Coinciding with the announcement of the winners of the British Cheese Awards 2000, Food from Britain (FFB), the export marketing consultancy, has published a new report entitled 'The Cheese Report' which warns that the future health of the UK cheese industry depends upon producers becoming increasingly international in their outlook. FFB recommends that UK cheese manufacturers should review carefully their options in international markets so that they can develop sustainable and profitable business.

Simon Waring, Marketing and International Management Director, Food from Britain explains "International trade in cheese continues to grow, whilst UK cheese producers are continuing to struggle in a static home market. Cheap imports make prospects for the home market uncertain, whilst higher per capita consumption and growth rates abroad will become increasingly attractive to UK cheese makers, especially if there are increasing margins to be made. Our advice is for producers not to put all their eggs in one basket, be flexible enough to take up opportunities in international markets and invest in the future by preparing an export strategy covering key markets for cheese.

Winners of the export categories at the British Cheese Awards, Long Clawson Dairy and Twineham Grange are good examples of companies that have made exporting core to their business."

The report, which was published to raise awareness of the international sales opportunities available to UK cheese producers and help them identify key target markets across the world, goes on to demonstrate the potential of the sector by revealing in 1999, the UK was the world's ninth largest cheese producer, the third largest importer of cheese and yet only the eleventh largest cheese exporter, selling £134 million worth of cheese overseas. In comparison, France, the Netherlands and Germany each export over £1 billion worth of cheese, Italy and Denmark export £500 million annually and even the Belgians and Irish export a good deal more cheese than the UK.

Food from Britain recommends that UK cheese producers should assess whether their company would benefit from dedicating 10% or more of their existing output to international markets prepared to offer premium prices instead of focusing mainly on the home market. The report assists producers to then identify those markets ideal for quality cheddar, Stilton and territorials.

Strengths that work in the favour of UK cheese producers include the huge range of quality territorial cheeses available, last counted at over 450 in total; the high safety standards to which the cheese is produced; the exacting specifications of UK retailers which keep producers flexible and attuned to buyer demands; and the cosmopolitan culture of the UK which encourages innovations often unavailable from overseas suppliers.

This stands producers in good stead to take advantage of opportunities available such as the expansion of foodservice across the Continent; the increasing interest in speciality products in affluent markets; the growth in consumption of ready meals and other new product development in which cheese can be an ingredient; the expansion of private label products in Europe; the growing westernization of Asian markets and the steady increase of E-commerce.

Other key recommendations from the report advised producers to review their ability to react effectively to international enquiries and pick test markets to fine-tune pro-active selling. For less-experienced exporters these markets should be key European markets where distributors can assist with trade. For the very small companies it was suggested that an approach to a highly successful UK exporter who might consider adding niche products to their overseas portfolios could be the way forward.

Priced at £240 (£195 for Food from Britain Fast Track members) the report is available from Katy Beesley, Food from Britain Tel: 020 7233 5111.