As we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, consumers are placing a higher priority on healthy snacking. Dairy-based snacks are gaining traction as a healthy alternative to conventional snacks due to their rich nutritional profile (think high levels of calcium, protein, and improved digestion from helpful probiotics).

The dairy snack market is segmented by product type into cheese, yogurt, ice cream, and other types. According to the USDA, cheese consumption has grown 43% over the past 25 years. Furthermore, “the U.S. cheese market size was valued at $34.3 billion in 2019 and is projected to grow to $45.5 billion by 2027,” according to Allied Market Research.

While ice cream continues to enjoy steady growth in the snack category, cheese has caught the attention of many consumers in recent years. Natural ‘authentic’ cheeses are leading the charge as consumers continue to push for real ingredients and high protein in their snacks; fewer processed ingredients and more interesting flavor profiles are the key drivers for success.

Innovations in cheese snacking formats and packaging are playing a positive role in keeping the category fresh and accessible to different consumer types. While processed cheese continued a downward trend, IRI reported for the 52 weeks ending Oct. 6, 2019, “dollar sales of natural cheese rose 1.6% to $13,165.8 million. Unit sales increased by 1.9% to 3,990.1 million.” While many subcategories posted positive gains during that time frame, it was sales in the cheese cube category that made the biggest overall gains.

The COVID-19 pandemic shifted consumer habits and created more time for families to gather for snacking throughout the day. At-home snacking has opened the door for items such as block cheese, which is finding new usage among consumers who have the time to create cheese boards. As 2021 rolls on, retailers and brands can capitalize on cheese snacks that promote simple ingredients, fresh flavor profiles, and offer a variety of packaging formats.