Following baked goods, beverages and bars and other upcoming categories such as eggs, meats, pastas, chocolates and teas, cheese is the latest food to fall under the ?functional? spotlight. Both hard and soft varieties like cheddar, mozzarella, cream cheese and edam are being paired with herbs, essential fatty acids, pre- and probiotics, sterols and stanols, and more to deliver a dynamic new category of functional foods.
According to research conducted by US-based Landell-Mills Consulting, ?cheese nutraceuticals? have the potential to rival yoghurts, milks and nutrition bars in the fortification stakes. ?Global cheese consumption could reach 21.5 million tonnes by the end of this decade — a level that could be substantially increased by a major repositioning of cheese as a nutraceutical food,? the report stated. ?It is important the industry and its marketers ... start articulating the benefits of cheese from a bio-functional and nutraceutical perspective.?
Ross Christieson, director of Landell-Mills, said the fresh dairy sector is at the forefront of the nutraceutical boom. ?However, we were convinced the cheese sector could move beyond its age-old marketing platforms of convenience, taste and origin. This study has revealed that such opportunities do exist, but that cheese marketers have been slow to pursue.?
The report identifies regional opportunities for cheese products such as Asia?s osteoporosis crisis, where calcium delivery could be a growth area. In Japan, pre- and probiotic cheeses could focus on gastro-intestinal health. In the US and Europe, where bone health and obesity are major concerns, the calcium content of cheese and knowledge about its nutraceutical benefits could provide an impetus for the cheese category. High blood cholesterol is another public concern where cheese sterol/stanol fortification has much potential.
Indeed California-based Lifeline Food Company launched four low-fat hard cheeses fortified with Cargill?s CoroWise sterol ingredient in 2004, which have been performing well, the company reports. However, a similar hard-cheese product (Edam) debuted in Finland under the Benecol brand and was withdrawn after a year due to poor sales. Benecol has a stanol-imbued cream cheese in Belgium, Ireland, the UK and Finland, which ranks behind its yoghurt and margarine offerings in units shifted.