veggies and cream cheese on bread

Innovations in Cheese: What's Trending in 2021?

Nutritious and delicious, cheese has helped support consumers through the past year in a variety of ways—from its use in favorite comfort foods to its role as a convenient protein snack. Explore some of the cheese trends and innovations that lie ahead for 2021.

2021 Cheese Trends

Although cheese sales in foodservice fell due to COVID-related restaurant closures, high retail sales proved just how important cheese is to consumers. According to data from Mintel, cheese category sales grew 15% in 2020.1 COVID food trends, such as the rise in home cooking, the craving for comfort foods, and the need to keep convenient, healthy snacks on-hand for remote workers (and their kids), have highlighted the versatility of cheese. 

As a healthy protein snack (particularly in a single-serve format), cheese can compete with other popular protein snacks like nutrition bars and jerky to provide satiety and support consumer fitness and weight management goals. However, it’s also valuable as an ingredient in favorite meals like pizza, tacos, and burgers. 

In addition, food innovation in ingredients, processing, and sustainability is showing that the cheese category is able to respond quickly to consumers’ evolving needs. This is creating some exciting opportunities for cheese manufacturers. Here’s a look at the 2021 cheese trends that promise to boost the category:

1. Shredded Cheeses

Retail sales rose for shredded cheese as consumers switched to home cooking during the COVID lockdown. Pizza has been a top use, in addition to Mexican foods like tacos and burritos. According to cheese use data, 82% of surveyed consumers use cheese in a meal, making shredded cheese the ideal format.2 Plant-based cheese shreds are also popular and include the standard cheddar and mozzarella-style, as well as more innovative options like Violife’s Just Like Colby Jack Shreds. The versatility of shreds has made them an important household staple during the past year—a trend expected to continue into the new year.

pan of pasta

2. Single-Serve Specialty Cheeses

With more consumers at home and grazing throughout the day, individually wrapped, single-serve cheeses provide a convenient and satisfying snack option. Now, the trend in single-serve, specialty cheeses is addressing consumers’ interests in taste adventure and premium offerings—something they’ve been missing due to COVID-related restaurant closures. Examples include BelGioioso’s single-serve snacking cheeses in fresh mozzarella, fresh asiago, and fontina and Arla’s havarti and gouda cheese snack cheeses.

cheese snacks

Cheese: Snacking Trends for 2021

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3. Functional Cheeses

A COVID food trend showing up across multiple categories is functional products fortified with immunity-support and wellness ingredients. Babybel’s newly launched functional cheese snack is leading this trend in the cheese category. Babybel Plus+ Probiotic contains live, active cultures of LGG probiotic strains, while Babybel Plus+ Vitamins includes vitamins A and B12. Cheese as a protein snack with functional benefits is sure to grab consumers’ attention in 2021.

4. Crunchy Cheese Bars

The development of 100% cheese snacks (as crisps, bites, and balls) is a recent food innovation with exciting potential. Now, crunchy cheese bars are emerging and may prove to be the most popular format yet. Examples include Just the Cheese crunchy baked cheese bars in mild and aged cheddar, jalapeno cheese, and grilled cheese varieties and Sonoma Creamery’s line, which includes extra crunchy options like Everything Cheddar—perfect for breakfast with its everything bagel seasoning of sesame seeds, poppy seeds, garlic, and onion.

cream cheese and chives on bread

5. Plant-Based Cheese Spreads

The rise of plant-based eating has made plant-based cheese an important growth opportunity. While plant-based cheeses can be found in formats such as blocks, slices, and shreds, there’s been a recent flurry of activity in plant-based spreadable cheeses with a focus on flavors. For example, cashew-based Treeline Plant-Based French-Style Cheese is available in Herb Garlic, Scallion, and Chipotle-Serrano Pepper, while Spero’s Sunflower Cream Cheese comes in savory, as well as sweet flavors like cinnamon, chocolate, and blueberry. These products offer plant-based product consumers convenience, indulgence, and taste adventure.

Smile and Say Cheese

There's no doubt the new year looks bright for the cheese category. This category can meet consumer trends in healthy snacking, functional nutrition, home cooking, taste adventure, and even plant-based eating. Manufacturers who stay on top of today’s cheese trends and formulate with the ingredients and flavors consumers are looking for will have every reason to smile in the new year. 

Glanbia Nutritionals brings innovative cheese solutions to markets worldwide. We consistently deliver high-quality cheese with a focus on flavor, texture, and functionality. Contact Glanbia Nutritionals to learn more about our wide range of healthy ingredients—from delicious cheeses to plant-based proteins to functional custom premixes!


1-2.    Mintel, Cheese: Incl Impact of COVID-19- US, November 2020. 

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