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    Exploring the momentum of cheese snacking trends and innovations

    Consumer demand for cheese as one of the favorite snacks globally has risen following the pandemic. The COVID-19 pandemic influenced snacking trends that have led to heightened demand for comfort foods, ease of convenience, and healthy snacks. (1) A significant portion of the global population (52%) is shifting towards consuming snacks which have increased during the pandemic (88%). (2) This has influenced innovation in the cheese sector, with key innovations in cheese pointing toward natural, healthy, highly nutritious, transparency in the ingredients and processing, clean label, and sustainability. (3) Although Western Europe, at 36%, is the largest consumer of cheese, followed by North America in 2020, the trend is shifting toward Australasia and China. (8)
    The global cheese-snacking market enjoyed a share of $64 billion in 2021 and sales are expected to increase at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 6.3% by 2030. (2) Snacking cheese is preferred by most of the population due to its nutrient properties, portability, and unique taste. (4) With the emergence of new brands and food startups, cheese snacks are gaining more momentum. This has led to snack manufacturers producing more cheese snacks. (2) The inclusion of a variety of cheese flavors in salty snacks has fostered an emotional attachment to cheese snack brands. When it comes to flavor, Cheddar, Mozzarella, and Parmesan are North America and Europe’s most popular cheese snack flavors. Additionally, dairy flavors such as milk and cream play a central role in savory snack flavors in Asian countries. One trend that has remained consistent in the cheese industry is the onslaught of new flavors such as nettle-infused, international inspiration, upscale and exotic. (5)

    Cheese innovation continues to skyrocket, particularly since consumers are seeking cheese snacks with more health and nutritional benefits such as high protein and calcium content without sacrificing taste. (3) Recently, cheese-makers are looking at new approach — precision fermentation — for producing dairy protein. This process has placed dairy proteins in an advantageous position when compared with the plant protein market where taste remains a challenging factor. (6) Yet, precision fermentation-derived dairy protein can substitute traditional cheese, providing a viable option for individuals with dietary restrictions such as lactose intolerance.

    The trends in the cheese industry post-pandemic are geared towards enhancing nutrition, taste, fortification, sustainability, and gut health. Specifically, there is a growing demand for low-fat, high-protein, mineral, and fiber-enriched, additive-free, and sustainably produced cheese. To cater to health-conscious consumers who prefer healthy snacking options, cheese snacks provide a natural source of high protein and low-fat milk with added health benefits. One new segment of the cheese snack market is solid shelf-stable cheese snacks (SSSCs). These snacks are exclusively made out of natural cheese that has been dehydrated, which makes them nutritious, satiating, and portable with an appealing texture. For added appeal, SSSCs are offered in different sizes, shapes, formats, and flavors. (7)  However, there is a need for further research to improve nutrition and gut health, reduce sodium content and promote sustainable production practices. Innovations in new packaging materials also deserve exploring.