Household penetration of natural cheese is at an all-time high among US consumers, with two thirds saying that they are eating natural cheese at least once weekly, according to Mintel research. We’re seeing the shift toward natural foods in general is leading to a gradual shift away from processed cheeses.

Nearly four in five Millennials report eating processed cheese, with half eating it as frequently as once a week. Millennials’ apparent love of cheese is helping build their confident understanding of the category as – more than any other generation – Millennials claim to “know their cheeses” and like getting recommendations from others on what types of cheese to try (65%). The majority of Millennials would like to see stores provide more information on cheese flavor profiles and pairings. As an engaged audience, they are not satisfied with what is available in stores. There are simply too many options available and not enough of the right options. In fact, Millennials are more likely to agree that they are overwhelmed by the number of cheese options available than they are to agree the dairy section of a store is easy to navigate.

10/12/2015

Millennials, more than any other generation of US consumers, would like to see more local cheese: three in five Millennials wish there were more local cheese brands available at their store, and the same proportion think that locally made cheese is worth paying more for. Further, Millennials are strong believers in organic cheese. US cheese manufacturers have been prompt to respond to Millennials’ appetite for organic cheese as innovation in natural organic cheese product launches has increased from 2% in 2013 to 11% in 2015 (according to Mintel’s Global New Products Databse).

Compared to the US population overall, Millennials have a similar perception of cheese’s health credentials. Yet, they are much more likely to view non-dairy cheese as a healthy alternative. As such, in the US, non-dairy milk brands have managed to convince consumers about the health credentials. Mintel research finds that 44% of Millennial consumers agree that non-dairy milk is healthier than dairy milk for adults, compared to a third of the US population overall, leading to a decline in dairy milk consumption.

Although non-dairy cheese sales are insignificant, non-dairy cheese still presents a growing threat to cheese brands. Non-dairy cheese offers a suitable option for US consumers looking to reduce their consumption of dairy products in a market where half of Millennials think it’s important to limit their dairy intake (48%).

Health is one of the most important factors for Millennials. As they continue to be engaged with the cheese category and eager to learn more about it, all the while aspiring to live a healthier lifestyle, cheese brands have room to reinforce their health messages to retain Millennial consumers.

Caroline Roux is Research Manager, Food & Drink at Mintel, heading up the global food and drink analyst team based in London and acting as a specialist for the dairy category. She provides robust consumer insights and realistic recommendations to dairy companies, tracking global innovation and consumer trends to assist clients in their growth strategies.

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