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Last week, The Smithsonian celebrated National Cheese Day with a map of cheeses from around the world. The author of the article asks, how can so many varieties of cheese stem from such a simple set of ingredients?

The main ingredient in cheese is milk. Made using goat, sheep or cow’s milk (for dairy based cheese) or a blend of these, cheese is one of the most delicious and versatile foods in the world – often standing alongside such staples as macaroni, grilled bread, crackers, chicken, cake and onion soup, to name a few.

Contract Testing recently conducted an extensive survey on consumer cheese preferences with 1821 participants from across Canada and the United States.

Here are some of the interesting findings and insights from this survey:

Consumers have an appreciation of cheese from around the world.
Nearly 80 per cent of consumers say that have no preference as to what country their cheese originates from.

Consumers enjoy cheese any time.
Consumers prefer to eat cheese at any time vs. just as a snack or once in a while.

Firm cheeses are the most popular cheeses.
More than one third of consumers prefer hard or firm cheese (such as cheddar) over semi soft (22 per cent) and soft (11 per cent).

Stinky cheeses are not as popular among consumers.
Nearly 50 per cent of consumers prefer mild flavoured cheese (49 per cent) to stinky cheese (4 per cent).

Convenience is key when it comes to purchasing decisions.
Consumers are filling their grocery cards with pre-packed bricks of cheese (91 per cent), shredded cheese (80 per cent) and sliced (79 per cent). Cheese curds, a primary ingredient in poutine (fries, gravy and cheese curds), were the least preferred cheese to purchase (37 per cent). The five cheeses consumers are least likely to have tried are Roquefort (26 per cent), Manchego (17 per cent), Halloumi (12 per cent).

Store brand cheeses prove more popular than brand name.
More than 65 per cent of consumers prefer store brands (i.e. Kirkland from Costco, Presidents Choice from Loblaws, Great Value from Walmart).

Despite the move to healthier food choices among many consumers, most still prefer traditional dairy to low-fat and non-dairy options.
Only 7 per cent of consumers are purchasing non-dairy cheeses (i.e. those made with soy). Three quarters of consumer’s only purchase low-fat cheese some of the time. Only 2 per cent of consumers said they always purchase low-fat cheese.

While specialty shops may be growing in popularity, grocery stores are still the primary point of purchase for consumers buying cheese.
Grocery stores are the primary place where consumers are purchasing cheese products (99 per cent); this followed by club stores (52 per cent) and local specialty shops (47 per cent).

Consumers not committed to locally produced cheese.
Whether a cheese is produced locally is not an important factor to more than 80 per cent of consumers.

Consumers open to a variety of new flavours and textures when it comes to their cheese tastes.
Nearly everyone surveyed said they enjoy trying new cheeses and are open to different flavours and textures. Check out the Madame Fromage blog for the best new cheeses (2014).

For questions about this research, or how you can leverage consumer taste buds in your business, contact Andrew Scholes at andrew.scholes@contracttesting.com.