Artisan Cheeses in Missouri: Consumer Buying Habits and Preferences

Joe Parcell
Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics

Handcrafted artisan cheese is becoming more available to consumers at both farmers markets and retail grocery stores. Domestically, cheese consumption as a whole is on the rise, with a majority of consumers either already buying artisan cheese varieties or interested in doing so.

For more information

Download the Missouri Value Added Center's complete Missouri Artisan Cheese Market Study (PDF).

To determine Missouri consumers’ artisan cheese consumption patterns, a survey was completed in 2013 by the University of Missouri Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics. The survey collected responses from 1,079 Missouri residents. Of the respondents, 54.4 percent were female and 45.6 percent were male, almost 60 percent were between the ages of 35 and 64, and 93 percent were white. Based on the results of the survey, this publication identifies Missouri consumers’ artisan cheese purchasing and consumption patterns to help cheese makers with important marketing and production decisions.

Who buys artisan cheeses

Local markets appear ripe for artisan cheeses; about half of consumers either already buy artisan cheese varieties or are interested in doing so. However, the need to educate consumers about which of the cheeses available today are artisan is apparent. Based on the survey results, a majority of consumers do not know what artisan cheeses are, and some wonder where they can buy these products. Many of the consumers who already buy artisan cheese varieties know of the price premium that these cheeses command. But taste, not price, is one of the most important attributes. Most people (87 percent) eat cheese, and they do so mainly because they like its taste. Of those who eat cheese at least weekly, 44 percent said that they buy artisan cheese.

Table 1
Purchase of artisan cheese by frequency of cheese consumption.

Frequency of cheese consumptionPurchase artisan cheese
At least weekly56%44%
Twice a month70%30%
Once a month73%27%
Less than once a month89%11%

Why some consumers don’t buy artisan cheeses

When asked why they didn’t buy artisan cheese, 15 percent of the respondents said that it wasn’t available in their area. This response calls attention to the need to identify retail channels within Missouri that can make artisan cheese available to consumers who are already interested in it.

Table 2
Reason for not consuming artisan cheese.

ReasonsPercentage of respondents who do not buy artisan cheese
I don’t know what artisan cheese is.52%
It’s too expensive.27%
>Artisan cheese is not available in my area.15%
It’s not an important product attribute.14%
I don’t like the taste of artisan cheese.5%
It’s not available in the varieties that I like.3%

What special flavors are preferred

Respondents who had not purchased flavored artisan cheese indicated that they would be interested in buying cheeses with smoked and herb flavors. Artisan cheese consumers are not currently buying cheeses with nuts and vegetables, but a majority indicated interest in buying these cheese varieties as well.

Table 3
Interest in artisan cheese with special flavors.

Degree of interestFlavors (by percentage of total cheese buyers)
SmokedWith herbsWith nutsWith vegetables
Currently purchase47%50%22%35%
Would be interested in purchasing39%42%53%50%

Where consumers buy artisan cheeses

A large majority of respondents who said they buy artisan cheeses (76 percent) either never buy cheese from a farmers market or do so less than once a month. Most artisan cheese buyers (78 percent) buy cheese from the most convenient retail channel — grocery chain stores. Others (50 percent) buy it at local specialty stores, albeit typically less than once a month. Only 11 percent indicated that they buy artisan cheese directly from processors.

Table 4
Retail sources of artisan cheeses.

Retail channelPercentage of total artisan cheese buyers
Grocery chain stores78%
Local specialty stores50%
Health and organic food stores25%
Direct from processors11%
Other sources7%

Table 5
Frequency of cheese purchase from farmers markets.

Frequency of cheese consumptionPurchase artisan cheese
At least weekly0.8%4.5%
Twice a month1.6%5.0%
Once a month3.9%16.6%
Less than once a month23.5%48.0%

What consumers consider “local”

When defining “local,” a majority of retailers said that local products are produced on a farm within the region or in a state that borders the state where a store is located, whereas consumers defined “local” products as products originating within the state’s boundaries.

Table 6
Consumers’ definitions of local.

Categories of “local”Percentage of total cheese eatersPercentage of artisan cheese buyersPercentage of artisan cheese buyers willing to pay more for domestic cheeses
From within my city or town17%14%13%
From within my county or surrounding counties36%36%36%
From within the state35%39%41%
From surrounding states9%8%8%
Other (please specify)2%3%3%
State funds for this project were matched with federal funds under the Federal-State Marketing Improvement Program of the Agricultural Marketing Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture.