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ABSTRACT

The objective of this study was to quantitatively assess the consumer perception of fat reduction in cheese. Choice-based conjoint analysis surveys for Cheddar and mozzarella cheeses (n = 179 and 171 consumers, respectively) were developed using results from focus groups conducted with users and nonusers of lower fat cheeses. Factors investigated were fat content, flavor, texture and price of cheese. Relative importance of product attributes was determined through a realistic trade-off scenario. Consumer acceptance testing (n = 101) was then conducted on Cheddar and mozzarella cheeses with varying levels of fat reduction. Conjoint analysis results suggested that a 2% milk Cheddar cheese would be most appealing among fat reduced Cheddar cheeses and that a part-skim mozzarella would be more appealing than a fat-free mozzarella, and these results were confirmed by consumer acceptance testing. These results confirm that most consumers are not willing to sacrifice flavor or texture for fat reduction in cheeses. Significant changes in flavor and texture are needed for a low-fat Cheddar cheese to have widespread consumer appeal.

PRACTICAL APPLICATIONS

This study found that most consumers are not accepting of lower fat Cheddar or mozzarella cheeses when their flavor and texture are different from the full-fat version of the cheese, even if those differences are small. These results are in contrast to the rise in obesity in the United States, consumer interest in fat-reduced foods and industry and government interest in offering sensible lower fat versions of foods. For a true low-fat version of Cheddar cheese to have widespread consumer appeal, significant changes in flavor and texture are required. These results will help cheese manufacturers understand what changes need to be made in order to successfully develop a lower fat cheese that will appeal to consumers. In addition, if manufacturers are able to provide this product, consumers will be able to purchase and consume a lower fat cheese that they enjoy and feel good about eating.