Savoury wins

Nearly 99% of UK households buy cheese, on average 35 times a year, according to Mintel’s recent cheese report. The news for the category gets better when Adam Mehegan, shopper marketing manager at Dairy Crest, adds that cheese is an “expandable” category in that people will eat more if it’s in their fridge.

However, as much as consumers love cheese, Mintel says 46% of adults are limiting their intake because of its high fat content. And although cheese companies have responded to this, Mintel states that nearly half of cheese consumers view low fat varieties as ‘bland’ so there’s still work to be done.

Kerry Foods’ LowLow was launched onto the UK market in 2009. In stark contrast to Mintel’s findings, Daniel Hopkirk, marketing manager for dairy at the company, says it has been overwhelmed by the consumer response to date. “Over the last year, the brand has reached 12% market penetration and accounts for 50% of the growth of the healthier Cheddar market in the UK (Nielsen).”

Five new products were added to the range in 2011 including Mature Cheddar Spreads and LowLow Toastie Slices. Hopkirk says these products have thrived, with the spreads and slices alone adding pound;2.4m to the brand in less than 12 months.

But he believes low-fat cheese as a sector remains under-developed when compared to other dairy categories, both on the continent and in the UK. “In Holland, for example, the number one cheese brand is a low fat variety, Milner, while low fat and healthier varieties account for 80% of milk sales and 50% of yogurt sales in the UK respectively, indicating significant scope for growth,” he explains.

Cheddar is undoubtedly the UK’s favourite type of cheese and a staple for any cash and carry/wholesaler. According to Adams Foods, Cheddar averages around 83-84% of cheese sales depending on the time of year with peaks in the summer due to barbecues and picnics, and at Christmas. And mature Cheddar is the overall biggest seller, accounting for almost half of volume sales.

Brands account for 46% of value sales (Nielsen), with Cathedral City the biggest on the market. The brand is quick to meet consumer needs with the launch of different formats. Sliced and grated Cathedral City Mature is currently worth pound;26m (Nielsen) and is growing at 28% year-on-year in convenience. New to the range is Cathedral City Mature Thick Sliced.

Jackie Wilson, marketing manager, Cathedral City, comments: “Sliced cheddar is a fast growing segment for cheese, driven by the consumer’s desire for quick and convenient meal solutions. Our research has revealed a demand for a thicker sliced Cheddar that is more like the slices you would prepare yourself at home.”

Dairy Crest is continuing to roll out its award-winning Cheddar brand, Davidstow, to the convenience sector. Adam Mehegan says: “Davidstow presents a genuine opportunity for value growth within the convenience channel and the cheese category by encouraging consumers to trade up to a high quality cheese from a trusted creamery.”

Adams Foods’ Pilgrims Choice has started 2012 with a re-launch. As such the core Pilgrims Choice range is now focused on five cheeses: Mature, Extra Mature, Vintage, Lighter Mature and Lighter Extra Mature. The re-launch includes new, more user-friendly packaging. Hannah Jenkins, Pilgrims Choice brand marketing controller, explains: “Our research found that many consumers lack understanding about the strength of Cheddars and the flavours they offer, so we wanted to lead the way in changing the language of the category.

“Our new packaging is therefore over-printed with helpful descriptions of each variety of cheese which will advise and inform the consumer. The Mature Cheddar and Lighter Mature are defined as “superbly smooth and rich”; Extra Mature Cheddar and Lighter Extra Mature varieties are described as “wonderfully strong and punchy”, while the farmhouse Vintage Cheddar is “distinctly crumbly and tangy”. We want to help people make the correct cheese choices, and we believe these tasting notes will ensure that people buy the right cheese for their needs.”

Foodservice

Anthony Wilkinson, foodservice marketing manager for Kerry Foodservice, says that as nearly two-thirds of purchasing decisions are made at the actual point of purchase, wholesalers need to ensure their cheese offering is clearly categorised and covers a broad range of functions to help the operator source the most suitable ingredient.

Last year, Kerry Foodservice launched a range of convenient, grated ingredients, and Steve Bell, national account manager for the company, says wholesalers should promote the added value benefits of stocking grated cheese to their customers.

Meanwhile, Warren MacFarlane, foodservice marketing manager for Lactalis McLelland, says strong demand for new taste experiences and ingredients with provenance have encouraged chefs to extend their cheese range and the ways in which they incorporate it into their menus.

“As a result, there is real opportunity for growth within the cheese category for those wholesalers offering a range to gratify this growing demand.” MacFarlane advises wholesalers to stock a well-balanced selection of British and Continental cheese.

“There is no ‘one size fits all’ solution. The most important consideration is to offer a sufficient choice of products to meet the needs of the customers you’re wishing to attract and retain. In recent years there’s been a strong emphasis on low cost and offering value simply in financial terms, but what many wholesalers forget is there’s still an ever-present demand for quality.”

Finally, there’s more to cheese than just blocks. For example the Cheestrings brand has been a huge success. Last year saw the launch of Cheestrings Spaghetti which, according to Nielsen, has brought an additional pound;3m-worth of sales to cheese snacking in less than 12 months.

And Nielsen data places Philadelphia as the number one soft white cheese with a 72.1% market share. The brand outperformed the category as a whole in 2011, with growth of 10.7%. And it looks set for more growth this year thanks to a link with Cadbury that sees the launch of a new chilled chocolate spread.

Philadelphia with Cadbury is described as a “fresh-tasting, light-textured spread”. The launch follows the successful introduction of Philadelphia with Kraft Foods’ local chocolate brand in other countries, including the hugely successful Philadelphia with Milka in Germany.

The UK launch will be supported by a pound;3.2m marketing investment, including TV advertising in the first half of this year.


Wholesale viewpoint

Tom Badcock, account manager, www.cheesecellar.co.uk

For our foodservice customers, the most popular cheeses are cheap Cheddar block 5kg, 1kg Chevre, grated Mozzarella 2kg and Parmesan Grana Padano. For retailers it’s the predictable Cheddar, Stilton and Brie where the better the shop, the higher the provenance level is demanded.

In foodservice only a small percentage of our customers have a cheeseboard and an even smaller percentage of them will vary it from one week to the next. Retailers seldom vary their offering; their offering is tailored to their customers.

Fast food is becoming very good and people will pay more for something better and expect ingredients to have high provenance. The Mexican and the burrito/enchilada/tacos market is expanding nicely for us.

When it comes to pricing, it’s regional and seasonal. For example, places like Hampstead and the week before Christmas seem immune to high prices. I see promotional deals as short-termist we may sell more, but customers will buy less the following week.

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