What do retail products have in common with real estate? It’s all about location, location, location. Regardless of whether you’re talking about the dairy case, the meat case, the produce section, or in-store deli, these refrigerated, perishable and high-value categories drive lots of sales.

Look even more closely at product trends and you’ll find that cheese is everywhere. It is a driving factor in the value-added product push. To begin, consider IRI data that show the natural cheese category, by itself, generated dollar sales of $13 billion (up 1%) and unit volume of 3.9 billion (up 2.2%) across the nation’s multi-outlet retailers and convenience stores during a 52-week tracking period that ended March 24, 2019. IRI data include grocery, drug, mass market, convenience, military, and select club and dollar retailers.

Sponsored by Saputo Ingredient Cheeses“Grab-and-go” pre-portioned cheese squares, cubes, and sticks enjoyed strong popularity originally as the perfect kids’ lunch items. Today finds more parents buying these products for themselves, and processors are infusing new cheese snack offerings with flavors such as chili, truffle, and herbs marinated in virgin olive oil.

String cheese-style cheese sticks, too, are growing up. Beyond mozzarella, Colby, cheddar, or Jack, string cheese sticks from Gouda, Asiago, and other artisanal-style cheeses are making their mark.

There’s also a new generation of dipper cups that are more than soft, processed cheese. Today’s new spoonable, spreadable cheeses are flavored with everything from merlot to fig to sriracha and even fruit (such as cinnamon apple and blueberry).

What began as basic, kid friendly lunch combinations (think Oscar Mayer Lunchables) evolved into upscale snacking appeal for adults. Both Hormel Foods Corp. (Hormel Natural Choice) and Tyson Foods, Inc. (Hillshire Farm Small Plates) now use cheeses in new premium protein and upscale artisan snack concepts. These and other new offerings combine meats with cheeses, nuts, dried fruits, breads, and even chocolate pieces.

Still more interesting new innovations also come from outside the dairy case. Consider Michael Foods’ Ready, Egg, go! mini meal snacks that pair a hard-boiled egg with nuts and cheese. Varieties include Pistachios and Cheddar, Roasted Peanuts and Colby Jack, Cashews and Gouda, and Almonds and White Cheddar.

Cheese also is taking a more prominent role in salad kits. Tiny cups of anonymous blue cheese crumbles and parmesan shreds are giving way to identified blues such as gorgonzola, Danish blue, and blue feta, as well as shreds and small cubes of richly flavorful cheeses such as aged Gouda, Asiago, and cheeses infused with chipotle and pesto or dried fruits, such as cherries or cranberries.

For consumers wanting to double the cheese hit on those salads, dressing makers have tuned in to the value of cheese beyond blue when it comes to refrigerated dressings. One example is Conagra Brands, Inc.’s Bernstein’s line of dressings. The company’s Cheese Fantastico Italian dressing is a triple threat featuring Parmesan, Romano, and Provolone. 

With protein-rich foods and healthy, “mindful” snacks driving strong growth in the snack and meal categories, and getting the best value top of mind for today’s consumers, versatile cheese has the flavor and favor to keep satisfying every need.