Schuman Cheese finds consumers will pay more for transparency in cheese products

By Mary Ellen Shoup

- Last updated on GMT

According to the company, in order for a product such as Parmesan to receive its "True Cheese" designation it can only contain four ingredients: cow's milk, enzymes, salt, and rennet.
According to the company, in order for a product such as Parmesan to receive its "True Cheese" designation it can only contain four ingredients: cow's milk, enzymes, salt, and rennet.

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Schuman Cheese, with the help from marketing agency Emergent, is continuing to roll out its “True Cheese” program to tackle the issue of Italian hard cheese adulteration, which is estimated to account for roughly $375m of cheese sold in the US and 20% of the hard Italian cheese category. 

“This is not a small problem,”​ CEO of Emergent, Robert Wheatley, told DairyReporter.

According to Schuman Cheese, the problem lies within the labeling of products as “100% Parmesan” ​or another specific type of Italian hard cheese when in reality the product contains cellulose, an anti-clumping agent made from wood pulp.

“On the surface, it’s clear and simple that the true cheese mark represents an assurance for consumers that they’re getting the real thing,” ​Wheatley said.

Third-party product testing

In order to validate the integrity of the True Cheese mark on Schuman Cheese products, the company is using a third-party testing validation company, Covance Food Solutions.

Covance will obtain product bearing the True Cheese seal from retail location that sell it, and test it to ensure that it does not contain any additive ingredients.

Pricing pressures caused manufacturers to use ‘fillers’

“I think the history here, is that the issue of cheese adulteration really began to take off when the economy tanked in 2008 and there was real, real pressure throughout the category in pricing,” ​Wheatley said.

“The economy has improved since then, but the condition has not gone away.”

Wheatley also warned that even if the percentage of cheese manufacturers selling adulterated cheese remains static, the volume available to consumers will increase as the hard Italian cheese category continues to grow.

Consumers will pay more for ‘real cheese’

One of the takeaways for cheese manufacturers is consumers are no longer as constrained by price when it comes to buying premium cheese. In fact, a national consumer survey conducted by Fountainhead Brand Consulting in 2014, found that approximately 75% of consumers are willing to pay 10 to 25% more for what they identify as “real cheese.”

What’s more is that 61% of respondents said they would no longer trust a company or brand that marketed fraudulent cheese and would stop buying their products all together.

The “True Cheese”​ program is striving to take the guesswork out of this purchasing decision by providing a clear visual marker.

Wheatley said that the True Cheese program is open to other cheese manufacturers besides Schumann, who are interested in providing consumers with more transparent products with identifiable ingredients.

Origin labeling, not a factor in True Cheese program

The program does not address the EU attempt to claim common cheese names including “Parmesan”​ and “Romano”​ under the requirement set forth by the International Trademark Association that all specific cheese use a geographical indication (GI) label.

If such a regulation were to be approved under the TTIP, CCFN estimated that it could cost the US dairy industry as much as $5.2bn in lost sales as American farmers and cheese producers are forced to change the names of some of their cheese products.

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