Cheese is a staple part of the UK diet, with 96% of us eating it or serving it at home. Since 2006, the market has increased by 32% and is currently estimated at £2.37bn, with the expectation it will grow by almost 30% over the next five years

Although cheddar remains the largest market segment, at more than 50% of value sales, there are now over 700 named British cheeses produced in the UK alone. “Mature and extra mature variants of cheddar are becoming increasingly prevalent,” says Debbie Stewart, who looks after sales and marketing for the annual International Cheese Awards. “The Americans seem very interested in the UK dairy sector and this could be an area for growth over the next few years.”

Whereas the recession is hitting the catering sector, the growth in retail sales of cheese reflects the trend for people eating more at home. “Cheese is very good value for money, you can eat it at any meal of the day and there are many different varieties to choose from,” says Nigel White, Secretary of the British Cheese Board, whose members account for the majority of cheese produced in the UK. “Generally, British cheeses are selling better in the UK than imported varieties. There have been some heavyweight promotions of branded mature cheddars; it’s the nation’s favourite and it’s versatile. People are still buying imported continental cheeses, but often smaller pack sizes.”

The British Cheese Board has been encouraging consumers to buy cheese plus one, in other words cheddar plus something a little different, like blue cheese. “Stilton is one of the most versatile cheeses to cook with,” says Nigel White. “It crumbles and melts beautifully and you don’t need much to give your food more flavour and character.”

“Blue and continental cheeses have seen a sales growth on the back of rising consumer interest,” says Debbie Stewart. “We also had our first cheese entered from China made from yak’s milk, which caused quite a stir.”

William Cohen, Senior Account Manager at the wholesaler Cheese Cellar, sees the cheese industry as one of evolution and innovation. “It’s a market full of versatility,” he says. “We are continually presented with new varieties delivering different flavours and texures.”

Indeed, Cheese Cellar has a large number of artisan producers within its range of cheese. “British cheesemakers are recognised internationally as being experts at their craft, says William Cohen. “The rise of seasonal cheeses within the British market is allowing chefs to experiment with new varieties in both cooking and on cheeseboards.”

He also points to health issues, including allergies and dairy intolerances, as reasons behind increased interest in goat and sheep milk cheese. Debbie Stewart agrees: “Health remains a notable consideration for many consumers, women in particular. The cheese market has been proactive in responding to growing interest for healthy eating but there is still some way to go to convince consumers of the taste credentials of low-fat cheeses. There is a definite need for education and we are planning an interactive Education Centre for next year’s International Cheese Awards.”

Related Posts