Thursday, January 28, 2016

Specialty Foods Are Hot; Cheese Leads the Industry

Photo source: Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board

The 2016 Winter Fancy Food Show ended on a high note last week in San Francisco with the strongest attendance and largest exhibit space in the show’s 41-year history. Cheese innovations ruled the show, with cheesemakers from Wisconsin, the state that has led the U.S. in cheesemaking since 1910, dominating the expo floor.

Amid record sales in the $109 billion specialty food industry, the show drew close to 20,000 attendees, a 16% increase above 2015 numbers. Buyers represented top names in retailing, restaurants and foodservice including Whole Foods, Kroger, Starbucks, Trader Joe’s, Williams-Sonoma, Alaska Airlines, and hundreds of local specialty and natural food markets. 

Specialty foods are defined as foods or beverages of the highest grade, style, and/or quality in their respective categories. Their specialty nature derives from a combination of some or all of the following qualities: uniqueness, origin, processing method, design, limited supply, unusual application or use, extraordinary packaging, or channel of distribution/sales.

According to the State of the Specialty Food Industry report, which is produced by the Specialty Food Association and Mintel, specialty food saw a record year in 2014. For the first time ever, total U.S. sales of specialty food topped $100 billion, with an increase of nearly 22% over 2012 to $109 billion. Retail sales in multi-unit outlets, specialty food stores and natural grocers hit $85.5 billion. Foodservice sales represent the other 22% of all specialty food dollars, or $24.1 billion.

Table sourced from the State of the Specialty Food Industry report, 2015 

The specialty food market now has 15 segments worth more than $1 billion, led by cheese and cheese alternatives; coffee, coffee substitutes and cocoa; and frozen and refrigerated meat, poultry and seafood. For more information on the specialty food industry, link HERE.

Earlier this week I wrote an article entitled “Party of One: Snacking on Specialty Foods” for Food Business News. The article includes insight and data from The Hartman Group, including why it’s very important to not tell the consumer that a certain snack is for a specific daypart. Let the consumer decide when they will snack on a certain food. This is because grazing has become an all-day activity for many consumers. Dairy foods, in particular, cheese, provide many of the attributes consumers are looking for in snacks. This includes energy, satiety and nutrient density. To read the article, link HERE.

Graph source: Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board
Consumer Cheese Trends for 2016
In late December, the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board (WMMB) issued its predictions of what will drive consumer cheese purchases in 2016. With Americans’ passion for cheese at an all-time high—USDA reports that the average American consumes 34 pounds of cheese annually, a growth of 43% over the past 25 years—cheesemakers are aggressively developing new forms and flavors of cheese to keep the category growing. These products take flavor and performance to innovative new heights.

The seven things cheese consumers will look for in 2016 are:

1. Authenticity. According to Technomic, 62% of consumers are more likely to purchase foods produced locally. They want to know how it was made, by whom, and if sustainable practices were used to do so. The Millennial generation is a driving force behind this trend. Not only have they come to expect transparency in the food they purchase and consume, they are also willing to pay a premium for it.

2. Bold Flavor. Bold and uniquely flavored cheeses are expected to outperform in both volume and dollar sales as consumers look for ways to diversify their palates. Data from IRI show that the U.S. retail flavored cheese market is $1.5 billion. In volume, that’s close to a quarter-billion pounds, or 7% of the total cheese category. Year-to-date 2015 data from IRI finds flavored cheeses up by 4.5% in volume sales while unflavored cheeses are up by only half a percent. Similarly, year-to-date dollar sales of flavored cheeses are up 8.3%, compared to unflavored cheese dollar sales up 4.8%.

Photo source: Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board

The most popular flavors used in cheese are:
1.    Jalapeno
2.    Smoked
3.    Taco
4.    Pimento
5.    Berry
6.    Habanero
7.    Onion
8.    Herbs
9.    Garlic
10.   Vegetable
Source: Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board

The fastest-growing flavors enhancing cheese are:
1.    Spice
2.    Vanilla
3.    Bacon
4.    Caramel/Maple/Sugar
5.    Cajun/Creole
6.    Fruit
7.    Alcohol
8.    Hot
9.    Seafood
10.    Olive/Olive Oil
11.    Cinnamon
12.    Nut
13.    Mushroom/Truffle
14.    Buffalo
15.    Roasted
Source: Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board

3. Snack Sophistication. According to WMMB’s custom IRI database, snacks are outperforming the consumer packaged goods category as a whole in all channels. Americans continue to eat on the go, but they know they don’t have to sacrifice taste or nutrition to do so. In fact, more consumers are looking for convenient ways to add high-quality proteins to their diets, with Mintel reporting sales of protein-rich snacks increasing by 89% between 2012 and 2014. New items such as snack sticks with notes of Parmesan and zesty teriyaki beef, fresh mozzarella ball snack packs and aged cheddar cracker cuts offer nutritional value and grown-up flavor appeal to the growing snack sector.

4. Info to Go. With a smartphone or tablet in hand, consumers are searching, planning, sharing and purchasing food online, including cheese. In fact, according to Nielsen data, more than 80% of Millennials rely on their mobile devices when shopping. Mobile apps such as the Wisconsin Cheese Cupid (link HERE) help shoppers pair cheeses with their favorite beer, wine or spirit, while also providing in-depth information on hundreds of varieties of cheeses.

5. Freshness. Cheese curds continue to excite consumers as they look for ways to enjoy more fresh cheeses. Data from IRI shows sales of curds are up 17.3% at retail and 7% at foodservice.

6. Tradition. Cheesemakers are perfecting the aging process and returning to more traditional ways of doing so. Many affineurs are tapping into the historical tradition of underground aging caves with high humidity and moderate temperature, moving away from standard walk-in coolers and finding ways to create their own caves on site.

7. Performance. Shredded cheese is going beyond basic convenience with new blends for specific applications such as homemade flatbreads and macaroni and cheese. With blends created for optimal flavor and meltability, consumers can easily and cost-effectively achieve restaurant-quality results at home. Other new shred products include flavorful additions such as rosemary and roasted garlic to easily build flavor into homemade meals.

Here are on-trend new products that were showcased at the Winter Fancy Food Show.

The unique hand-held snacking combo of cheese and salami known as Cheesewich now comes in a fourth variety—Provolone—joining Colby Jack, Mild Cheddar and Pepper Jack. Designed with today’s fast-paced, health-conscious consumer in mind, this grab-and-go meal of salami sandwiched between two slices of cheese provides 160 to 170 calories and 14 to 16 grams of protein, depending on variety. Each individually wrapped Cheesewich is 2.5-ounce and has a six-month refrigerated shelf life. The Cheesewich comes 24 to a box that functions as a retail merchandiser.

Saxon Creamery’s new Big Ed’s Gouda with Serrano Peppers is a hand-crafted, semi-soft, buttery gouda-style cheese that finishes with a small kick of heat. The creamery was founded in 1848 by the Klessig family, and five generations later, the family still owns and operates the Cleveland, Wis.-based creamery. These cheeses are made from milk from the creamery’s Holstein/Jersey crossbred cows that graze on its 850 acres of pasture.

The creamery is all about innovation and recently created Asiago Fresca, an open-texture cheese that has the tang of asiago in a semi-soft format. It is made using a proprietary blend of cultures and aged for 50-plus days.

Making asiago--traditionally an aged, hard, crumbly cheese, much like Parmesan—into a soft, creamy format opens the door to new uses, including as a spread on crackers and breads. Bel Brands USA is expanding The Laughing Cow brand with wedges of Creamy Asiago. This artisanal-inspired cheese features a nutty, bold and savory flavor. Each wedge is 0.75-ounces and contains 35 calories, 1.5 grams of fat and 3 grams of protein. A package contains eight wedges. Creamy Asiago joins the company’s eight other flavors: Mozzarella Sun-Dried Tomato & Basil Flavor, Queso Fresco Chipotle, Spicy Pepper Jack, Swiss French Onion, Swiss Garlic & Herbs, Swiss Light, Swiss (original), and White Cheddar.

Snacking cheese has become so much more than a string of mozzarella. BelGioioso Cheese used the Winter Fancy Food Show to introduce three new items that meet consumers’ needs for individual-sized, portion-controlled snacks. The 70-calorie Fontina Snacking Cheese contains three cubes in an individual 0.75-ounce package. The packs come in 6-ounce retail bags packed 10 per case. Individual packages are printed with the BelGioioso signature snacking smile logo.
In addition, the company has created a 3-ounce Mini Mascarpone cup (18 cups per case) and a 5-ounce Mini Ricotta single-serve cup (12 cups per case). The mascarpone cups are a perfect size for a healthier spread option, with each serving at nearly half the calories of butter. The ricotta cups provide an individual serving of 16 grams of protein and 60% of the Daily Value of calcium and is packaged for use as a single-serve breakfast option with fresh fruit and granola, or as a fresh, creamy dip for vegetables. BelGioioso Cheese is a family-owned and operated company specializing in artisan Italian cheesemaking made with fresh, local Wisconsin milk.

When it comes to adding flavor to cheese, truffles are known for “a little bit going a long way.” This was apparent at the Winter Fancy Food Show, where a number of cheesemakers showcased their truffle cheese creations. This includes Marieke Gouda’s new Truffle Gouda. Made using a traditional gouda recipe from cheesemaker Marieke Penterman’s native Holland, the raw milk Wisconsin cheese is flavored with pieces of real black truffles, as well as black and white truffle oil.

To help culinary professionals get creative with cheese, Emmi Roth USA is introducing Roth Natural Melt Creamy Fontina. This is no ordinary melting cheese. The only ingredients used are natural, simple and wholesome: pasteurized cultured milk, enzymes and salt. It was developed in collaboration with the company’s corporate chefs and master cheesemakers and is designed to melt perfectly in any hot foodservice application. Special cheesemaking techniques are used, allowing for a creamy, homogenous melt. The cheese has a rich, buttery taste and smooth, velvety texture, and is an easy way to elevate a host of menu favorites, from sauces, dips and mac and cheese to burgers, flatbreads and panini. It comes in 7.5-pound loaves and can be sliced, diced, shredded and more.

For the retail channel, the company is introducing a new Wisconsin original: Prairie Sunset. Sold in 10-pound wheels intended for random-weight cutting at the cheese counter, Prairie Sunset has a golden hue with sweet flavor that includes undertones of butterscotch.

The latest fiery lineup in the feta category comes from Klondike Cheese with its new Odyssey Sweet Heat Pepper Crumbled Feta. Flavored with red and green jalapenos and habanero peppers, this spicy-yet-tangy cheese can be used in recipes or blended into dips and spreads.

Gary Vanic Named 2016 National Cheese Institute Laureate

The National Cheese Institute has bestowed its highest honor, the NCI Laureate Award, on Gary Vanic (pictured right), past president and CEO of Great Lakes Cheese Co., Hiram, Ohio. NCI Chairman Ron Dunford (pictured left), president of Schreiber U.S., Schreiber Foods Inc., Green Bay, Wis., presented the award to Vanic this week during a special ceremony at the International Dairy Foods Association’s Dairy Forum 2016 in Phoenix. (It was so wonderful to see so many of you there!)

The NCI Laureate Award recognizes individuals who have made significant contributions to the development and growth of the cheese industry. A panel of industry professionals chooses a winner each year based on the person’s long-term contributions to the industry.

Vanic started his career in the dairy industry at Land O’ Lakes in Minnesota. Over a span of 20 years, he took on a variety of projects and titles, calling himself “the fixer” as he learned every aspect of the dairy business. At the same time, another NCI Laureate, Hans Epprecht, was building his own business, transforming Great Lakes Cheese from a small market stall in Cleveland to one of the largest suppliers of private-label cheeses in the country. When Epprecht was ready to retire in 1999, he chose Vanic as his successor, who accepted, leading Great Lakes Cheese as president and CEO for the next 16 years. During his tenure, Vanic was known for driving innovation and supporting initiatives that helped to define the company’s continued success.

Including Vanic and Epprecht, other cheese industry pioneers who have won the NCI Laureate Award include Fritz Leeman, Bob Bush, Larry Jensen, Lou Gentine, Mark Johnson, Jerome Schuman, Larry Ferguson, John Jeter, Mark Davis, Wes Allen, Elmer Marth, Max Gonzenbach, Rudy Nef, Betsy Holden, Don Storhoff, Lester Kielsmeier, Norm Olson, Dave Nusbaum, John Nelson, Harold Steinke, Raymond Goldbach, Jack Budahn and Vince Zehren.

A video honoring Vanic for his contributions is available HERE.

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