14 September 2018
Startling increase in exports of UK cheese to Asia
cheese to asia

If you are living in the In the UK it may often seems as if the absorption of other countries and cultures and foods is a one-way street. Since the 60’s and 70’s, Britain has seen an influx of cosmopolitan cuisine due to an increase in immigration and a greater number of consumers travelling abroad and bringing back diverse foodstuffs. It has reached the point now that Chicken Tikka Masala is more popular than traditional fayre such as Fish and chips. But it would seem British cuisine is travelling abroad in very much the same way. Recent news and statistics show how many Asian countries are demanding UK food – and the unlikely food that is sending UK exports through the roof in recent months is cheese.

Cheese exports have risen since 2015

There is no doubt these are boom times for British cheeses such as Stilton, Mozzarella (the UK version), Cheddar and Cottage Cheese. According to HMRC statistics cheese exports to countries such as the Philippines, Hong Kong and China have risen by almost a quarter. In 2017 they rose by 23%. Earlier sales paralleled this new movement in China when sales rose from 49 tonnes in 2015 to 786 tonnes in 2017.

So why this sudden rise?

Has the population in Asia suddenly just acquired a palette for more savoury dishes? Very unlikely – cultural palettes linked to taste do not change. If anything, more often than not, foods which become popular outside of their own local cultures have been adapted to the market in the countries they are going to. For instance, Chicken Tikka Masala is only based on Indian curry dishes – it would not be found in India itself. It is a recipe concocted for Western tastes.

The fact is, even though we do not consider cheese as a primary food in Asia (even in a world of global awareness and accessibility we still tend to generalise when considering how others in other countries eat. For instance, Asia we tend to link with rice and noodles just as they possibly think of Britain as fish and chips and meat pies) they, just like the rest of the world is becoming more cosmopolitan in its eating preferences, as travel is easier and shipping boundaries are reduced. So for some time now cheese has always been a staple diet for the east. But the taste for dairy products in Asia is definitely increasing. There is an increase in demand for butter and milk products also.

As far as cheese goes however, natives to Asia are not looking for fine elite British cheeses. For instance, over 50% of the cheeses exported to China is either powdered or grated and tended to be used in ready meals.

UK cheese prices are highly competitive

 Senior Analyst at the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board, Patsy Clayton, concluded that the growth was due to the rise in cheese prices around the world – while production decreased in Europe, demand continued to rise globally. At the same time, the continuing issues with Brexit have led to the fall in the value of sterling which has meant that British cheese is much more competitive in price.

This all looks great for the dairy and cheese industries in Britain, but according to Liz Truss, the former foreign secretary in the UK, over 66% of cheese manufactured in the UK is actually exported. This begs the question, as a country that has the love of cheese at its core, why are we are not buying and eating more of our own great produce? Not all of British cheeses are making the long journey over to the far east. Clearly with two thirds of production going to export, there is a thriving market too in the Middle East, Germany, France, Spain and Italy too.

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