Mintel shines spotlight on cheese consumption

Report highlights how brands can appeal to millennials.
CHEESE_BOARD_Cracker Barrel

The Canadian love affair with cheese is strong. According to August 2018’s Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada Sector Trend Analysis, cheese retail sales (processed and unprocessed) are up 2.8 percent CAGR from 2013-2017, with growth forecasts of 5.6 percent for 2018-2022.

However, millennials are not consuming cheese at a rate matched by boomers. A report by Mintel warns that younger Canadians are shrugging off cheese and while it’s not necessarily a hard “no” it’s definitely not an emphatic ‘cheese, please’ either.

According to Mintel data, 75% of consumers aged 18-34 ate cheese in the last month, compared with 90 percent of those aged 55 and above (the study surveyed 2,000 Canadians and included so-called “natural cheese,” and the most commonly eaten varieties like cheddar, Swiss and mozzarella).

What’s a marketer to do to get that demo totally on board?

In the report, Mintel is offering ways to better-engage millennials in three ways: emphasizing cheese protein, incorporating cheese into on-the-go snacks, and by adding novel textures.

Call out protein content to attract millennials

According to Mintel data, the broad perception that cheese is a good source of protein and calcium is not as widely held among millennials. The report suggests calling out the protein contents in large, prominent packaging and lists German import Herz König Protein+ Cheese Slices as an example, which puts “protein” in larger font than “cheese.”

Branding analyst Tony Chapman, partner & CEO, Tony Chapman Reactions, agrees that protein is important, though he says it is “healthier” and “affordable” protein that should be emphasized. Protein bars and energy drinks were re-branded from chocolate bars and caffeinated beverages, he says. He asks, “Will cheese be able change the consideration set to focus on protein?”

According to Chapman, marketers really need to tap into millennials’ predilection towards personalization and expression. He says that with the demographics’ identity wrapped up in putting their own signature/spin on things, cheese needs to be emphasized as a food pairing choice or as a key ingredient in an innovative home-made mac and cheese, rather than “something wrapped in plastic that sits in a fridge.” Chapman says needs to become a “Trojan horse towards personalization.”

Focus on consumption occasions with snack kits

According to Professor Tirtha Dhar, department of marketing and consumer studies at the University of Guelph, more innovation and higher quality is required to engage millennials because says “Consumers are eating out more, so there are lots of opportunities for innovation and generating premium on the product.”

Mintel’s report says that there are opportunities for cheese products that lend themselves well to snacking, in convenient and portioned packaging, because younger Canadian consumers are more likely to skip breakfast and eat at their desks. Cheese in breakfast sandwiches and on bagels is common, but cheese needs to play a more developed role in the convenience and morning occasions.

According to Chapman, if brands want to be in the snack on the go business, they need to emphasize indulgence, novelty and flavor.

Texture and flavor innovations offer growth opportunities

When asked what is important when choosing cheese, Canadians rank texture high on the list, consistent across gender, age and region. The Mintel report cites Philadelphia Cream Cheese’s whipped roasted red pepper and garlic as an innovator when it comes to texture.

According to Chapman, cheese is healthier than potato chips, but younger consumers are not getting the flavours of the world that, for example, Frito Lay is offering.

“Younger consumers are more variety-seeking and they’re more exposed to variety,” says Professor Dhar. He says there is a trend of category switching, common to brands of all stripes, which means going from say, dairy cheese one day, to vegan cheese the next – especially as the quality of vegan cheese continues to improve. Right now, he says, vegan cheese is a niche product, but as seen in the burger category, disruptions are always on the horizon. Dhar says cheese will always be popular, but sub-categories will see a decrease in demand.

Under the new NAFTA agreement, Canadians have more access to American dairy products, so time will tell if new flavour offerings like the ones cited above, will take hold.