China sees strong growth potential for cheese snacks

26-Oct-2021 - Germany

In recent years, cheese has taken off in China with a double-digit growth showing very strong potential. After years of exposure to cheese and gaining some familiarity, consumers have gradually accepted it as a nutritious and tasty food with many applications. Despite the growth, cheese remains niche compared to other dairy categories in China. It is perceived as a Western food and 24% of Chinese consumers say they know how to eat cheese, but it does not fit within their diet.  As many Chinese consumers are not used to the taste of natural cheese, processed cheese is dominant in the category. From 2020-21, 86% of new cheese launches in China are processed cheese launches. cheese products in China mainly target kids at the age of 5 – 12 years old. This does not slow down the fast growth of the overall cheese snacks market.

Photo by Lindsay Moe on Unsplash

Encourage Chinese consumers to expand their cheese consumption occasions with snackable cheese

The soaring interest of cheese products from Chinese consumers is, however, not demonstrated by their consumption behaviors. In China, cheese consumption occasions are dominated by cheese on bread, toast or in a burger for adults, which is quite limited. There lies the opportunity for cheese brands. Many Chinese consumers still lack knowledge of cheese types and they are not familiar with various uses of cheese. Mintel data shows, even if some of the Chinese consumers know how to eat cheese, they find it is difficult to make cheese fit within Chinese cuisine in their daily diet. There has been no significant change in Chinese consumers’ cheese consumption occasions over the past few years

Target on-the-go with novel flavour and formats

To appeal to adults in the dynamic snacking category, cheese brands can target either on-the-go occasions with portion-controlled, flavour-driven offers, or at-home occasions. 95% of Chinese consumers are interested in trying new varieties or flavours of snacks; therefore, cheese brands can entice consumers with novel flavours and textures. Natori, a major cheese brand in Japan, launched snackable puffed & soft cheese and squid-ink-flavoured cheese string in 2021. Both products offer consumers novelty and fun textural experiences.

Why is cheese a category with huge potential to grow?

The cheese market is expected to maintain a double digit growth in the China market in the next 5 years, albeit from a smaller base. International and domestic players have enjoyed a good sales performance of cheese products and are determined to further invest in this category. Despite the fact that there are more Chinese consumers starting to accept cheese and try to eat cheese in their diet, cheese is expanding to more categories and consumption occasions which becomes a major driver for this category to grow further. In short, cheese has found its way to embrace Chinese food culture which makes it exert huge potential.

Cheese have a positive image among consumers

Sale volume wise, cheese is relatively a niche category compared to other dairy categories, such as milk or yogurt. The nutrition value of cheese is widely accepted among Chinese consumers. Cheese is perceived as high in protein and calcium by Chinese consumers. Over half  Chinese consumers think cheese is a better source of protein than milk.

Cheese is a star/ viral ingredient in many food and drink categories

Cheese is shifting from a pure western food to a trendy ingredient that Chinese consumers are familiar with. Various food and drink products use cheese as a star ingredient to upgrade their products or leverage cheese’s influence to spread on social media. According to Mintel GNPD, cheese flavor is among the fastest growing flavors in multiple categories, such as snacks, bakery, dessert, etc.

Exposure to cheese in foodservice is gradually building user base and knowledge

Although cheese has, until now, been commonly seen as an exotic ingredient, and one that was rarely considered for use in cooking Chinese dishes, modern restaurants are creating new fusion dishes by incorporating Western ingredients. The exposure of cheese related products have contributed to build consumers’ knowledge and perception around cheese.

Explore opportunities in paring

There is potential in developing different cheese pairing occasions, which is popular and synonymous with cheese in many global markets. Cheese brands in China could educate consumers in the pairing of cheese with crackers, fruits and alcohol. This is a niche occasion, but certainly one that should evolve as Chinese consumers become more familiar with cheese and are more keen to explore the taste experiences to be had when trying new varieties.

Finding a way into adults’ snacking repertoire is key. Brands can expand the formats of cheese to place it in competition with the broadening snack category and target more adult consumers, rather than focusing purely on its nutritional value.

Novel flavour or texture of snackable cheese entices consumers who seek fun

Chinese consumers are interested in trying new varieties or flavours of snacks, therefore, cheese brands can entice consumers with novel flavours and textures.  Cheese brands in China could take inspiration from Natori, a major cheese brand in Japan. Natori launched snackable puffed & soft cheese and squid-ink-flavoured cheese string in 2021. Both products offer consumers novelty and fun textural experiences.

Snackable format makes cheese an ideal snack

Cubes, chips and strings are popular snacking formats that are liked by Chinese consumers. Snackable cheese needs to embrace Chinese consumers’ snacking habit to win them over. Yili Dairy, the leading Chinese dairy company, has done an excellent job by turning cheese into a snacking format that Chinese consumers are familiar with.

Cheese mixed with other snacks to enhance its snacking appeal

Cheese mixed with other popular snacks could not only offer consumers choices of taste variety and even appeal to consumers with a comprehensive nutrition. Having comprehensive and balanced nutrition through a daily diet is highly valued by Chinese consumers.

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Topic world AI for food and beverages