Contemporizing cottage cheese

Contemporizing cottage cheese – marketing cottage cheese

Donna Gorski

Milk may be the last untapped beverage, but cottage cheese is definitely the most neglected good-for-you food. Cottage cheese is “a blank canvas waiting to be painted,” according to the International Dairy Foods Assn.

Disappointingly, when talking with dairy processors, the typical response to an inquiry of the company’s cottage cheese activity is “We aren’t concentrating on cottage cheese right now.”

With such neglect, how can dairy processors expect to turn around a category that in 1972 had total volume sales of 1.1 billion lb, and 10 years later, declined 35% to 720 million lb?

Even more alarming is cottage cheese’s future. Given the trend of 4-5% annual decline, if dairy processors don’t react soon, volume could drop to 414 million lb by the year 2005, IDFA predicts.

One way to turn around the category is to contemporize it. “Cottage cheese is an inherently nutritious product, and most consumers who consume it, know that it’s nutritious,” says Patricia Shafer, dir. of communications, Kraft Foods Inc., Northfield, Ill. “The challenge for cottage cheese manufacturers is to get consumers to view it as a contemporary product that meets their lifestyle needs.”

Here’ a palette of ideas to help product developers contemporize cottage cheese. Take the challenge!

1. Lighten-up and fortify

Early this year, Kraft replaced its existing Light n’ Lively[R] low-fat and nonfat cottage cheese with versions that have twice the calcium of regular cottage cheese.

“It meets a need in an age where women in particular are very conscious of their requirements for calcium to prevent osteoporosis,” says Shafer. “Light n’ Lively has a superior calcium content and therefore a perceived benefit.” The low- or no-fat content also helps women maintain their dietary goals for fat and calories.

Kraft is attempting to make it easy for women to incorporate calcium into their meals by offering contemporary menu suggestions. Ideas include spooning cottage cheese over baked potatoes or using it as a topping on a toasted bagel. Cottage cheese also makes a healthful Mexican dip when it’s blended with fresh salsa.

2. Target kids by adding fruit

At this year’s Institute of Food Technologists, annual meeting, the student association held its annual product development competition. The competition gives university students the opportunity to apply their knowledge of food science and technology, as well as business and marketing, to the development and hypothetical manufacturing and merchandising of innovative food products.

A four-student team from Michigan State University identified an opportunity in the area of cottage cheese and developed Jungle Pals, 6-oz single-serve cups of low-fat cottage cheese blended with fruit preserves. Flavors include Raspberry Rhino and Blueberry Baboon.

According to the team, which did extensive market research before developing the Jungle Pals concept, parents are continuously looking for healthful snacks for children. Parents realize it’s important to establishing healthful eating patterns early on and Jungle Pals helps them do this.

Jungle Pals plays a beneficial role in children’s diets because cottage cheese is high in calcium and other important vitamins and nutrients including vitamin A and D. Its convenient single-serving size makes it appropriate for lunch boxes and after school snacks, and is a dairy alternative to the typical yogurt or pudding cups. The addition of fruit and the visual effect of jungle animals painted around a single-serve container of cottage cheese takes the product to a new dimension in the dairy case.

The team compared its product line and marketing approach to Dannon’s line of Danimals, Sprinklins and Crazy Crunch, which are available in single servings for kids. These products attract customers at a young age, keeping them loyal for generations.

3. Package in single-serve dual-compartment Dual compartments have proved to be a success in the yogurt category, especially among children who enjoy getting physically involved with their food. With a variety of containers available, including dome-lids and side-by-side cartons, the fruit preserves in Jungle Pals don’t need to be blended with the cottage cheese.

Separating the preserves from the cottage cheese helps maintain a typical 21-day cottage cheese shelflife. The Michigan State team identified that blended Jungle Pals can only have a 14-day shelflife because sensory results showed reduced product quality and palatability at 18 days.

Other mix-ins can be incorporated via dual-compartments. For example, cookie crumbles, cereals and various crunches can be found with yogurt. Why not cottage cheese?

4. Extend shelflife

Because of cottage cheese’s relatively short shelflife, consumers frequently complain about spoilage and retailers regularly return expired cottage cheese to the dairy processor. If product shelflife could be extended from a quality and safety viewpoint, the potential economic savings for the industry could be substantial.

To address this issue, researchers at Cornell University developed a method of dissolving carbon dioxide into dressing before mixing it with cheese curd and then barrier-packaging it. This new modified atmosphere packaging technology significantly inhibits the growth of spoilage microorganisms (see graph) thereby extending shelflife, while maintaining product quality attributes such as flavor and texture. (See Dairy Foods, April 1996, p. 29.)

5. Add cultures, reduce lactose Finally, cottage cheese dressing serves as an ideal medium for bifidobacteria — cultures that positively affect the gastrointestinal tract.

Research published in the July 1995 issue of the Journal of Dairy Science indicates that bacterial populations of bifidobacteria remain higher in unsalted dressings. If salt is required for sensory issues, it should be added right before the dressing is mixed with the curd.

Moreover, the lactose content of bifidobacteria-cultured dressing at pH 4.5 decreases 72%, enabling lactose-intolerant individuals to consume the cottage cheese without suffering any complications. Enzymes that breakdown lactose can also be added to improve digestibility.

COPYRIGHT 1996 Business News Publishing Co.

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