The trend towards lighter variants in the cheese cabinet continues as more products enter the market. Kate Miller asks what this means for c-stores

Is there nothing sacred? The cheese chiller, one of the last indulgences untouched by the health brigade, is under attack. No longer the last bastion of the unashamedly ‘full fat and still healthy’ foodstuffs, it has undergone a change prompted by a public who is demanding that even its fat is low fat.

According to Kelly Rafferty, Kerry Foods’ dairy marketing director, health is only matched by convenience for growth: “Both are at 10% growth, significantly outstripping the pace of the market”.

Key industry figures give their insight

Dairy Crest customer marketing manager Adam Mehegan: “Ensure clear segmentation and make sure sufficient space is given to key segments such as everyday block, sliced and grated, and snacking (kids and adult).” 

Wykes Farm managing director Richard Clothier: “I’m a great believer that retailers need to focus on mechanics for multiple purchases with maybe batches of different types of cheese offered with a bottle of wine. Where we’ve done it we see the rate of purchasing go up.” 

Pilgrims Choice category marketing controller Katy Ryan: “I would encourage retailers to consider three points when selecting their range: what are the key decisions for the shopper and how would you reflect these back on shelf?; where do sales come from?; and where is the growth coming from? If they bear these in mind and look to showcase flagship brands that the consumer knows and trusts, then they can benefit from growth.” 

Isigny Sainte-Mere UK key accounts manager Camille Mancelle: “It goes without saying that the best brand in each category is leading all the value of that category. This is the reason why we should not compromise on quality and explains why branding and clear labelling is so important.” 

Bel UK group product manager Rosie Tapp: “Consumer research shows that more than three-quarters of people are eating out less frequently and as a result, cooking-at-home occasions are increasing. With this trend, shoppers are trying new and varied meal solutions, opening the way for loved and trusted brands to innovate and capitalise on the consumer’s growing need for new and diverse ingredients.”

Bel UK group product manager Rosie Tapp says that retailers need to be aware of the impact such trends have on the category. “Healthier cheese represents a significant opportunity, with consumers ever more determined to maintain a balanced lifestyle without compromising on taste.” Bel UK has lighter variants of The Laughing Cow, Mini Babybel, Leerdammer and Boursin.

Joining the fray is Pigrims Choice with the launch of Lighter Mature. Pilgrims Choice marketing controller Hannah Jenkins says that the past year has seen phenomenal growth in the lighter category at about 60% year on year and “as a major brand we had to be part of that”.

But, she says, getting the offer just right was tricky: “It wasn’t about jumping on the bandwagon. We’ve done a lot of work and research to make the offer right.”

The launch of Lighter Mature will be followed by an Extra Mature variant later in the year.

Jenkins says that one of the challenges presented with developing a lighter offering is that fat just tastes so damned good: “When you take the fat out of a product it can affect taste and texture. And research pointed to the fact that consumers felt that with some lighter products they were compromising on taste and quality. There are some very good products on the market and also some not so great.”

Persuading customers to re-enter the low fat arena is where flagship brands come in. Jenkins explains: “Consumers may have tried some not-so good products and it may be a barrier to future purchases. If the brand has strong credentials there is an expectation from consumers that the lighter brand lives up to those credentials.”

Dairy Crest customer marketing manager Adam Mehegan says he expects the lighter category to continue to grow over the next three years. The company launched its Cathedral City Mature Lighter in 2007, and last year the company invested £7m in the relaunch of the whole Cathedral City brand. There will be a further investment of £6m in the brand this year.

Also optimistic is Kerry Foods. Rafferty says that since its launch in the UK in 2009 the brand has seen good growth in the healthier cheese category. “It’s grown by 10% to £215m in the past year and LowLow is now worth £12m and has accounted for 50% of the growth in healthier cheddar reaching 12% brand penetration.”

Rafferty says that LowLow slices and grated did particularly well last year. In September last year the company launched its Grated Handy Packs, two 70g packs to cut down on waste, and in January Mature Cheddar Spreads were launched. As well as containing a third less fat, the spreads come in microwaveable tubs so that they can be heated to be used as a dip or stirred into pasta as a sauce.

According to Jenkins at Pilgrims Choice, there are two key periods for sales of lighter cheese: “Post Christmas is always a time when people are thinking of their diet, and May and June are generally lighter and the market taps into this. But it’s also about encouraging people into lighter purchasing year-round.”

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