Cheese please: MENA's cheese imports bypass those to China and North America combined
The tastes of GCC residents are evolving as they become more familiar with French products, particularly as more Middle East residents decide to vacation in European countries such as France. (AFP/File)
As the UAE’s appetite for cheese grows, France’s slice of the UAE’s cheese imports has declined from 10 per cent by value in 2011 to 6.5 per cent in 2015, thanks to massive growth in Saudi exports churning the market.
Although French cheese export volumes to the UAE have increased by 21 per cent over the past five years, its overall share in values has fallen due to massive increase in Saudi cheese exports in 2014 and 2015, according to figures from French research firm Service des Statistiques Internationals (SSI).
The value of exports to the UAE increased by only 3 per cent — a sharp contrast with Saudi Arabia, whose export values to the UAE rose by 13.5 per cent between 2014 and 2105, when it accounted for 29 per cent of the UAE’s imports by value.
But even as Saudi Arabia sold more cheese to the UAE, France sold even more cheese to Saudi Arabia, where export values increased by 157 per cent over the same period. Sales volumes to Saudi Arabia tripled over the period, reaching 10,000 tonnes this year.
The region is now a bigger market for French cheese makers than both China and North America, with Middle East now accounting for $400 million of its total $8 billion global exports, according to the nation’s dairy industry body Centre National Interprofessionnel de l’Economie Laitière (CNIEL).
US-based market researchers Transparency Market Research say the total global cheese market is expected to reach $105.13 billion by 2019, with annual growth of 4.4 per cent as emerging markets become more mainstream for cheese and dairy products.
The firm said major drivers included the growth of fast food restaurants, increasing purchasing power, lifestyle changes and growing urbanisation in emerging markets.
“The market is maturing,” said Edwina Salvatori, account director at marketing firm Sopaxa, which represents CNIEL. “In the UAE we have more and more expats asking for more Western products, and cheese is one of them.
“In Saudi Arabia people are becoming more interested in Western products. Taste is changing.”
Between 2011 and 2013, France and Egypt jostled for top slot as top exporters to the UAE by value, but in 2014 Saudi Arabia raced ahead, according to SSI figures.
Between 2011 and 2015 UAE cheese imports increased from 30,712 tonnes to 47,588 tonnes of cheese and curds a year, including 13,360 tonnes from Saudi Arabia and 2,400 tonnes from France.
“The tastes of GCC residents are undoubtedly evolving as they become more familiar with French products, particularly as more Middle East residents decide to vacation in European countries such as France,” said Laurent Damiens, Communication Director of CNIEL. “The quality of French produce is renowned around the world, this, in addition to favourable pricing means the Middle East is an extremely important market to us.”
France is the world’s second-largest cheese exporter after Germany, and is the largest exporter of speciality cheeses. It produces 2 million tonnes of cheese in 1,200 varieties, and exports 34 per cent of its production.
By Andrew Staples
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