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What a friend we have in cheese

People just love their cheese regardless of whether a crisis rages or not.

The cheese market increased by 11.4% in the latest MAT (to 21/6/20), with growth accelerating following the outbreak of Covid-19 in Australia, Saputo Dairy Australia General Manager Marketing Mike Murray tells Retail World.

Consumers initially stocked up on cheese, then, with restrictions on eating out, they cooked more at home, and when lockdown was eased, made use of specialty cheese for socialising (source: IRI Grocery Scan).

“Overall, during the Covid-19 lockdown period, dairy cheese consumption increased as shoppers were forced to eat at home more as restaurants and bars were shut for dine-in,” Mr Murray said. “This led to shoppers cooking more at home and consequently there’ve been elevated sales levels over this time of items such as shredded cheese, cooking blocks and specialty cooking cheeses such as feta, parmesan and halloumi.

“The growth did slow once initial restrictions eased but remained strong as consumers were still not eating out as much as pre-pandemic.”

Mr Murray emphasises that regardless of crises, dairy cheese is one of the highest household penetration categories in supermarkets.

Of Australian households surveyed, 98.1% bought dairy cheese (IRI National Panel, MAT to week ending 21/6/20).

“It’s clear that although consumer purchasing has been impacted by Covid-19 and recessionary times, essential household staples like cheese remain a priority,” Mr Murray said.

He highlights that there’s been strong growth in halloumi in the last few years as consumers see it as a centre of plate protein source.

As to marketing, Mr Murray says that while there’s an ever-increasing range of marketing tools available through digital expansion, the traditional catalogue continues to deliver strong results.

He adds that less outdoor advertising and a shift in focus to more “agile digital formats” for promotion have enabled advertisers to ensure they have remained relevant with their messaging since the advent of Covid-19.

Premium products to remain relevant and attractive

Somerdale International Australia Sales and Marketing Director Di Jones says the pandemic’s effect on the cheese category has been “very marked”, although impacts vary according to the type of cheese being sold.

Sales of everyday cheddar, for example, “rocketed” at the start of the lockdown, Ms Jones says, as consumers rushed to stock up with what they “rightly perceived as a food that represented both great value and versatility”, but sales for ‘entertaining cheese’ “fell off a cliff” as consumers “hunkered down” in their homes, cooking for themselves but not for guests.

Reflecting this, sales of premium Australian and imported cheeses fell significantly in the second half of March and throughout April.

Therefore, she says all food and drink categories, especially those at the premium end of the market, will need hard work to ensure that products remain relevant and attractive to consumers.

“Smaller packs, and as a consequence more affordable price points, will encourage consumers to experiment and broaden their cheese repertoire,” she said.

Cottage industry thrives again

Until recently, cottage cheese was seen as a product category caught in a 1980s time warp along with crash diets, aerobics classes and leg warmers.

However, the sustained shift towards high protein food among health conscious consumers has led to a strong resurgence in the sales and consumption of cottage cheese, with one of the main beneficiaries being Bulla, the brand that helped drive its popularity more than 40 years ago.

“The versatility of cottage cheese along with its low fat/high protein properties make it the perfect snacking and meal ingredient for consumers looking to support a healthy active lifestyle,” Bulla Dairy Foods Head of Marketing Andrew Noisette tells Retail World.

Read more about the cheese category in the October issue of Retail World.

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