The past year has shaken up consumer behaviours and attitudes – and cheese consumers are no exception. To better understand the long-term impact, Tetra Pak has conducted an in-depth study involving thousands of individuals in countries around the world. The results show six trends that cheese producers can expect going forward, along with a clearer picture of the cheese consumers shaping today’s market.
Peter Lindstrøm, Vice President Processing Food Solutions at Tetra Pak, says the first key finding is that increased consumption is a universal trend. “Cheese is consumed on every continent around the world, and consumer appeal shows no signs of abating. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.”
As many as 36% of those surveyed reported consuming more cheese in the past year, while just 6% said that they had eaten less. People spending more time at home as a result of the global pandemic appears partially responsible for driving this growth.
However, the data suggests that the trend is far more long-term. Nearly as many respondents (32%) have indicated that they expect to purchase even more cheese in the future, with the processed unspreadable category showing the greatest potential growth.
Regional data sheds further light on where the biggest opportunities may be. The percentage of increased consumption has been highest in India (60%), Turkey (54%), Brazil (46%) and China (41%).
The broader market trends impacting the amount of cheese eaten is having a similar effect on the frequency of consumer activity. Consumption occasions have increased noticeably, and the greatest growth appears to be coming from the Asia Pacific region.
Main meals remain the primary occasion for cheese consumption in most homes. In Tetra Pak’s research, breakfast and dinner stood out in particular, mentioned by 47% and 42% of respondents respectively.
At the same time, the growing trend of at-home snacking is clearly creating new possibilities. 36% of people noted eating more cheese while watching TV, largely choosing unspreadable products for the occasion. Yellow cheese is the most popular choice to enjoy with a drink, an occasion that is up 35%.
Perhaps the clearest evidence of the impact of our new global economy is the 35% of people who report consuming more cheese “as a quick lunch when working from home”. The most common choice for this occasion is spreadable cheeses.
More time at home is clearly having an impact on consumer behaviour. But with more available snack options than ever, why are people reaching for gouda or gloucester on grocery store shelves?
Taste is the main consideration for most consumers, named as the key driver by 48% of respondents globally. However, the study also showed that many view cheese products as a healthy snacking option due to factors like the high content of protein and calcium.
“Cheese has been a vital component of our nutrition for centuries and this is not set to change any time soon,” notes Peter Lindstrøm. “Consumers are increasingly aware of the health benefits of cheese, as contemporary eating habits are increasingly moving towards snacking and grazing throughout the day.”
Interestingly, the same factors have also benefitted the emergence of the plant-based cheese market. In the Asia Pacific region, where awareness is highest, consumer interest is driven by perceptions of plant-based products as fresh, natural and low in calories, as well as environmentally friendly.
Although plant-based cheeses remain a niche product area, the market has clearly grown rapidly in just a few years. The research shows that there is potential for tremendous growth in coming years. For example, only 34% of respondents in Asia Pacific countries reported that they have tried these products, but as many as 80% have heard of them. Interest in purchasing is up to 86% in India, with China closely behind at 82%.
Consumers’ growing interest also extends to how cheese products are made. The study noted interest in cheese production among 69% of respondents in Europe, 71% in the Americas, 80% in the Greater Middle East & Africa, and 92% in Asia Pacific Countries.
Important production factors include an emphasis on provenance and natural ingredients, as well as heat treatments and sterile production. As Peter Lindstrøm explains, this too can be seen as an effect of the recent global health crisis, as quality and safety gain renewed importance for consumers in every country.
“From milk intake through to packaging, we welcome people’s interest in the process,” he says. “The events of the last year have made us all more aware of our surroundings and, in turn, our impact on the environment, so this renewed curiosity is perhaps not surprising.”
Similarly, consumers want their cheese to come in more environmentally friendly packaging. Globally, this represents consumers’ fourth highest ranked product attribute, with some variation depending on the type of cheese in question. The value of sustainable packaging is highest, for example, in the case of mozzarella.
Having collected so much data from all over the world, Tetra Pak has been able to get a strong sense of the different consumers now shaping the market. Broadly speaking, there are three types:
The Innovative Explorer is a devoted cheese buyer. They enjoy cheese and are excited to experiment by trying a wide range of products, including new flavours and alternatives like plant-based cheeses. These consumers pay close attention to how and where their cheese is made.
Selective Consumers are also interested in the characteristics and production of their cheeses. While they purchase cheese with great regularity, and may be open to trying something new, they generally stick to a smaller number of varieties than innovative explorers.
Traditional Cheese Lovers are the least varied in their consumption. Whether for snacking or preparing food, they return to the same types of cheese over and over. For these consumers, how their cheese is made is of little concern.
By taking a closer look which of these groups are most common in a given region, it can be easier to understand how to best take advantage of the current trends among cheese consumers. For example, Innovative Explorers are most prevalent in emerging cheese markets, representing 73% of China’s consumers and 77% of India’s. Selective Consumers are the smallest group globally, but appear strongest in Germany and Italy, where they form around a quarter of the market. Traditional cheese lovers, meanwhile, are the largest groups in the United States and Russia, accounting for 47% of both countries.
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Want to learn which type of cheese consumer is strongest in your region? Interested in learning about the trends that present the biggest opportunities for you in the future?