Arla yesterday (23 May) said that sales across its important Middle Eastern export markets have yet to recover from the boycott which began in January in response to cartoons depicting the prophet Mohammed that were printed in a Danish newspaper.

Before the boycott, the Middle East and North Africa had been lucrative growth markets for the dairy company. Last year, Arla's Middle Eastern turnover totalled approximately DKK3bn. However, an Arla spokesperson told just-food, the company does not expect sales to return to pre-boycott levels in the near future. "We have come a long way, but there is still much further to go," Arla said.

Since the Danish dairy group successfully negotiated the return of butter, cheese and milk powder to a large number of stores throughout the Middle East sales have slowly been creeping up, but remain at a low level.

"In the Saudi market, many consumers are continuing to avoid Danish products. Either because they wish to continue the boycott or because they've become used to buying competing products," said Finn Hansen, divisional director. "It's positive that we're back on the shelves of many stores and that sales are increasing, but we've still got a great deal of work ahead of us."

However, the company did see signs of improvement in other, smaller, markets in the region. In the Emirates, Bahrain, Oman, Yemen and Lebanon sales have returned to between 50% and 90% of pre-boycott levels.

Overall, in the Middle East and North Africa, Arla has regained 15-20% of sales levels before the consumer and retailer embargo of Danish goods.