When it comes to cheese, Americans want convenience, flavor, authenticity, and freshness, said the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board. The board, a nonprofit organization of dairy producers that promotes the consumption of milk, cheese and other dairy products made in Wisconsin, recently announced the top consumer cheese trends for 2016.

Cheese continues to be a popular product among American consumers. According to recent USDA reports, the average American consumes 34 pounds of cheese each year, representing an increase of 43 percent over the past 25 years. Per capita spending on cheese has also increased 37 percent since 2008, as more consumers enjoy cheese not only for its flavor, but also for its nutritional benefits. Additionally, production of specialty cheeses in Wisconsin has doubled over the past 10 years.

In order to meet consumer demands, cheesemakers are debuting new products that are convenient, emphasize flavor, and are accessible to both home cooks and on-the-go snackers, noted the board.

For 2016, the board predicted the following seven major trends in cheese:

1. Authenticity: According to Technomic, 62 percent of American consumers are more likely to purchase foods that are produced locally, and they want to know how it was made, by whom, and if it was sustainably produced. Transparency remains a key purchasing factor, especially for millennials, who are willing to pay more for specialty foods that are sustainable.

2. Bold Flavor: The board expects bold and uniquely flavored cheeses to outperform in both volume and dollar sales as consumers look for ways to diversify their palates. Year-to-date 2015 data from Information Resources, Inc., finds flavored cheeses up by 4.5 percent in volume sales while unflavored cheeses are up by only half a percent. Expect to see cheeses with jalapeño, herbs, garlic and even berries.

3. Snack Sophistication: According to the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board's custom IRI database, snacks are outperforming the consumer packaged goods category as a whole in all channels. More American consumers are looking for convenient ways to add high-quality proteins to their diets, with Mintel reporting sales of protein-rich snacks increasing by 89 percent between 2012 and 2014. Expect to see snack sticks with notes of parmesan and teriyaki beef, fresh mozzarella ball snack packs, and aged cheddar cracker cuts.

4.  Info to Go: More consumers are using smartphones and tablets to search, plan, share and purchase food online, cheese included. According to Nielsen data, more than 80 percent of millennials rely on their mobile devices when shopping.

5. Freshness: Cheese curds continue to excite consumers as they look for ways to enjoy more fresh cheeses. Data from IRI shows sales of curds are up 17.3 percent at retail and 7 percent at foodservice.

6. Tradition: Cheesemakers are perfecting the aging process and returning to more traditional ways of aging their cheeses, with such techniques that include underground aging caves.

7. Performance: New blends of shredded cheese are being formulated for specific applications such as homemade flatbreads and macaroni and cheese. Other new shred products include additions that include rosemary and roasted garlic.

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