Established in 1951, Highland Fine Cheeses has key brands retailing in the major supermarkets and speciality cheese shops UK-wide. A family business, HFC manufactures traditional cheeses unique to the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. Cream cheeses include Crowdie and Caboc. Its fresh cheese Strathdon Blue was named Scotland’s best cheese at the 2002 British Cheese Awards.
The Business Challenge
Highland Fine Cheeses (HFC) wanted to gain a more in-depth understanding of the current traditional cheese market to enable them to develop and launch a new product, potentially for the snack market.
Interface facilitated an introduction between Highland Fine Cheeses and Dr Andrew Allsebrook, Food Innovation @ Abertay (FIA) at the University of Abertay, Dundee.
Focus groups were conducted and consumer research undertaken by Abertay, which focused on the well-known Crowdie and Black Crowdie products.
In relation to the Crowdie cheese, HFC wanted to investigate the options of redesigning the packaging of the product in the style of a ‘snack pot’ or ‘on the go’ item. The project also required Abertay to propose different methods of enhancing the ingredients, as well as suggesting new product lines.
Through working with a small group of sensory panellists and focus groups, information was gathered on consumer opinions in relation to the Crowdie, along with their views on an addition to the savoury snacks, for example the addition of small biscuits or mini oatcakes.
Using FIA’s product development skills and their dedicated New Product Development facility, a range of fresh ingredients were integrated into the Crowdie. This narrowed down by the focus groups to two potential products. At each stage, ingredient price, ease of production and consumer satisfaction was considered.
The final prototypes were presented to HFC as well as a buyer from a major supermarket, with positive results. HFC now have a greater understanding of the potential for the Crowdie.
In terms of the Black Crowdie, the focus was on presentation. The cheese was reduced in size from 1kg to 500g. In addition the ratio of black peppercorn to oatmeal in the standard 140g Black Crowdie was analysed. The examination led to a reduction in the pepper level, which has enhanced the tasting experience for consumers as the blend is more subtle.
On the back of these improvements the firm will also introduce changes to its Caboc cheese, which will result in HFC boosting its bottom line due to the high cost of pepper.
HFC was also able to take full advantage of the FIA food photography studio enable the company to showcase it’s product range professionally in future marketing materials.
As a result of these changes a major supermarket buyer has expressed significant interest in Black Crowdie.