The British cheese industry has experienced a glorious renaissance over the past few decades, as an influx of passionate entrepreneurs has strived to restore the reputation of a sector that was firmly in the doldrums during the 1980s. This new generation of artisan cheesemakers has propelled the industry’s reputation right across the globe with British cheeses now commonly scooping top prizes at international award ceremonies. And this revival has also resulted in British cheese becoming a potentially tasty investment opportunity.
Strange as it may seem, cheese is a relatively familiar sight on global financial markets. In the Emilia-Romagna region of northern Italy, for instance, it is quite common for traditional banks such as Credito Emiliano to store this precious yellow material as collateral.
Indeed, rather than bars of gold, the bank’s specially created climate-controlled vaults are actually home to thousands of parmesan wheels that act as security for loans that have been made to cheesemakers. Italian banks clearly understand that good cheese, like a good investment, improves with age.
British cheese to the fore
The last 30 years have also seen a phenomenal rise in the popularity of British cheeses with UK producers taking an increasing slice of the global cheese market. In many ways, this revival is truly remarkable as, by the eighties, a combination of Second World War rationing, the rise of supermarkets and Milk Marketing Board imposed restrictions had pretty much brought the traditional cheese-making industry in this country to its knees.
Today, however, artisan cheesemakers are thriving, as a growing band of passionate dairy farmers all over the country have moved to insulate themselves from low milk prices by diversifying into dairy products. So, while 15 to 20 years ago a typical restaurant cheeseboard would almost certainly have consisted of French cheeses, diners now are much more likely to be served a selection of award-winning British cheese.
Exports continue to rise
According to the British Cheese Board, there are now more than 700 named cheeses produced in this country and the UK has firmly established itself as a major cheese-exporting nation. This export boom has been driven by soaring demand for UK-made mozzarella, cottage cheese and stilton, as well as the more traditional cheddar cheese.
In 2018, the total value of cheese exports from the UK rose to a new all-time high of £676 million, more than double the value of British cheese that was shipped overseas just a decade earlier. Indeed, since 2014, the UK has actually been the fastest growing of all the leading cheese exporting nations.
Potential for future growth?
The latest available data also suggests that this growth continued across the early part of this year, with the volume of cheese exports 9% higher between January and May 2019 than in the same period a year earlier.
Brexit inevitably casts a huge shadow over the industry’s future growth prospects. The EU-bloc remains by far the largest export market for UK cheese producers and, if a no-deal Brexit does ensue, then the imposition of EU tariffs on cheese exports will undoubtedly hit future sales.
However, changing tastes across Asia are also creating new markets, with China in particular offering huge potential as the growing number of ‘middle-class’ Chinese citizens continues to drive demand for cheese. If this potential could be harnessed, then it might be time for investors to put their money where their mouths are and invest in British cheese.