Whilst Britain is still a nation of cheese-lovers, with 95% of Brits saying they bought cheese over the past three months, volume sales continue to fall. Cheese sales are expected to drop by 3.9% to 347 million kg in 2014, down from 361 million kg in 2013. This is the second year in a row that volume sales will have fallen, after the market peaked at 364 million kg in 2012. However, value sales growth in 2014 is expected to accelerate to 2.5%, taking the market value to £2.7 billion, up from £2.6 billion in 2013. Notably, sales of processed cheese have seen volume growth of 8% over the past two years, rising from 39 million kg in 2012 to an estimated 42 million kg in 2014.
Despite the ongoing popularity of cheese, volatility in milk prices and consumers’ sensitivity to price changes in cheddar represent challenges to operators in the cheese market. The ending of EU milk quotas and the provision of free school meals for reception and year 1 and 2 pupils also create a degree of uncertainty in the market at present.
Cheddar remains the nation’s favourite cheese with 87% of Brits buying it in the past three months, up from 82% in 2012. Cheddar also remains the largest segment in terms of sales, accounting for an estimated 50% of value and 52% of volume sales in 2014.
When it comes to rising prices many cheddar buyers are not afraid to downgrade to a cheaper price tag. Just 29% of cheddar buyers say they wouldn’t change their buying habits at all if there was a 10% rise in the price of their favourite branded cheddar. In comparison, one in three (31%) claim they would switch to a less expensive branded cheddar and one in four (24%) say they would switch to a less expensive own-label cheddar.
Furthermore, whilst cheddar is still the nation’s favourite, many cheese eaters are interested in something a little more exotic. Over a third (37%) of cheese eaters would be interested in trying cheese from non-European countries, for example Mexican cheese such as Oaxaca or Queso fresco, rising to 50% of men aged 45-64. Moreover, three in 10 (30%) cheese eaters would like to sample spicy cheese, for example wasabi gouda.