Scientists Receive Grant to Study the Palate of Chinese Consumers to Help Boost U.S. Cheese Industry


August 2, 2019


Photo Credit: Mark O'Keefe | U.S. Dairy Export Council
Recently, China’s dramatic social and economic changes have altered the eating habits of many food consumers allowing them to choose more Western foods. With changes in development, national wealth, and an increase in average socioeconomic status, many Chinese are finding their way into the middle class and are presented with opportunities to purchase Western food. China has over 1.3 billion food consumers and the population continues to grow, creating a large opportunity for food exports from the U.S. – specifically for U.S. cheese exports.

Within the Chinese culture, Western food is often associated with status and there is a lack of information on how flavor and texture preference play into the consumers’ decision to purchase various Western foods. With better knowledge of the current Chinese cheese market, consumer usage habits, and consumer preferences, the U.S. cheese industry would be ideally positioned to drastically increase market share in the world’s fastest developing export market.

Dairy Management Inc., with funds from the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service and the National Dairy Promotion and Research Board, has awarded a grant to researchers in the University of Tennessee Department of Food Science to investigate the Chinese cheese market. The team, led by assistant professor Curtis Luckett, is collaborating with professor Minfeng Jin at Shanghai Normal University in China to get a precise understanding of the texture and flavor preferences of Chinese cheese consumers. The research team will collect data from families in Shanghai to better understand how cheese is being consumed and what culinary methods are being used by the population. Extensive taste testing also will be performed in China and once combined with the product usage data and consumer attitudes, will provide information to the U.S. cheese industry regarding which cheese attributes are important for acceptance in a variety of consumption scenarios. Findings from the research may also present an opportunity to strategically design cheeses that meet the unique preferences of the Chinese market.

The UT Department of Food Science often does these types of projects for major food companies, providing science based sensory evaluations to guide new food product formulation. However, the researchers in the department are excited to get a chance to work for the benefit of dairy farmers and producers. “In the ultra-competitive global food market, projects like this are key to the long-term success of U.S. dairy producers,” Luckett said.

Contact: Curtis Luckett, cluckett@utk.edu, 865-974-7298

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