Since 2000, Chinese cheese imports have soared more than 50 fold, going from less than 2,000 metric tons in 2000 to 108,000 tons last year, reports Mark O’Keefe, vice president of editorial services for the U.S. Dairy Export Council (USDEC) in a blog posted this week.
Last year, the U.S. sold some $577 million worth of dairy products to China, an increase of 49% of the previous year. Cheese sales were up 46%.
Even better, China’s appetite for cheese is continuing to grow. Expectations are that the country could become the Number 1 cheese market destination in 10 years—or less, adds Ross Christieson, USDEC business unit director for North Asia.
Christienson believes five factors are fueling China’s almost insatiable demand for cheese:
1. Increasing upper-middle-class and affluent households.
2. A new generation of freer-spending, sophisticated consumers, born since 1980.
3. The growing power and ease of ecommerce delivering cheese to China's doors.
4. The continued spread of Western-style pizza, along with increased cheese utilization by home-grown bakery outlets.
5. Foodservice chains introducing more Chinese to the pleasure of cheese.
The big fly in the ointment, however, is the current U.S.-China trade dispute. In retaliation for U.S. tariffs on some Chinese goods, China imposed tariffs as high as 25% on most U.S. dairy products, including cheese, in July. The tariffs put U.S. products at a distinct competitive disadvantage to New Zealand and the European Union.
Nevertheless, once the trade dispute is resolved, the hope is that cheese and dairy product sales to China will resume. “With an abundant supply of milk, U.S. dairy exporters are uniquely equipped to meet growing Chinese demand for not only cheese, but a wide range of nutritious, high-quality dairy products that are safely and sustainably produced," says Tom Vilsack, USDEC CEO and president. "This is a partnership that will continue to benefit both countries for years to come.”