Convenience, flavor, authenticity and freshness are what will drive consumer cheese purchases in 2016, according to the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board (WMMB), Madison, Wis.

Here are some cheese trends leading the way in 2016:

Authenticity. The Millennial generation is a driving force behind this trend. Not only have they come to expect transparency in the food they purchase and consume, but they are also willing to pay a premium for it. This includes specialty cheeses, which in Wisconsin, have doubled in production over the past decade. Additionally, according to Chicago-based Technomic, 62% of consumers are more likely to purchase foods produced locally. They want to know how it was made, by whom and if sustainable practices were used to do so.

Bold flavor. Bold and uniquely flavored cheeses are expected to outperform in both volume and dollar sales, as consumers look for ways to diversify their palates. Year-to-date 2015 data from Information Resources Inc. (IRI), Chicago, finds flavored cheeses up by 4.5% in volume sales while unflavored cheeses are up by only half a percent. Cheeses with hints of jalapeño, herbs, garlic and even berry are anticipated to entice consumers via restaurant menus and deli cases.

Snack sophistication. According to WMMB’s custom IRI database, snacks are outperforming the consumer packaged goods category as a whole in all channels. Americans continue to eat on the go, but they know they don’t have to sacrifice taste or nutrition to do so. That’s why more consumers are looking for convenient ways to add high-quality proteins to their diets, with Mintel, Chicago, reporting sales of protein-rich snacks increasing by 89% between 2012-2014. New items such as snack sticks with notes of parmesan and zesty teriyaki beef, fresh mozzarella ball snack packs and aged cheddar cracker cuts offer nutritional value and grown-up flavor appeal.

Info to go. Consumers are searching, planning, sharing and purchasing food online, including cheese. In fact, according to Nielsen data, more than 80% of Millennials rely on their mobile devices when shopping. Mobile apps like Wisconsin Cheese Cupidhelp shoppers pair cheeses with their favorite beer, wine or spirit, while the new Google app provides in-depth information on hundreds of varieties of cheeses.

Freshness. Cheese curds continue to excite consumers, as they look for ways to enjoy more fresh cheeses. IRI data shows sales of curds are up 17.3% at retail and 7% at foodservice. Specifically, menu mentions of Wisconsin Cheese Curds have also increased 13%.

Tradition. Cheesemakers are perfecting the aging process and returning to more traditional ways of doing so. Many affineurs are tapping into the historical tradition of underground aging caves with high humidity and moderate temperature, moving away from standard walk-in coolers and finding ways to create their own caves on site.

Performance. Shredded cheese is going beyond basic convenience with new blends for specific applications such as homemade flatbreads and macaroni and cheese. With blends created for optimal flavor and meltability, consumers can easily and cost-effectively achieve restaurant-quality results at home. Other new shred products include flavorful additions such as rosemary and roasted garlic to easily build flavor into homemade meals.