Friday, June 14, 2024

Cheese Brands’ Expansion in India

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Mintel’s food and drink analyst identifies opportunities for the cheese category to broaden its reach with innovations positioned for children, snacking occasions and experimental at-home cooking.

Cheese is a versatile food that fits into both the savoury and sweet categories. It can be used for sandwiches, entrees as well as desserts. It can also be a snack for kids and adults alike. The cheese industry has many offerings for different ages and taste profiles. Cheese is consumed by one-third of Indians; Gen Z (39%), Millennials (34%) and women (33%) are the core users according to Mintel research. While cheese shares a strong association with taste, it is perceived to be expensive by users and non-users alike.

When it comes to preferences for different types of cheese, 63% of Indian cheese consumers enjoy processed cheese, while 19% like cheese sauce and 15% savour the taste of cream cheese.

The cheese landscape in India is undergoing an evolution driven by the growing sense of food adventure among Indian consumers, whether it is dining out or preparing special meals at home. Though processed cheese dominates the category, it is interesting to note that 37% of cheese consumers have indulged in one or more types of specialty cheese. Moreover, as consumers’ tastes evolve, they tend to switch from processed to specialty cheese.

The consumption of processed cheese is lower among specialty cheese users as compared to the total average (29% vs 63%). Mozzarella is the most consumed specialty cheese among these consumers (52% vs 19% of the total sample) followed by feta cheese (36% vs 13% of the total sample).

Mintel research further reveals that Indian consumers are willing to pay a premium for select features in cheese made for kids, including health benefits. Among parents of children under 18 years old, who have consumed cheese in the last three months through May 2023, nearly half (47%) said they would pay for all-natural cheese. Other features they would pay a premium for are high protein content, creamier texture, added vitamins and minerals, good for brain/cognition, and cheese with fruit filling.

In India, cheese is more popular as a flavour enhancing ingredient in local foods such as dosa and pav bhaji, but not as a snack option. Only 19% of cheese users (and 10% of the total sample) think of cheese as a good snack option, presenting an untapped opportunity for brands to explore. Brands can position cheese as a wholesome snack that is both tasty and nutritious. For this, they can target millennials, metro dwellers and those living in the western region of India as they are more inclined to consume cheese as a snack.

Another avenue for growth is leveraging the indulgence aspect of cheese. With 67% of Indian snackers saying that having a stressful life has made it more important to treat themselves, cheese can offer comfort as an indulgent treat. Mintel’s 2023 Food and Drink Trend Unguilty Pleasures highlights how brands can position pleasurable food and drink as essential comforts in difficult times, as opposed to guilty pleasures.

Insights from social listening platform Infegy reveal that conversations around mozzarella cheese peaked in India during the pandemic, with 97% overall positivity. This interest is expected to persist as Indian consumers become more exposed to global cuisines and increasingly influenced by social media. Artisanal cheese, often featuring fruits and nuts and enjoyed with a glass of wine, has been cropping up in the Indian market recently. The demand for mozzarella primarily comes from Gen Z. Data from Mintel Global New Products Database (GNPD) shows that mozzarella cheese launches have risen gradually, albeit from a small base, over the last five years to June 2023. There is an opportunity to ride on the popularity of mozzarella cheese in India and diversify its applications beyond pizza.

Indian consumers are increasingly focused on boosting their protein intake to lead healthier lifestyles and brands are responding by offering greater value through high protein claims. Notably, in India, food launches featuring high/added protein have increased from 5% to 9% over the last five years to May 2023 as per data from Mintel GNPD. In contrast, the global market has seen only a marginal growth of nearly 1% in such launches during the same period.

Cheese, while known to be high in fat, is considered a good source of protein by over a third (36%) of Indian cheese consumers, while 40% agree that cheese is a better source of protein than milk.

Affordability is a key factor influencing consumers’ food choices. Given that cheese users perceive cheese as a premium product, making it accessible to a wider consumer base poses a challenge. With India being a price-sensitive market, 74% of consumers who claim to be financially tight haven’t consumed cheese in the last three months.

Brands have various opportunities to make cheese more appealing to Indian consumers, not only in terms of taste but also in nutrition and affordability. Cheese can be made a part of a healthy snack routine when working from home. When cooking, cheese can add an umami flavour to food because of its high glutamate content. Cheese can also be the hero ingredient of special meals enjoyed at home. After all, it hits a sweet spot between taste and nutrition

The writer is Food and Drink Analyst, Mintel Reports India

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