Winter Fancy Food Show

Soup-To-Nuts Podcast: What is driving specialty cheese sales in the US

By Elizabeth Crawford

- Last updated on GMT

Source: Getty/	izusek
Source: Getty/ izusek

Related tags Soup-To-Nuts Podcast

A third of global consumers consider cheese a staple, with most buying the dairy product because they love the flavor or are drawn to its health benefits, according to Innova Market Insights, but industry innovators add those are not the only reasons sales of cheese in the US are steadily climbing.

Research And Markets estimates that sales of cheese in the US market will grow at a compound annual growth rate of 3.46% between now and 2030 when the market will reach $48.52 billion. Specialty cheese is a driving force behind this. According to recent data from Circana sales and volume of specialty cheese are up 3.1% and 0.2% in the 52 weeks ending Jan. 28. This is especially notable given many consumers are pulling back on quantity, and in some cases quality, across the store to help offset higher grocery prices due to inflation.

Cheesemakers gathered at the Winter Fancy Food Show in Las Vegas share in this episode of FoodNavigator-USA’s Soup-To-Nuts Podcast​ why consumers are gravitating to specialty cheese, despite premium pricing and the current economic environment. According to Cypress Grove, which specializes in goat cheeses, consumers are looking for at-home entertaining solutions and moments of intentional indulgence. The British Organic Dairy Company and Australia-based Old Croc add sustainability, animal welfare and clean label call-outs, including grass fed and natural, also are driving sales, as are innovations in packaging that make cheese more snackable and convenient.

‘Americans are looking for cheeses that inspire them’

While specialty cheese featured in the deli is often more expensive than the blocks, shreds and slices commonly stocked in dairy aisle, consumers are willing to pay more in part for the inspiration and quality that they offer, Janne Rasmussen, marketing manager at Cypress Grove, told FoodNavigator-USA.

“Americans are looking for cheeses that inspire them. I think there is an allure of Europe and other places that cheese comes from, and Americans want that from domestic cheese, and they are looking for it, but it is harder to find. There are subsidies and things in other countries that lower the price of cheese, and domestic cheeses are expensive,” she said.

But, she added, if a cheese delivers on flavor and presentation then price is “nice to have, but not a must have.”

She explained that one way Cypress Grove inspires consumers is by creating an accessible and yet stunningly visual and consistent experience with its Humbolt Fog, which she described as the “OG specialty American cheese” with a black ash line that gives it the appearance of a slice of cake.

Specialty cheese delivers a bigger basket

To deliver the flavor and appearance consumers expect of Humbolt Fog, the cheese needs to ship as a five pound wheel, which requires more work of retailers. This can be a heavy lift in the post-pandemic era when many grocery stores are looking to reduce labor. But, Rasmussen said, the cheese is worth the extra work because consumers seek it out and buy a bigger basket.

Recognizing the deli counter is increasingly competitive and consumers can only buy Humbolt Fog if they can find it, Rasmussen said Cypress Grove is dedicating this year to re-educating retailers and consumers about the value cheese offers through a rebrand, marketing push and upcoming promotion in April designed to ensure the product will be on shelves.

In the spirit of making specialty cheese more accessible for both consumers and retailers, Rasmussen said that sister-brand Cowgirl Creamery is also launching smaller pre-cut, fixed wedges of two of its beloved cheeses that, until now, have been available only in larger formats.

From the consumer perspective, Rasmussen said shoppers are drawn to Cowgirl Creamery’s selections in part because they are high-performing for specific uses an because they offer a moment of intention indulgence – with or without the excuse of a party.

Bold flavors, convenience and snackability make specialty cheese an everyday treat

Flavor is a primary purchase driver and differentiator for Australian brand Old Croc’s cheddar cheese, which is so sharp that the brand’s original tagline jokingly warned: Careful, it bites! But as David Raff, executive vice president of Trugman-Nash, which owns Old Croc Cheese, explains the brand also appeals to consumers it comes in convenient and snackable formats and bold flavors.

“We’ve expanded the brand in these packaging with Croc Bites, which is an individual snack. They are three-quarter ounce and we actually just got our first orders to be on Delta Airlines” as proof cheese can be an on-the-go snack, Raff said.

The company also offers smoked cheddar, spreads and party trays with a selection of flavors and ease but without compromising quality.

Sustainability can tip the scale for a dairy cheese

Environmental sustainability, animal welfare and authentic craftsmanship also are increasingly important to consumers, and attributes that Ian Anderson, international manager for Organic Herd, says help set apart British Organic Dairy Co.’s cheddar. 

“British Organic Dairy is a cooperative of 112 or 114 farmers stretching the length and breadth of the UK and it is very much around being custodians of the land, custodians of the animals,” and maintaining “traditional methods of production,” Anderson said.

These values are represented on pack with images of cows grazing on grass paired with claims that the cheese is grass fed, organic and Non-GMO Project certified.

“Every consumer now really across the globe are looking for products that are sustainable, but also natural and free from antibiotics and which is healthy. So, there are a number of different aspects to it, but the goal is ... making sure [animals] are well cared for … able to roam, grass fed subject to the weather” and cared for holistically, he said.

The care farmers give their animals then “flows through” the cheese so “you get a product that is a wild taste journey,” he added.

Ultimately, he said, “it is all about meet what the consumer needs and they want to look at the pack and see that it is clean, free-from, healthy, natural” and animal-friendly.

Related news

Show more

Related products

show more

Mastering taste challenges in good-for-you products

Mastering taste challenges in good-for-you products

Content provided by Symrise | 12-Sep-2023 | White Paper

When food and beverage manufacturers reduce sugar, salt, or fat and add fibers, minerals or vitamins, good-for-you products can suffer from undesirable...

Follow us


View more