India is Ready to Say Cheese

The demand for different varieties of cheese in India is growing due to the quick rise of the quick service restaurants and fast food chains which use cheese for food items such as pizzas, burgers and sandwiches

India soaked in the pungent fragrance of cheese long back. But its usage in the country has not been as widespread as it is in the developed world. The per capita cheese consumption in India is much lower than the global average. According to an estimate, the per capita cheese consumption in India is just 200 gm per year as compared to the world average of seven kg per year. Moreover, the popularity of cheese in India is still restricted mainly to the urban areas.

The urban per capita consumption of cheese in India is 700 gm per year compared to the national average of 200 gm. This means that the usage of cheese among India’s vast rural population is way too limited. The varieties of cheese available in the Indian market are just 40 to 45 compared to around 300 in the US.

These facts may apparently paint a gloomy picture of the Indian cheese market. But nothing could be further from the truth. With India’s expanding middle class and significant increase in disposable income among a large section of the Indian population since the last decade, there is now an impressive potential for the growth of the cheese market in India.

Impressive Potential

According to Euromonitor International’s report titled Cheese in India, which was published in December 2016, cheese saw continued growth during 2016 due to lifestyle changes, especially among middle-income consumers, and due to the influence of various consumer food service types. Growing at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 12 percent, the value of Indian cheese market is expected to reach Rs. 41 billion by 2021, according to the report.

The potential of India’s cheese market was also recently highlighted in a report by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Foreign Agriculture Service. According to the assessment of the USDA staff, cheese production in India is growing at approximately 15 percent per year in response to growing demand driven by India’s young demography and increasing urban middle class. The organised cheese sector in India primarily produces two types of cheese items — paneer and processed cheese, although some players in the country are expanding to more specialty cheeses.

Health Benefits of Cheese

Often dubbed as an unhealthy choice, cheese may actually have some health benefits. The overwhelming misconception about the ill effects of cheese needs to be dispelled.

According to a new research, cheese has a lesser effect on blood cholesterol than would be predicted on the basis of their content of saturated fat. The researchers showed that the health effects of a food product cannot be determined on the basis of the individual nutrients it contains. The food must be evaluated as a whole — together with other food products eaten at the same time. The findings, published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, suggest that the composition of a food can alter the properties of the nutrients contained within it, in ways that cannot be predicted on the basis of an analysis of the individual nutrients.

The researchers concluded that, among other things, yoghurt and cheese did have a different and more beneficial effect on bone health, body weight, and on the risk of developing cardiovascular diseases, than would be expected on the basis of their saturated fat and calcium content.

Tanja Kongerslev Thorning from the Department of Nutrition, Exercise and Sports at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark, is the first author of the report. Tanja explained that scientists had long wondered why the actual effects of a food are at variance with the effects expected on the basis of its nutrition content. They have therefore started to look at things in a wider context. “The effects on health of a food item are probably a combination of the relationship between its nutrients, and also of the methods used in its preparation or production. This means that some foods may be better for us, or less healthy, than is currently believed,” Tanja added.

According to another research published in the journal General Dentistry, consuming cheese and other dairy products may help protect teeth against cavities. Additionally, various compounds found in cheese may adhere to tooth enamel and help further protect teeth from acid.

A study, published recently in the journal Cancer Research, further suggests that cheese may also help prolong lifespan. The researchers found that spermidine —a compound found in food products like aged cheese, mushrooms, soy products, legumes, corn and whole grains — seems to prevent liver fibrosis and hepatocellular carcinoma, which is the most common type of liver cancer. There is also some evidence that it might improve cardiovascular health.

Researchers gave animal models an oral supplement of spermidine and found that they lived longer and were less likely than untreated individuals to have liver fibrosis and cancerous liver tumours, even when predisposed for those conditions.

“It is a dramatic increase in lifespan of animal models, as much as 25 percent,” said Leyuan Liu, Assistant Professor at the Texas A&M Institute of Biosciences and Technology’s Center for Translational Cancer Research in the US.

The trouble is that people would need to begin ingesting spermidine from the time they begin eating solid food to get this kind of significant improvement in their life spans.

Those animal models treated later only saw a 10 percent increase in longevity. Still, it may be the most sustainable option scientists have found yet.

Long-term spermidine ingestion might be possible for humans if it can be eventually made into a supplement and shown to be safe. Liu is optimistic that this might be the case. “Spermidine is a product naturally found in food, so we hope it would have minimal side effects,” he said. “The next steps would be human clinical trials to determine safety and efficacy.”

Researchers believe that even if people did not begin taking spermidine until later in life, they still might be able to get these liver and heart benefits.

Use of Cheese in Bakery

To a large extent, the demand for other varieties of cheese other than paneer is growing in the country due to the quick rise of the quick service restaurants and fast food chains which use cheese for food items such as pizzas, burgers, sandwiches and other such preparations. Use of cheese is also common for many bakery items including cakes, biscuits and pastries.

Although imported cheeses are a fraction of the total cheese market in India, more and more middle to upper class Indian consumers are buying different styles of imported and domestic cheese, such as cheddar, mozzarella, parmesan, emmenthal, gouda, ricotta, feta, and mascarpone, the USDA report noted, adding that the 80  percent of India’s total cheese market is processed cheese, which is mostly used by quick service restaurants.

While cheddar cheese is generally used in sandwiches and other convenient snack food, mozzarella -- a moist white cheese of Italian origin with a mild taste -- can be used for melting on pizzas and other cheese-covered dishes and for raw salads.

Then there is feta cheese. As Auroville-based cheese producer, La Ferme Cheese explains, feta is a white, creamy, salty/sour Greek cheese generally used in mixing in raw salads or cooking in salty pastry, vegetable dishes and sauces.

Ricotta cream cheese is regarded ideal for pastries, for spread preparations and as thickener in sauces.

The demand for cheese in the Indian bakery industry can grow with the growth of the QSR and coffee café segments in India and also with the availability of a wide variety of cheese in the Indian market. At the same time, the inadequate cold chain infrastructure in the country can create distribution bottlenecks in the marketing of cheese across India. However, the demand for cheese in India is likely to remain focused on metros and tier-I cities of the country for quite some time to come.

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