Specialty Cheese Trends

Specialty cheeses — including Gouda cheese, goat cheese, blue cheese, and brie cheese — are becoming increasingly popular amongst U.S. consumers as chefs and restaurants incorporate them into their menus and cheesemakers expand their sales channels. For each of the above-listed specialty cheeses, trends related to their presence and use cases in restaurant menus, popular recipes, consumption methods, and more have been identified below. These trends were sourced from a variety of research reports and insights from industry professionals that analyzed growth metrics in the U.S. cheese market over the last 5 years. Trends were defined below based on growth rates (percentages of use), frequency of mentions across multiple sources, and predicted upcoming changes in popularity from notable experts and organizations. The insights following each trend below depict how it is currently being portrayed in the U.S. market, its tendency to impact the overall U.S. specialty cheese market down the road, its predicted future manifestation, and where applicable, an example of the trend in play today.
Following these trends, best practices that define how to successfully market and sell specialty cheeses such as the ones discussed here were identified. These best practices focus primarily on the recommended sales channels and packaging formats of specialty cheeses, as there was significant data available depicting which methods correlate with higher sales. For each best practice identified, an overview of what it is and how it should be implemented, why it is considered a best practice, and an example of the practice in action has been provided.

Gouda Cheese Trends

Gouda for Snacking

  • Data from Mintel, Nielsen, and Sargento collected in 2019 suggests that Gouda cheese is increasing in popularity within the snack category, especially as U.S. consumers become more health-conscious. Industry experts from Schuman Cheese, ParmCrisps, Borden Cheese, and Dutch Farms Inc. support this trend, noting that their customers are on the hunt for snacks that are satisfying yet healthy and direct sales only prove this further.
  • Cheese is one of the top three snack options by U.S. consumers, with 71% consuming cheese as a snack at least once per week. During the COVID-19 pandemic, total sales of snack cheese were up 11.5% from the previous year, and this trend is expected to increase as health preferences change.
  • According to data collected by Sargento, 43% of consumers are interested in higher protein snacks, 38% in low sugar options, and 34% in lower-calorie options for snacks. These same consumers are also on the hunt for high-quality snacks that are clean in terms of flavor, ingredients, and convenience.
  • Some of the most popular Gouda cheese snacks in 2019 included the Frico Grab and Go Gouda Snacks, Paranno Originale (at-home snacks for entertaining), and the FrislandCampina Parana cheese snacks (Gouda Popcorn, Spicy Gouda Dip, Gouda and Apple Pockets).
  • These snack options typically have between 5-7 grams of protein and 70-80 calories per serving. The Gouda Snacks from FrieslandCampina are typically portioned in 20-gram resealable bags.
  • According to Tastewise, 5.67% of consumers that eat Gouda cheese report that their primary reason for doing so is snacking, as opposed to 3.30% for fitness and 2.67% for comfort.

Melted Gouda in Cooking

  • The versatility of Gouda cheese makes it popular in its melted form, such as in casseroles, pizzas, soups, and sauces. Gouda is a popular cheese to melt because it is made from whole milk, meaning it is very creamy at warmer temperatures.
  • At least 60% of restaurant and food operators believe and reported to Dataessential FLAVOR in May 2020 that adding cheese to a dish helps it sell better.
  • The California Milk Advisory Board (CMAB) predicted in 2019 that Gouda, along with other smooth melting cheeses, would be seen on more menus in the years to come because of its savory yet mild and buttery flavor. As consumers begin to opt for full-fat products as they transition to lower-carb diets, this trend is expected to continue, leading to overall creamier dishes satisfying consumer taste buds.

Gouda Pairings

  • Based on data collected and published by Tastewise — which analyzes consumer conversations on social media, online recipes, restaurant and delivery menus, and numerous other data points — the following ingredients are the most popular to be paired with Gouda cheese as of November 2020:
  • Top meat ingredients and pairings:

Gouda in Restaurants

  • Based on analyses by Tastewise that reviewed 602,000 restaurant menus across the U.S., Gouda cheese was found on approximately 5.78% of restaurants menus between at least 3 dishes. Findings from Dataessential, on the other hand, estimate that Gouda can be found on nearly 8.2% of restaurant menus.
  • More often than restaurants, Gouda cheese is actually listed as a food option in 58% of coffee shops.
  • Smoked Gouda cheeses can be found in approximately 6.4% of fast-casual restaurants, while traditional Gouda is on the menu in approximately 5.6% of fast-casual food service chains.

Goat Cheese Trends

Goat Cheese on Pizza

  • Chefs and pizza makers alike are beginning to substitute and add traditional goat cheese and goat cheese ricotta for the traditional mozzarella on their pizzas.
  • In 2020, specialty pizzerias paired goat cheese ricotta on pizzas with citrus, fig jam, buffalo, pesto, prosciutto, balsamic dressing, and numerous other toppings, citing that goat cheese added a rich texture that easily meshed with traditional pizza flavors to add depth to the dish.
  • Compared to other specialty cheeses like blue cheese, executive chef Josh Jacobsen of Peel Handcrafted Pizza noted that goat cheese is successful on pizza because of its mild flavor and numerous applications and varieties, including firm, fresh, oiled, and more.

Goat Cheese Pairings

  • Based on data collected and published by Tastewise, the following ingredients are the most popular to be paired with goat cheese as of November 2020:
  • Top fruit ingredients and pairings:
  • Top meat ingredients and pairings:
  • Top condiment ingredients and pairings:
  • Top nut and seed ingredients and pairings:

Goat Cheese in Restaurants

  • Goat cheese in any variety appears in approximately 183,000 or 8.3% of restaurants in the U.S. between nearly 4 dishes per menu. Of these restaurants, approximately 19% are considered “American” in terms of the food they serve.
  • In terms of dishes, goat cheeses tend to be on top of salads or on sandwiches, as the product does not melt well due to its high moisture content. More often than not, goat cheese it used similar to a ricotta — sprinkled on top of pastas and salads as a sort of condiment or topping, rather than mixed throughout a whole dish.
  • According to Tastewise, salads are the second most popular food in which goat cheese is found as an ingredient, appearing in 18.05% of restaurant menus in the U.S. Meat dishes are the number one dish containing goat cheese (26.79%), and bread comes in a close third (15.63%).
  • The most popular variety of Gouda cheese that is contributing to its growth in restaurants is smoked Gouda pimento cheese.

Blue Cheese Trends

Blue Cheese Packaging

  • Blue cheese crumbles are more commonly being packaged into 1-ounce, single-serve portions for the food service industry.
  • According to data collected by the USDA and Information Resources Inc. (IRI), the most popular formats of blue cheese that are sold via U.S. multi-outlet and convenience stores are either crumbled or partial rounds.
  • Manufacturers of blue cheese typically sell the product to restaurants in half-pound containers, 0.5-8-lb wheels, wedges, or small 4-10 oz packages.

Blue Cheese Pairings

  • Based on data collected and published by Tastewise, the following ingredients are the most popular to be paired with blue cheese as of November 2020:
  • Top meat ingredients and pairings:
  • Top condiment ingredients and pairings:
  • Top fruit ingredients and pairings:
  • Top nut and seed ingredients and pairings:

Blue Cheese in Restaurants

  • As of November 2020, 24% of restaurants in the U.S. have blue cheese somewhere on their menus. Of these restaurants, pizza places are the most likely to serve blue cheese, with 21% of pizza shops offering this cheese in some variety.
  • In restaurants, blue cheese is most commonly found in either cheese plates, appetizers, dressings or crumbled dish toppings. Blue cheese is known to hold its flavor very well across multiple applications, making it a versatile ingredient for chefs everywhere.

Blue Cheese Desserts

  • Although odd to some, many chefs are working to incorporate blue cheese varieties into desserts, particularly alongside ice creams and gelatos, with the thought that not all consumers are interested in something sweet for dessert.
  • Rogue Creamery offers a blue cheese cheesecake, while Old Chatham cheesemakers note that their blue cheese would pair very well with a sweet, fruity, caramel-flavored dark brown ale or cider. Caves of Faribault, another cheesemaking company, hosts an annual “Blues and Brew” event that pairs various, seasonal blue cheeses with local beers to highlight the flavor composition and combination possibilities.
  • Based on its appearance in restaurant dessert menus and online dessert recipes, blue cheese is most commonly paired with caramel (31.98%), cakes (16.07%), biscuits (12.01%), ice cream (10.36%), and cheesecakes (7.13%).
  • Mail order/home delivery of specialty cheese, of which brie is one of the top 4 in the U.S., is most prevalent amongst consumers in Massachusetts and New York between the ages of 25-64.

Brie Cheese Trends

Brie Cheese Pairings

  • Based on data collected and published by Tastewise, the following ingredients are the most popular to be paired with brie cheese as of November 2020:
  • Top meat ingredients and pairings:
  • Top fruit ingredients and pairings:
  • Berries (23.58%)
  • Apple (17.6%)
  • Figs (14.16%)
  • Strawberries (7.93%)
  • Grapes (7.47%)
  • Top condiment ingredients and pairings:

Brie Cheese in Restaurants

  • Brie cheese appears in approximately 3.78% of restaurants in the U.S., of which the most popular variety of restaurants serving brie cheese are American-style (19%).
  • In restaurants, brie cheese is typically served unaltered and on its own, accompanied by bread, deli meats, and small fruits and nuts. Brie makes for a great charcuterie addition, as it pairs well with various ingredients and sparks conversations about what it actually is and how to eat it.
  • Brie is often used to make grilled cheese a “fancier” dish. Executive chef of the Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Jersey created a raspberry and brie grilled cheese that sold over 900 sandwiches in a day, while The Rind in Sacramento, CA won the Best Sandwich in America award for their triple creme brie sandwich with caramel sauce, apples, and other ingredients on sourdough bread.

Brie Cheese Delivery & Takeout

  • Consumers are more likely to order a dish for takeout or delivery if it includes brie cheese, as it is known by many to pair well with proteins and vegetables, while also elevating the dish and making it feel more gourmet despite being ordered for carryout.
  • Brie cheese also holds well at room temperature — and actually is best served at room temperature — making it a great carryout option in terms of dish life during transport.
  • Although cheese is often not the primary reason consumers order meal kits or food delivery, brie is a common ingredient in meal kit services as it offers rich flavors, is long-lasting, and is diverse in terms of its menu capabilities.
  • Restaurant Depot began selling their products to the general public during the COVID-19 pandemic, exciting consumers as they could order delivery of a 2-lbs brie cheese wheel for only $12.

Best Practices: Marketing Specialty Trends

Best Channels to Market & Sell

  • According to the American Cheese Society’s (ACS) 2018 Key Findings Report — the most recently published version — the most popular channels to market and sell specialty cheeses in the U.S. based on the percentage of cheesemakers that use each channel are:
    • Direct to retailers (79%)
    • Direct to restaurants (78%)
    • Farmers markets (67%)
    • Distributors and wholesalers (66%)
    • Brick-and-mortar cheese stores operated by other businesses (54%)
    • Festivals and shows (49%)
    • Own website (49%)
    • Own brick-and-mortar store (48%)
  • In 2018, 49% of U.S.-based cheesemakers sold their products across 5-7 of the above-listed channels, resulting in a 21% higher-than-average profit margin.
  • In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, 57.5% of cheese distributors and makers reported to the ACS that they recently identified new distribution methods to increase sales post-COVID and 50% reported an increase in e-commerce sales.
  • Jasper Hill Farm is one of the largest artisan cheese producers in the U.S. They sell their products direct to independent cheese shops, wholesale distributors, grocery giants, and chefs/restaurants. During COVID-19, the wide array of sales channels used by jasper Hill ensured the business’ survival, especially as restaurants were forced to close their doors.

Cheese Packaging Formats

  • The 2019 Specialty Cheese Market report from the Atlantic Corporation found that the most preferred packaging by U.S. consumers for specialty cheeses based on size and cheese formats are:
Preferred Package Sizing for Specialty Cheese
Preferred Package Type for Specialty Cheese
  • Findings from Dattassential FLAVOR further support these metrics for cheese packaging, indicating that consumers prefer smaller packaging as it frees up refrigeration space.
  • Plymouth Cheese packages their artisan block cheese in paper packaging that conveys the message of “excellence” to consumers immediately. The product is also wrapped in wax, making it more competitive in terms of the product’s shelf life.

Health & Ethical Claims

  • A study conducted by Dairy Management Inc. (DMI) between 2015-2017 found that cheese products claiming to be more health-conscious and/or ethical in their production process not only increased in number, but also sold better overall.
Claim Growth Favoring Free-From and Ethical Claims
  • In 2018, 85% of consumers reported to the Dairy Food’s Cheese Outlook study that snacking cheeses and portion-controlled cheese products were “on trend” and that other cheese brands should follow suit of this trend.
  • The ASPCA lists numerous cheese products, each followed by the cheese’s health claims including “Certified Humane,” “Animal Welfare Certified,” vegan, and organic as a means to convey important messaging while also highlight quality products.
Glenn is the Lead Operations Research Analyst at The Digital Momentum with experience in research, statistical data analysis and interview techniques. A holder of degree in Economics. A true specialist in quantitative and qualitative research.

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