Let’s back British cheese, says NFU

More people are buying more British cheese and more often, according to figures from AHDB. With a quarter of all milk produced in the UK processed into cheese, the household staple is an important product both for shoppers and for dairy farmers.

While cheese exports are up and imports are down there are positive signs at last emerging for the dairy sector. But despite this, the value of cheese has declined and prices remain far below sustainable levels on farm.

At the start of the International Cheese Show in Nantwich, Cheshire, national NFU dairy board chairman Michael Oakes said now is a good time to thank people for choosing British cheese and the positive impact they are having. And to send a clear message to the supply chain – a fair price is needed for dairy farmers.

“We have such a positive story to tell,” said Mr Oakes. “Figures for May 2016 show that UK imports of Cheddar were down 39 per cent on the same month last year while exports of cheese were six per cent higher this May compared to 2015. Meanwhile, retail cheese sales for the year ending May 2016 grew 4.7 per cent. The great news is more people than ever before are eating British cheese. With most branded cheddar sold on promotion in the UK consumers are getting good value on a highly nutritional product.

“And we have seen dairy commodity prices strengthening in recent weeks. The next step must be for the value of cheese to increase through the supply chain and for a fair share of that money to be passed back to farm as quickly as possible. While in-store promotions are good news for the shopper, as a dairy farmer I have concerns. The aim of these promotions is to sell more volume rather than diminish value. My question is who is paying for such promotions?

Key cheese facts

· In May 2016 UK imports of Cheddar totalled 7,355 tonnes, down 39% on the same month last year (= down 4,771 tonnes)

· In the same period, specialty cheese imports were 3% down on May 2015 (= down 1,007 tonnes)

· At the same time UK cheese exports were 6% higher this May than last May at 13,084 tonnes.

Cumulative imports – Jan-May 2016:

· Cumulative imports of Cheddar for January-May 2016 were 33,770 tonnes – down 13% (4,876 tonnes) on the previous year. Imports from Ireland were down 20%.

· Overall, cumulative imports of specialty cheese were down by 3,277 tonnes (2%) compared to the same period last year. Imports from France were down by 7,725 tonnes (18%). Imports of processed cheese were down by 3,033 tonnes (14%).

Cumulative exports – Jan-May 2016:

· Cumulative totals for Jan -May 2016 show that UK cheese exports were 65,391 tonnes – 7% more than last year. Total exports of Cheddar were up 7% on last year at 31,874 tonnes. However, Cheddar exported to the EU reduced by 985 tonnes (4%) and Cheddar exports to outside the EU increased by 3,155 tonnes (43%).

GB retail cheese sales for the 52 weeks ending 22 May 2016, when compared with the previous year:

· Total cheese volumes grew by almost 4.7%. In the last year shoppers bought cheese slightly more often and bought a little more per trip. The value of the cheese category has declined slightly due to an average price fall of more than 5%.

· When compared to the same time period a year ago, hard and soft continental cheeses were the biggest movers. Both of these cheese types saw double digit volume growth and respectable value increases. Cheddar also increased volume sales by 2.7%, this cheese type still makes up half of cheese category value, despite a 1.9% decline in market share.

· The growth of the hard discounters (Aldi and Lidl) is continuing, in the latest year share of cheese sales value has increased in line with total grocery sales.

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