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Cheese exports to China soars amid ‘generational shift' in consumption

2019-08-23 15:51 Friday


Cheese is gaining popularity with consumers in China, with imports growing from 2,000 metric tons in 2000 to more than 108,000 metric tons in 2017, and volumes a whole are set to double again by 2024, according to industry experts.

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Ross Christieson, senior vice president, Global Cheese Strategy at the U.S. Dairy Export Council (USDEC) said in a recent interview, “[Overall] Chinese cheese imports will double between now and 2024.”

China is currently the world's number 6 importer of cheese as of 2019, moving up from 7th place two years ago. Japan is the number one importer of cheese, followed by Russia.

In terms of dairy producers, the United States is the world's largest exporter of cheese. It exported 348,561 metric tons across the world last year.

“For the past fifteen years, sales of U.S. cheese to international customers have grown more than 672 percent, and show no signs of slowing,” said Christieson.

The biggest importers of cheese from the U.S. by volume are Mexico, South Korea, Japan, the Middle East and North Africa, Australia, Central America, SE Asia, Canada and China.

Christieson reported that exports of U.S. cheese to Japan, and South Korea have been particularly strong over the past year, and are likely to continue the same way. Sales to Indonesia have also increased by 500 percent.

He explained, “Exports to other markets such as the Middle East, Central America and SE Asia are also increasing.” There are five major drivers driving increasing demand for cheese in China, said the analyst.

These are: the growing numbers of upper-middle-class citizens and affluent households; a new generation of freer-spending, sophisticated consumers from the generation born in the 1980s and later; and, the continued spread of Western-style food including pizza and bakery.

He also said that growth was being created by increased cheese utilization for home baking, and food service chains introducing more Chinese to the pleasure of cheese.

From a retail perspective, the type of cheese that Chinese consumers go for are cheddar, mozzarella, cream cheese, pizza blends, and string cheese, and these varieties are all readily available at places such as Citysuper, Ole', City Shop, Freshmart and Carrefour.

“Retail continues to grow in China, and will be further bolstered with Costco – a USA Cheese Guild partner – opening its 1st mainland China store at the end of August. We also provide a lot of the large, value cheeses.”

As demand for cheese in China continues to accelerate, Christieson says that the influx of innovative cheeses will further light up consumers' appetites.

“Chefs from the region who've discovered these award-winning cheeses have been impressed and are excited at the opportunities U.S. cheeses provide them to serve on-trend dishes to consumers in the region and beyond.”

In May, the U.S. raised tariffs on US$ 200bn worth of imported Chinese goods from 10 percent to 25 percent.

On the trade situation, Christieson commented, “The U.S. dairy industry deeply values the relationship fostered over the years with our customers and partners throughout our global markets, including China.”

“We're committed to maintaining strong relationships in the market and will continue to conduct programs that grow demand.”

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