Mainland Europe oblivious to UK cheddar boom

By Neil Merrett

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Cheese

British cheese tastes have continued to mature during 2007,
particularly for their beloved cheddar, but continental Europeans
remain generally unaware of the product, an industry expert has

Nigel White secretary of the British Cheese Board told that whilst quality matured cheddars have continued to undergo a renaissance in their British homeland; this passion has not yet transferred to foreign markets. The claims follow the publication of new figures by marketing group TNS that found that sales of cheddar cheese in Britain were up by 3.6 per cent for the 52 weeks ending 2 December 2007 compared to the same period the previous year. Total sales of the cheese amounted to 201,160 tonnes over the period, driven mainly by demand for mature and extra mature varieties of the product, which was up 6.8 per cent on a year-on-year basis. However, this growth occurred alongside a decline in the mild and medium varieties, which fell by 1.7 per cent and 4.3 per cent respectively. White said that the growth reflected a general turnaround in British cheese tastes from the introduction of cheaper-to-manufacture mild cheddars in the mid-1970s, back to mature varieties. "Back in the 70's UK-based retailer Sainsbury's was offered mild cheap cheddar by Dutch processors in a bid to address cost fears at the time,"​ he stated. "We have seen a complete switch around since then though with mature cheeses now dominating the market, accounting for about two thirds of total demand."​ He said that these changing tastes were also reflective of a growing number of branded cheddars in the British cheese market, which was once dominated by private label products. As such, the emphasis for cheddar manufacturers in recent years has been increasingly on taste and quality, according to White. Outside of the UK though, European consumers generally remain unaware of the developments in cheddar production. "InEuropecheddar is quite unknown,"​ White said. "Those who are aware of the product often see it as a somewhat bland cheese with not a lot of character."​ In order for British cheddar makers to boost their export sales, White accepted that new marketing initiatives may be needed. However, he claimed that there generally remains little need or indeed the milk capacity for producers to expand into foreign markets, with about half of Britain's cheese market itself supplied through imports. "Britain has one of the lowest rates of milk production per head in Europe, so the pressure is not there to find markets for large amounts of processed goods,"​ white stated. "We remain a net importer of milk solids"​ Nonetheless, some leading UK producers such as North Downs Dairy with its Pilgrim's Choice brand and Dairy Crest with Cathedral City cheddar have put export strategies in place, according to White. Despite possible limitations in export potential, White said that the success of cheddar during the year-long period reflected a wider optimism for British cheese production as a whole, with the market growing by about two to three per cent annually over recent years. Cheddar accounts for at least half of this demand, according to the cheese board's figures. "Generally speaking, when cheddar performs well, the whole cheese market often follows,"​ White stated. He added that this optimism was reflected in the fact that some 700 named cheeses were now made in the UK, while there were a dozen cheeses with a protected designation of origin (PDO) now originate from the British.

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