A Helping of Mac and Cheese

A few months ago, we noted that cheese had become a hot commodity for food-to-food collaborations. One niche within that space that has generated particular interest of late is the ultimate comfort food, macaroni and cheese. Marketers of mac and cheese are looking to create limited-edition varieties by partnering with brands associated with compatible flavors, as well as extending their own IP into new food categories, sometimes unexpected ones:

  • Earlier this year, Guinness paired with The Farmer Companies, a private investment firm, to create Guinness Macaroni & Cheese. Farmer’s newest division, Vermont Cheese Products, manufactures Cabot-branded foods under license from Agri-Mark’s Cabot Creamery Co-operative, and oversees the Guinness product. The new alcohol-free mac and cheese combines the flavor of Guinness stout with Cabot Farmers’ Reserve ready-made cheese sauce and radiatore pasta. Along with Original Flavor, the Guinness line will include Caramelized Onion, Cracked Black Pepper, and Black Truffle varieties. Beanstalk represents the Diageo-owned Guinness brand for licensing.
  • In December 2022, Kraft Heinz and Van Leeuwen brought back their Kraft Macaroni & Cheese Ice Cream collaboration for a nationwide launch at Walmart. This was a follow-up to a limited edition of 6,000 in July 2022, which sold out in an hour, and a bigger but still limited launch in August. The product was one of seven flavors Van Leeuwen initially brought to Walmart stores through the deal, with the assortment rotating every 10 weeks. Separately, Kraft also paired with Burger King in Canada in 2020 for a limited edition menu item called KD Bites, a crispy-coated snack stuffed with Kraft Dinner. Brand Central is Kraft Heinz’s licensing agent.
  • In 2021, luxury truffle hot sauce brand TRUFF paired with fast-casual pasta chain Noodles & Company for TRUFF Mac, a variation of the latter’s best-selling Wisconsin Mac & Cheese menu item. The limited edition, which marked the first time TRUFF had partnered with a restaurant chain, was available through digital channels for pick-up or delivery only.
  • In 2020, two PepsiCo-owned divisions, Cheetos maker Frito-Lay and Pasta Roni maker Quaker, got together to create Cheetos Mac ‘n’ Cheese in Bold & Cheesy, Flamin’ Hot, and Cheesy Jalapeño flavors, as well as Ketchup flavor in Canada only. The product was introduced in Walmart stores, in boxed and single-serve varieties. Cheetos has been expanding into a number of product categories, both food and non-food, the latter handled by The Joester Loria Group.

The appearance of brand collaborations in this space is not surprising, given broader industry trends. Macaroni and cheese marketers in general are experimenting with a variety of flavors, both limited and permanent, such as truffle (GrownAs*Foods), pumpkin spice (Kraft), IPA (Goodles), and French onion soup (Trader Joe’s), among many others. Meanwhile, marketers of other foods are adding mac and cheese to things like burgers (Smashburger), sandwiches (Panera), and pizza (Aldi).

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