Cheese lifts US dairy exports driven by emerging markets

By Mary Ellen Shoup contact

- Last updated on GMT

US cheese exports are on the rise - and offering a variety of cheese to emerging markets will help increase shipments even more, USDEC director says. ©GettyImages/Magone
US cheese exports are on the rise - and offering a variety of cheese to emerging markets will help increase shipments even more, USDEC director says. ©GettyImages/Magone

Related tags: Milk

US cheese exports have risen 30% over the last six months compared to the same period last year, with cheese shipments to Mexico, Australia, Japan, and the Middle East/North Africa increasing by double- to triple-digits in volume sales, according to USDEC.

Cheese exports totaled 30,370 tons in August, up 35% compare to last year. For the first time, Australia was the number-two destination for US cheese, taking 3,900 tons, nearly triple the volume of a year ago.

Exports to Mexico increased by 32% (+2,047 tons, year-over-year), exports to Japan grew by 113% (+1,552 tons), and sales to the Middle East/North Africa region (2,075 tons) were the most since December 2015, according to USDEC data. 

Offsetting the cheese export growth, USDEC saw shipments of non-fat dry milk/skim milk powder fall by 9% in August compared to the previous year.

Achieving the ‘Next 5%’

Earlier this year, the US dairy industry set forth a plan to increase its annual milk export volume 5%​ by 2021.

“USDEC research suggests global cheese imports will increase more than 500,000 metric tons by 2021. US suppliers essentially would need to win about 40%... and therein lies the challenge,” ​Merle McNeil, USDEC Latin America and Caribbean business unit director, penned in a recent USDEC blog post.

McNeil said the US must heavily target emerging markets in Northern Asia (China, Japan, South Korea) and the Middle East/North Africa regions “currently dominated by US competitors” ​that offer broader portfolios of cheese varieties. 

To reach these markets effectively, McNeil suggested adopting a similar strategy as it did with Mexico.

“US cheesemakers going above and beyond to work with buyers to create gouda suited to Mexican applications and tastes went a long way to demonstrating how seriously US suppliers wanted to build relationships,”​ McNeil wrote.

“That kind of effort needs to be repeated in other major markets.”

But even in Mexico, historically the top dairy export market and trade partner for the US for the past few decades, has untapped growth potential, according McNeil.

A recent USDEC report on natural cheese in Mexico estimated per capita cheese consumption at 8.4 lbs per year—less than US per capita consumption and much lower than many of other Latin American countries.

“Room for growth is significant,”​ McNeil added. “If US cheesemakers expect to become global players in world cheese trade, they will need to defend and grow share in Mexico by better catering to market needs.”

Related topics: Markets, Cheese, Emerging Markets

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