New cheese products from Borden take a more “adventurous” approach

Written by Emily Battmer

In 2015, DFA is expanding its Borden cheese product line to offer flavorful experiences in convenient forms. Consumers will be able to bring a slice of an artisan deli to their kitchens, sprinkle the flavors of Italy on their favorite dishes and make over the classic cheeseburger with new, premium products.

Mozzarella and Provolone Natural Shreds, Asiago Natural Slice and Shingle Sliced American Cheese will be among the newest Borden cheese products on grocery store shelves, says Hannah Ellena, DFA associate brand manager for new product development.

Ellena says the products, which began shipping to retailers January 1, introduce new flavors to existing formats within the brand’s portfolio. For example, while DFA already produces Borden cheese slices, the asiago slice is a new flavor.

By offering new products in forms that are familiar to existing consumers, Ellena says the brand has the potential to reach new consumers while also offering something different to loyal Borden cheese purchasers. The Borden and Elsie trademarks are used by DFA under a licensing agreement.

“We want to stay true to our target consumers who are already buying Borden cheese, so we didn’t want to do something that didn’t align with the items we already offer,” Ellena says. “But at the same time, people are being more adventurous when they go out to the deli or even for fast food, and they’re wanting to bring those unique flavors back into their own kitchens.”

That was one of the motives for the creation of the new Asiago Natural Slices. After combing through consumer data and looking at what consumers were saying on social media, Ellena and the rest of the new product development team identified a significant opportunity to enter the asiago market.

Although asiago is a small subcategory of cheese, its growth is significantly outpacing the cheese category as a whole. The production of asiago grew nearly 35 percent from 2013 to 2014, according to IRI, a market research company.

Traditionally grated, the cheese has a sharp, nutty bite and firm texture and has seen a surge of popularity recently as a cheese of choice for topping sandwiches, hamburgers and wraps. Several fast-food chains, including Wendy’s, Sonic and Panera, have added asiago sandwiches to their menus. 

As asiago becomes a more popular sandwich-topper, so does the lunchtime standby. According to a survey by Technomic, a research and consulting firm specializing in the food industry, 43 percent of consumers polled say they eat at least four sandwiches each week, compared with 39 percent polled in 2010.

DFA’s sandwich-friendly Borden cheese selection is growing as well. In addition to the asiago slice, the brand has introduced a deli-sliced American cheese in shingle-type packaging. The cheese is sliced from a block, arranged similar to roof shingles and placed in a re-sealable package.

Ellena says the new product combines the fast melt and gooey, cheesy flavors that consumers expect from American cheese in a high-quality slice that has found its place at the dairy counter.

While the slice format elevates American cheese to a more premium product, it also makes asiago, a specialty cheese, more accessible to everyday consumers. The new products strike a balance with the existing line of Borden cheese products, and Ellena says the hope is that the new products will expand the cheese’s consumer base.

“People are really looking for artisan sandwich-making experiences,” she says. “Our Borden cheese mom is already making sandwiches and probably wouldn’t be too intimidated to try a different type of slice.”

The convenience and accessibility of the products was also a driving idea for the new mozzarella and provolone shreds. The shreds are an easy addition to dishes consumers are already preparing, adding extra flavor in a convenient way.

The new product lends itself to Italian cooking, a cuisine that is growing rapidly among Americans. American consumers eat Italian dishes on average 29 times per year — a growth from the average of 25 times per year in 2000, according to the NPD Group, a marketing information and advisory firm. And they’re eating it frequently. Of those who eat Italian food, more than half — 57 percent — consume it roughly two times in a two-week period.

“When people cook at home, they’re making Italian food quite often, so we were looking for an easy way to enhance what they’re making,” Ellena says. “A consumer might say, ‘I make lasagna anyway, so I’m going to try this mix of cheeses and see if the flavor is better.’”

The new Borden shreds offer a blend of the two creamy, easy-melting cheeses that complement each other, with mozzarella giving dishes the rich texture that consumers expect from Italian food while provolone enhances the dish’s flavors.

Ellena says she conducted a taste test with the new product, comparing regular mozzarella with the mozzarella-provolone duo side by side on a bruschetta dish. She says the provolone not only added dimension to the cheese flavor, but highlighted other flavors in the dish as well.

“The provolone seemed to enhance the other flavors and tie everything together,” she says.

Ellena says the new products have already generated interest and are currently shipping to select retailers. She says she hopes the new products will open the door for new consumers to become more engaged with the Borden cheese line.

“Innovating within consumer brands is all about staying true to our target audience but also being aware of how we can get more people to become consumers,” she says.

The products are being produced at DFA’s Plymouth, Wis., facility, and are co-packed at a nearby Marathon Cheese plant.