flavors were healthy, 44% said fresh, 38.3% said indulgent, 35% said premium, while 34% of consumers said cheese flavors make them ‘happy’.

“Many consumers also went further, saying that cheese added an extra layer of excitement to their snacks,”​ added Kerry.

Market opportunity: Mix things up or stick to the classics?

While product launch activity for the entire savory snacks category has slowed down over the last four years (2017-2021) recording a 5.9% drop, innovation and new product launches in cheese-flavored savory snacks held its ground with new product launches up slightly at 0.1%. In regions such as the US and the UK, the growth in cheese-flavored snacks was even more pronounced, according to Kerry.

“Our research indicates that there is an opportunity to innovate in this space and bring new flavors to life across a variety of savory snacks. But cheese-flavored snacks also bring indulgence and a sense of adventure to consumers. Snack producers can be very creative in blending the traditional with the new,”​ said Nair.

“Although many consumers love classic, single-cheese flavors in savory snacks, there is plenty of scope for mixing things up. A significant percentage – 50% - tell us that creative additions such as herbs, spices, and chili are variants they look for,” ​said Nair.

‘Cheddar reigns supreme’

In terms of specific cheese flavors, cheddar, mozzarella, and parmesan were the three most preferred flavor profiles. In North America specifically, the top five cheese flavor profiles were cheddar, white cheddar, nacho cheese, mozzarella, and parmesan.

“Cheddar reigns supreme around the world as the most preferred cheese flavor in savory snacks –  often winning by a considerable distance.  Even so, it is interesting that there is also a high acceptance of generic ‘cheese-flavored’ savory snacks, indicating the potential for versatile flavor innovation,” ​said Kerry.

While consumers indicated a strong desire to mix things up with unexpected flavor combinations, many (61%) still prefer the taste of single cheese flavors.

It’s also important for snack manufacturers to pay attention to product type because while nacho cheese flavor may be a favorite in tortilla chips, it’s less preferred in other categories such as potato chips, popcorn, and snack puffs where cheddar is the favorite, noted Kerry.

"Consumers across the world associate cheese flavors with indulgence, comfort, and freshness with significant variation in different regions. Understanding these emotions, in combination with local taste preferences, presents a significant opportunity for snack producers to innovate and meet growing consumer demand for new flavors and formats,"​ added Kerry.


Where do cheese-flavored snacks fit into the broader healthy snacking category? Ask our panelists during the Healthy Snacking Trends webinar​ on Tuesday, Sept. 27th​ at 11 a.m. CST/12 p.m. EST.


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