Say cheese: US exports to China soars amid shifting consumer trends

By Guan Yu Lim

- Last updated on GMT

Chinese consumers prefer mozzarella, cheddar, cream cheese, pizza blend, and string cheese ©Getty Images
Chinese consumers prefer mozzarella, cheddar, cream cheese, pizza blend, and string cheese ©Getty Images

Related tags Cheese Export China

Cheese is gaining traction with consumers in China, with imports from the US alone growing from 2,000 metric tons in 2000 to more than 108,000 metric tons in 2017.

China is now the world’s number six importer of cheese in 2019, moving up from seventh place in 2017. Japan is the top importer of cheese, followed by Russia.

Ross Christieson, SVP, Global Cheese Strategy at the U.S. Dairy Export Council (USDEC) said, “Total Chinese cheese imports will double between now and 2024​.”

The United States is the world’s largest cheese exporter, exporting 348,561 metric tons in 2018.

For the past 15 years, sales of U.S. cheese to international customers have grown more than 672%, and show no signs of slowing down​,” said Christieson.

The (cheese) wheel of fortune

The top importers of U.S. cheese by volume are Mexico, South Korea, Japan, MENA, Australia, Central America, Southeast Asia, Canada and China.

Christieson said exports of US cheese to Japan (up 3%), and South Korea (up 7%) have been particularly strong over the past year, and are likely to carry on. Sales to Indonesia have also increased five-hold.

He added, “Exports to other markets such as the Middle East, Central America and South East Asia are also increasing​.”

Say cheese

Apart from the US, China also counts New Zealand, Australia and the European Union among their top suppliers.

Christieson sees five major drivers driving demand for more cheese in China:

These are:

  • The growing numbers of  upper-middle-class citizens and affluent households
  • A new generation of freer-spending, sophisticated consumers, born since 1980
  • The continued spread of Western-style food including pizza and bakery
  • Increased cheese utilisation for home baking
  • Food service chains introducing more Chinese to the pleasure of cheese

From a retail perspective, the type of cheese that Chinese consumers prefer are mozzarella, cheddar, cream cheese, pizza blend, and string cheese.

These varieties are available in places such as City’super, Ole’, City Shop, Freshmart and Carrefour

“Retail continues to grow in China, and will be further bolstered with Costco—a USA Cheese Guild partner—opening its first mainland China store at the end of August 2019. We also provide a lot of the large value cheeses.”

As the demand for cheese in China continues to rapidly develop, Christieson commented, “For USDEC, we have made a concerted effort to raise awareness that cheese from the United States not only offers supply security, but also an unparalleled range of creativity and innovation​.”

Chefs from the region who’ve discovered these award-winning cheeses have been impressed and are excited at the opportunities US cheeses provide them to serve on-trend dishes to consumers in the region and beyond​.”

Cheesy but not sticky situation

On May 10, 2019, the U.S. raised tariffs​ on US$200 billion worth of imported Chinese goods from 10% to 25%.

Christieson remarked, “The U.S. dairy industry deeply values the relationship fostered over the years with our customers and partners throughout our global markets, including China​.”

We are committed to maintaining strong relationships in the market and will continue to conduct programs that grow demand​.”

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