Britain's cheese industry is at a crossroads, according to industry association Dairy UK, which held a sector-wide conference on the issue Tuesday. Cheese is viewed as one of the most important added value markets for European dairy firms as they look to cut reliance on commodity products. Continuous new product development will be key for UK cheese makers if they are to grasp opportunities in markets around the world, said Dairy UK chair David Curry MP. Most of the industry appears to agree, according to a Dairy UK survey released at the conference. Many were frustrated, however, at a lack of government support for their cheeses. A mere two per cent of respondents said the government had been supportive, and most said this was the main barrier to market development in the UK. Cheese was effectively labelled a junk food recently, after the UK broadcasting watchdog, Ofcom, banned cheese television adverts to children, alongside the usual suspects such as burgers, Coca-Cola and crisps. Curry appealed for the government to " work with the industry to strengthen the case for cheese and get across its enormous nutritional contribution". Still, more than two thirds of producers surveyed by Dairy UK predicted the cheese sector would grow between one and three per cent over the next three years. David Bird, analyst at market research group Mintel, said market value was likely to rise as more premium products entered the market, but that volumes were expected to remain flat. He said there was consumer feeling that "cheese is not particularly healthy", and many increasingly saw cheese as a treat. That has helped to drive value for minority products in the market with key words like regional, heritage and provenance driving sales. "There's been a real surge in demand for artisan cheese," Bird told DairyReporter.com. Branded cheese, such as Dairy Crest's Cathedral City cheddar has also performed better over the last couple of years. Branded cheddar sales rose 10 per cent in value to more than £341m for the year ended 10 September, according to figures from the Milk Development Council. Private label sales of standard cheddar fell six per cent in volume and 2 per cent in value during the same period, although continued to dominate the sector with sales worth £400m.
Regional cheese producers are enjoying a revival in the UK, but the market as a whole is struggling to grow volumes against an unhealthy image with consumers.