Gluten-free Brazilian cheese rolls secure foothold in the US market

By Beth Newhart

- Last updated on GMT

The popularity of Pão de Queijo in Brazil has made it the unofficial snack of the nation.
The popularity of Pão de Queijo in Brazil has made it the unofficial snack of the nation.

Related tags Cheese Snack food Brazil

Pão de Queijo cheese rolls from the company Forno de Minas have been sold in a handful of specialty US stores since 1998, but saw 286% growth in sales between 2015-2017.

Pão de Queijo is a popular snack in Brazil, eaten at breakfast, lunch, dinner or with coffee or dessert. Brazil-based Forno de Minas has sold its version of the cheese roll in the US since 1998 at select few specialty, ethnic retailers.

Following the explosion of gluten-free diets and Celiac Disease awareness in the US in the last decade, the brand began focusing on expanding its presence in the mainstream US market in 2015.

This resulted in a growth of 286% over the next two years. Pão de Queijo is now sold at more than 2,500 grocery stores as well as in Target, Kroger and Meijer nationwide.

Gluten-free boom

The regional cheese is mixed with a blended dough of tapioca, eggs and milk, making the rolls totally gluten-free with a crisp outside and soft, cheesy center.

Tamyres Romano, international marketing manager for Forno de Minas, told DairyReporter, “Tapioca-based products are very rare in the US gastronomy culture. However, the gluten-free boom brought these ingredients as an innovative option to deliver this benefit. In Latin cultures, it’s the opposite.”

“We’re very used to tapioca/manioc/corn based products, which is why Pão de Queijo, something that is very typical for us, has been seen as an innovative product in the US market,”​ she said.

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Different recipes

Fast food chains, restaurants and street vendors throughout Latin America all have their own recipe for the doughy cheese roll, but it’s only just beginning to gain recognition further north.

A Portland-based Pão de Queijo brand was launched in 2009 by a Brazilian expat who missed her favorite snack from back home. Brazi Bites now sells its cheese rolls frozen in four flavor varieties that cook in 20 minutes.

By comparison, Forno de Minas has been a leading food brand in Brazil for decades that expanded to the US to fill a whitespace in a market for gluten-free snack options. The Pão de Queijo from Forno de Minas is sold frozen in one original flavor and cooks in five minutes.

“Our Pão de Queijo is baked from a family recipe that’s been passed down through generations with deep roots in our colorful homeland… The company is the pioneer producer of frozen Pão de Queijo, a top of mind brand in Brazil, and absolute leader in market share exporting to more than 15 countries around the world,”​ Romano said.