17th December 2021
The cheeseboard will forever remain a key element of festive celebrations across households in the UK, with Tesco reporting that more than 71% of Brits will be tucking into their selection come Christmas Day this year.
Whether it be a traditional cheeseboard or cheese filled party foods in the lead up to the big day, retailers and producers flex their innovation coming up with new ideas and bold flavour combinations for the festive period.
All these product innovations can be aligned to the wider food trends being seen across the sector in the UK. Combining our own knowledge along with research from thefoodpeople, these are the current food trends that are well represented across this year’s festive cheese categories.
So let’s see what’s hot in the world of festive cheese for 2021.
Playing on the trends of Novel Nostalgic, Twist On The Classics, and Easy Events, retailers have taken the popular cheese truckle, but reinvented the classic cylindrical. This year we’ve seen shapes progress to the classic Christmas themes of stars, trees and snowflakes across the majority of retailers but also to crackers, jumpers and hearts.
Shaped sliced cheeses are also appearing on the market, both in individual and sharing sizes. There are individually wrapped cheddar snowmen (Waitrose) to ensure you’ll have your own Jack Frost regardless of the weather, as well as flavoured stars (Tesco & Co-op) and snowflakes (M&S) for adding to a cheeseboard.
Christmas time sees an influx of cheeses that have been paired with an array of complementing flavours. Whilst the classic combination of Wensleydale and Cranberry remains an ever present and ever popular option, retailers are experimenting more and more with interesting flavour combinations. The innovation shown in this area is following the Twist On The Classics and Fine Eating trends that consumers are demanding and has resulted in there being three obvious flavour trends for this year; alcohol, fruit, and truffle.
An assortment of alcohol has been used for Christmas 2021, but it is almost exclusively Wensleydale that is the cheese of choice to carry these flavours. All the cheese in this category fall within the retailer’s premium lines, but it is Aldi who have really gone to town with four different options. Their range includes pink gin, rum, Cognac and one of the more experimental combinations of the year in an espresso martini infused Wensleydale! The other options with this group are slightly less unusual with orange liqueur and amaretto flavoured Wensleydale’s from Tesco and Sainsbury’s.
Fruit and cheese are a tireless combination that work well together, and we’re used to seeing the standard Wensleydale and cranberry option available all year round. Wensleydale is again the choice in the market for carrying the additional flavours, and we’ve seen it combined with apricot as a predictable variation across the retailers. We do however, have some far more interesting combinations, with a chocolate orange version from Tesco and a nougat option featuring a mix of Madeira-soaked raisins, cherries and cranberries from Waitrose. There is also a range of white Stilton & fruit cheeses, with a couple of apricot options (Lidl & Waitrose) and an interesting mango and ginger choice from Lidl. One of the more inventive options in this category sees Tesco sandwich a layer of fruity pear conserve between two slices of their creamy Stratford Blue.
The other big area of flavoured festive cheese is the inclusion of truffle, creating an indulgent and opulent option for consumers. This valuable ingredient brings an earthiness to cheese and this year has been paired with mature cheddar (Sainsbury’s, Waitrose, Aldi, Lidl, & M&S) and creamy brie (Asda, Sainsbury’s, & Aldi).
Baking pots are another massively popular option for this year in the supermarkets, with Camembert retaining an important role over the festive period. Both products allow for Sensory Exploration and Twists On The Classics with the addition of additional flavours and ingredients, whilst Comfort Comeback and Fine Eating trends are satisfied through their ease of consumption and indulgent nature.
Unsurprisingly, the UK’s most popular cheese, cheddar, leads the way in baking pots, whether that be just cheddar or options with additional cheese or flavourings. Alcohol again is a popular addition, with Lidl and M&S adding cider, and ale being the other popular choice from Morrisons, Lidl, and Tesco. Elsewhere, chorizo and ham and popular additions – all being included by Morisons, Aldi, and Lidl.
Mixed cheese bakes are also on the menu, with Waitrose offering a three-cheese option featuring cheddar, mozzarella and Double Gloucester. Sainsbury’s have gone one better however with their Quattro Bake featuring cheddar, mozzarella, Double Gloucester and Red Leicester. And if you’re looking for something more continental, M&S have their Alpine Fondue made with Gruyère, Emmental, Vacherin Fribourgeois AOP.
Baked camembert remains a widespread staple, but it is the toppings for this classic where innovation is happening. And it builds on the trends seen in the other areas of the festive cheese market, with honey and truffle (Asda), winter fruit compote (Sainsbury’s) and cranberry, port & orange (Morrison’s) being the more notable items. But Aldi have made one of their camembert options rather controversial, pairing it with a Brussel sprout pesto which has gained a lot of press for the inclusion of the love or hate vegetable.
The festive season is also the time for party food – another ideal occasion for cheese consumption and another chance for on-trend innovation. Like other categories, there are a wide range of products capitalising on the Twists On The Classics, Comfort Comeback and Fine Eating trends, many of the products playing on all three trends. There is also evidence of more products following the Healthier But Same trend, such as gluten free options of favourites from recent years.
The biggest and most obvious trend that this season’s party food caters to is consumers looking for Easy Entertainment. With the continued uncertainty around Covid and an increase in at home celebrations, these products require minimal preparation, whilst maximising taste & theatre for the consumer.
The popularity of Halloumi fries has exploded over recent years, and whilst you can still indulge in the original version, you’ll also see halloumi wrapped in bacon as a nod to pigs in blankets (Iceland), being served with more interesting dips such as pomegranate (Waitrose) and evolving into Halloumi popcorn bites (Asda).
Mac and Cheese also remains on trend and available in various guises, bites are popular with most retailers, whilst M&S have opted for a ‘cup’ version. We have also seen it combined with other popular flavours including truffle and BBQ (Tesco) and bacon (Sainsbury’s).
However, where most innovation is present is in newer products, with M&S leading the way in trying to attract consumers. Their range includes Courgette & Halloumi triangles, Molten Cheddar Cheese Profiteroles, and Brie & Cranberry tartlets – all familiar flavour combinations but driving increased interest through their execution. Morrison’s have also caught the eye with their Paneer sticks in a spiced coating, which are also gluten free, to give a different option to consumers.
It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas! With shelves full of delicious, interesting and innovative flavours and new taste experiences, all of which align into a small list of trends.
So, Futura’s must try recommendations for the perfect Christmas cheese selection are: