Fall and winter are when consumers snack the most. The combination of cooler weather, the increase in sporting events and outdoor activities, school and work ramping up, and of course the crush of holidays all conspire to boost cravings for an easy, on-the-go bite to eat. And with the higher energy expenditure from most of these events, the more people crave a snack with dense nutrition and high protein. Cheese fits the bill perfectly.
Snacks are a huge, global business, cranking up annual sales pegged at around $100 billion, with roughly half of those dollars rung up in the US. Global market research firm Mintel reports that about 94% Americans snack at least once a day, with the average consumer enjoying 2.5 snacks daily.
On the other hand, the “fresh and healthy” trend has driven consumers to seek out fresher snacks. Mintel describes the consumer view of “freshness” as referring to foods that are “clean label, free of additives/preservatives” and “either refrigerated or found in the produce section.” Another research group, SPINS, found that “fresh” snacks make up around 15% of Americans’ yearly snack spending.
Both research groups teamed up for a survey that revealed one-quarter of consumers say the store perimeter is where they make their impulse buys. This is backed by the news that sales in that part of the supermarket are growing at more than double the rate of center-store sales, and expected to grow by 8% annually at least into the next decade. The biggest retail food sales category? Refrigerated snack kits. And that’s where cheese shows its power: It’s a component in most of these snack kits.
Conveniently portioned and packaged cheese formats, such as string cheese or cheese sticks, slices, and cubes translate to a perfect snack. While commonly available on their own, they feature in such snack kits accompanied by crackers, pretzels, dried fruit, cured meats (salami, pepperoni, etc.), nuts, olives, or fresh fruit such as apples. Kits that bring together cheese with sweets such as chocolate also are becoming popular.
Formats for cheese in fresh mixed snack packs — snack packs in which cheese is a main component supported by other products or part of a group of items accompanying a host product — are undeniably popular. According to research group IRI, sales of such refrigerated groupings rose by 13% last year. The report singled out one snack featuring salami, provolone cheese, and breadsticks and another that provides pretzels as an accompaniment to organic Cheddar cheese cubes. Cheese is starring in snack formats other than such kits. Examples include cheese crisps, crispy cheese bars, cheese-filled pretzels, and heat-and-eat breaded or coated cheese.
Spreadable cheeses are another refrigerated option that has been a growing consumer favorite. Most often packaged with pretzels, breadsticks, or melba toast, the big sellers are those spreads and dips sporting dried fruit bits, nut pieces, or herbs/spices, or infused with alcohol beverage reductions (such as ales, stouts, red wine, or port).
Yet the biggest sellers remain the lunch box favorites, string cheese. Cheese’s high levels of calcium and protein — two ingredients low-energy consumers crave — account for its popularity. Cheese is also a good source of vitamin D, a nutrient that health experts estimate as many as three in four Americans aren’t getting in sufficient amounts.
Today’s marketplace is overflowing with varieties and flavors of cheese sticks and spreadable cheeses. In addition to the classic mozzarella, cheddar, Colby, and Jack are the more elaborate entries that include goat’s milk cheddar, herbed cheddar, tomato-basil, jalapeño, and others. Spreads and dips are available infused with port reductions, Balsamic vinegar, Guinness stout, or studded with bacon, roasted garlic, sundried tomatoes, caraway seeds, and cracked pepper.
As a concentrated source of energy and nutrients, cheese is a quintessential go-to power snack for active adults and busy schoolkids. A good fresh cheese snack will deliver satisfying, rich flavor with every bite, and recharge with roughly twice the energy in half the size compared to many other snack foods.