Everyone wants a wedge: Asia’s appetite for British cheese soars

Posted on 5 Jun 2019 by Maddy White

It was national cheese day yesterday and in Britain, cheese has become nothing short of a national treasure. Countries all over the world now want a wedge of UK made cheese, with demand in the Far East soaring.

Cheese exports reached a record £665m in 2018, putting the UK within the top 10 biggest exporters of cheese worldwide. 

Cheese exports reached a record £665m in 2018 – image courtesy of Depositphotos.

In the past, the European Union has always been the top destination for British cheese, with the Republic of Ireland consuming more than any other country.

But demand from Asian countries has been growing at pace. British cheese exports to the region grew by 289.3% over the past five years.

Asia wants a wedge

The fastest growing export market is China, where demand soared 9,567% from just £67k in 2013, to £6.5m in 2018. Second to China is Lithuania, which rose from £16k to £1.2m, and in third is Malaysia, up from £103k to £4.7m.

Of the top 10 fastest growing export markets for British cheese over the past five years, seven were from countries in Asia.

Country 2013 Export Value 2018 Export Value Growth (%)
China £67k £6.5m 9567
Lithuania £16k £1.2m 7276
Malaysia £103k £4.7m 4492
Jordan £70k £1.6m 2233
Egypt £123k £1.9m 1483
Romania £157k £2.4m 1462
Thailand £136k £1.7m 1163
Bahrain £161k £1.6m 875
Lebanon £1.3m £9.0 566
Taiwan £206k £1.3m 557

It’s all about cheddar

Cheddar is the UK’s most popular cheese export, accounting for nearly half of the market (48.1%) and worth £319.7m in 2018. Fresh cheese, like British Mozzarella-style products followed behind in popularity.

Barber's is the world's oldest cheddar maker - image courtesy of Alex Steele Perkins.
Barber’s is the world’s oldest cheddar maker – image courtesy of Alex Steele Perkins.

We previously visited Somerset-based cheesemaker Barber’s who is the oldest maker of cheddar cheese in the world.

The firm produces over 80 tonnes of it every day. Director at Barber’s, Giles Barber previously said to The Manufacturer how the UK market for hard cheese has plateaued, but regions like Asia are growing.

“A fair proportion of our exports now go to the Far East, to China, Taiwan and South Korea. We have exported there for four or five years now. Initially the challenge was dietary and people getting used to the concept of cheese, but now that is changing,” he said.

Read the full feature, Barber’s: Inside the world’s oldest cheddar cheese maker