Blog: UK cheese makers feel the heat

Michelle Russell | 27 July 2011

Over 3,000 cheeses from around 25 countries, under a 70,000 sq ft marquee and in blazing heat. It might not sound like an ideal way to spend a Tuesday but for the UK cheese sector yesterday (26 July) was the start of a key event in the industry calendar.

Around 40,000 visitors made the trip to Nantwich in Cheshire for the largest two-day agricultural show in the UK and the International Cheese Awards. The great and the good of the cheese industry gathered for the event, which saw the likes of Arla Foods, Dairy Crest, First Milk, Wyke Farms, Asda and Tesco display their wares for the trade to sample.

And, of course, just-food was in attendance and, among other executives, managed to catch some time with Wyke Farms managing director Richard Clothier, First Milk's commercial director Richard Hollingdale and Dairy Crest customer marketing manager Adam Mehegan.

All spoke of the tough economic pressures the industry is facing but, amid the challenges, emphasised the importance of continued investment and innovation. And all three pointed to three key trends that manufacturers are focusing on - health, packaging and flavour.

Clothier told just-food that, as consumers "migrate up the flavour profiles of cheese", it is important that Wyke adjusts its innovation to suit.

"Consumers are looking for stronger and stronger cheeses, particularly ones that articulate more and more provenance, so we've been trying to innovate the packaging to articulate that better to the consumer," Clothier said.

He added that, along with flavour, key issues include adding healthier products to the company's portfolio and developing improved "packaging functionality" in the form of zip-tight packs and shelf-ready packs.

Mehegan told just-food that it is important for manufacturers to offer something unique to the consumer.

"As a business we are always trying to identify where the growth is going to come from. People are very emotive about cheese and if a brand offers a point of difference then they will buy it," he said.

"Lighter variants have now launched and the headroom there for growth is considerable. Health remains a massive focus for us going forward," he added.

And so as the show came to a close for the trade visitors yesterday, the industry prepared itself for today's consumer event, which for the manufacturers is seen a key day for receiving important feedback from the people who of course will buy and eat their products.


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