It’s Cinco de Mayo! Name a better combo than chips and queso. We’ll wait. But really, what’s not to love about melted cheesy goodness paired with tortilla chips? For years, our Land O Lakes® Queso Bravo® Cheese Dip has been the #1 selling refrigerated cheese sauce in foodservice by volume in the country. Now, families can have that same premium, restaurant-quality queso at home.
Earlier this year, we launched our own retail queso in the Southeast region. It’s sold in two, 8-ounce microwaveable bowls. Discussions about launching a queso in grocery stores have been ongoing for years.
Rebecca Knetter was part of the Research & Development (R&D) team and says the team quickly realized what they thought would be a straightforward project came with more challenges than expected.
“We initially thought it would be a quick and easy process,” Rebecca says. “The concept was to take something similar to our foodservice Queso Bravo® Cheese Dip and put it into a cup. Sounds super simple right? It wasn’t.”
Michelle Fetzer, Land O’Lakes Sr. Packaging Engineer, led the packaging development for this project. She says it took a strong cross-functional team to identify the right packaging materials, suppliers and manufacturing partner.
“The combination of each of those factors coming together is what allowed this project to come to life,” Michelle says.
The team considered more than 30 different packaging designs and materials. The team landed on a structure made to withstand the high heat of an oven or microwave, given a set of unique product characteristics.
“A lot of thought also went into the shape of the bowls to make sure the queso was easily dippable,” Michelle says. “And the 8-ounce size is strategic because it’s big enough for sharing, but almost small enough that you’re not sure that you need to share.”
Now with the right packaging in place, the team also made tweaks to the recipe.
“While it still is very similar to our foodservice queso, we did use some different cheeses and added more peppers to kick up the spice level a bit and amp up the flavor,” Rebecca says.
Currently, over two-thirds of refrigerated queso sales originate from the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic regions, which is why Land O’Lakes chose to launch in this area to start. Erica McDougall, Associate Marketing Manager for Consumer Cheese, says that the refrigerated queso category is still small but has significant upside potential, and no offerings on the market currently match Land O’Lakes’ delicious flavor and unique packaging benefits. She believes customers will be excited to see our new offering on store shelves.
“Of course, we’d love to expand to more regions, and right now we’re focused on getting our product into the hands of consumers to try it because we are confident people will love it,” says Erica McDougall. “Our first ingredient is cheese, and it was important to us as a dairy brand to include ingredients like white cheddar, jalapenos and red bell peppers in the overall recipe. Our queso’s presentation and ease- of-use also set us apart from the competition.”
We've had queso expertise on the foodservice side - here's a fun way they are engaging with chefs to inspire new usage with the product. The Land O’Lakes Foodservice team collaborated with global culinary community Chef’s Roll last fall on the cheesiest of contests, asking chefs, “How Do You Queso?”
Austin Carson of Morongo Casino Resort & Spa in Cabazon, California, beat out more than 100 other chefs with the “Esquite Pizza.” It features Land O Lakes® Queso Bravo® Cheese Dip as the base, along with cotija, bell pepper, roasted corn, chipotle aioli, pickled red onion, radish, chile powder and micro cilantro.
As grand prize winner, Chef Carson received $1,000 and a custom Meglio® chef’s knife.
For more on the How Do You Queso contest and the winning recipe, view the announcement here.